Let’s recap. It’s well-established that City Commissioner Anthony Clark—a guy elected to oversee our elections—doesn’t vote (not even for himself!) and rarely shows up to work. He doesn’t even have a computer or correspond with constituents via email. He says he got into politics because he likes to “work smart but not hard.”
Last month, Clark, thanks to a vote by fellow Commissioner and erstwhile reformer Al Schmidt, was made Chairman, raising his salary to $138,612. In a stunning display of chutzpah, Clark gave the Inquirer photos of himself in Africa while on the taxpayer dime. Then he decided to pile injury atop injury by filing for a $500,000 DROP windfall. (DROP, you’ll recall, is the early retirement program never intended for elected officials.)
The op-ed pages railed against Schmidt’s vote that made Clark Chairman, and the Committee of Seventy promptly reiterated its long-standing public call that we abolish the electing of an elections board. Clark’s behavior “is embarrassing and insulting to the voters and taxpayers,” said 70 Executive Director David Thornburgh. “…The political system and political culture in Philadelphia that enables his conduct deflects attention from the real and important work that the City Commissioners are supposed to lead.”
Tell City Council to end the embarrassment. We’ll soon be hosting the Democratic National Convention and we’d all be awfully embarassed if the contempt for the citizenry and self-centered dealmaking of Anthony Clark and Al Schmidt became the national face of our city.
Yet Clark’s chief enabler didn’t get what all the fuss was about. “I see it on the front page of the newspaper, so it’s not like it’s not a big deal, but on the ground, I’m not sensing the same thing,” Al Schmidt, whose power on the Commission is increased by Clark’s phantom stewardship, told the Inquirer. “We had our public meeting the other day—there was no outrage present.”
No outrage? Let’s test that theory. Yes, Clark’s behavior is outrageous, but there is a systemic flaw in how we oversee voting. There is a good case to be made—even in the absence of Clark’s clownish shenanigans—that we shouldn’t be electing City Commissioners at all. As products of the insular political ward system, they’re tasked with ensuring fair elections…at the same time many moonlight in support of specific candidates. And no comparable city spends so much to oversee elections—$1.5 million annually.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt says no one cares that Commissioner Anthony Clark doesn’t even vote or show up to work. Is he right? If you’re outraged, sign the petition to abolish the City Commissioners as an elected row office.
Most cities run elections through a Mayoral appointment without incident. In fact, making the Mayor accountable for free and fair elections has proven to be a good thing elsewhere. But this is a city that is loathe to change. Schmidt and Clark may be right: Either not enough of us care to change the system, or we’re paralyzed into inaction by the prospect of such a heavy lift. So let’s see if they are right and find out if our sense of outrage, not to mention our appetite for smart reform, is all but exhausted.
Recently, some 15,000 citizens rose up and signed a petition to squash Councilman Mark Squilla’s wrongheaded proposal that would have required bands to register with the city. Today, we’ve launched a petition at change.org calling for the abolishment of the City Commissioners as an elected row office.
We hope that at least a tenth of those who rightfully let their voices be heard for the anti-Squilla petition will step up again. Tell City Council to end the embarrassment. We’ll soon be hosting the Democratic National Convention and we’d all be awfully embarassed if the contempt for the citizenry and self-centered dealmaking of Anthony Clark and Al Schmidt became the national face of our city.
Tell Al Schmidt you’re not a practitioner of the infamous Philly Shrug. Tell him the experience of voting should no longer be stuck in the 1950s. Tell him you do care, and sign the petition to eliminate his, and Anthony Clark’s, job.
Header photo: Collage Dan Shepelavy
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