Until yesterday, it’s pretty much been a bunch of mostly white Center City good-government types wringing our hands over the shenanigans of Philly’s elected City Commissioners. Committee of 70 President and CEO David Thornburgh has led the calls of outrage; here at The Citizen, we started a change.org petition that called for the abolishment of the office in favor of a mayoral appointment.
To recap: City Commissioner Anthony Clark—elected to oversee our elections—not only doesn’t vote (not even for himself!), he reportedly rarely shows up to work. He doesn’t have a computer or correspond with constituents via email. He says he got into politics because he likes to “work smart but not hard.”
In January, thanks to a vote by fellow Commissioner Al Schmidt, Clark was made chairman, raising his salary to $138,612. In a stunning display of chutzpah, Clark simultaneously filed for a $500,000 DROP windfall. (DROP is the early retirement program that was never intended for elected officials.) Meantime, the city spends some $400,000 on salaries for our commissioners — far more than is spent in comparable cities, including New York.
Yet, in January, Clark’s chief enabler, onetime reformer Al Schmidt, said he didn’t see what all the fuss was about. “There was no outrage…” he said. Schmidt may have been right when it was just the complaints of outsiders like The Citizen, the Philly 3.0 political action committee, and The Committee of 70 beating the drum for reform.
But now a consummate insider has joined the chorus. Former Councilwoman Marian Tasco posted a statement on Facebook yesterday supporting those who would abolish the elected office.
“I have decided to add my voice to those who have called to replace the current elected positions with positions appointed by the Mayor, perhaps in consultation with members of City Council,” Tasco wrote. “I am convinced an appointed system would save money, which would be better spent on critical priorities like pre-K education for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. This is not a new stance for me. After serving as City Commissioner from 1983 to 1987 I testified in Council that the job of overseeing elections, important as it is, does not need the attention of three full-time elected positions.”
Why is this significant? Don’t let the fact that Tasco is a former Councilwoman fool you. She is still a force to be reckoned with in Philadelphia politics. She played a key role among the faction of black leaders in the Northwest that endorsed Jim Kenney in last year’s mayoral election. And she still holds sway over Council, where new members Derek Green and Cherelle Parker are among her acolytes. Finally, Tasco brings to the call for reform two distinct characteristics: She’s an insider with the relationships to get things done, and she’s an African-American political leader who likely can still mobilize black voters around a cause. If the black vote gets energized around reforming the Commissioners office, reform is likely to happen—particularly given Jim Kenney’s debt to black leaders like Tasco.
So maybe this is an opportunity for renewed momentum. To date, over 1,200 of you have signed our change.org petition, sending over 1,200 letters to Council members. Now, it’s not about telling Council you agree with us or with David Thornburgh. Go to the petition and sign up to tell those on City Council that you’re on board with one of their own. Tell them that, if change is good enough for Marian Tasco, it should be good enough for them.