Philly Council aims to nix ‘resign-to-run’ rule again; enact term limits

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — City Council has linked nixing the city’s so-called “resign to run” rule, requiring elected officials to quit their posts when running for another office, with setting term limits for a handful of Philadelphia offices.

City Council pitched a pair of resolutions on Thursday that would ask voters to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter.

That proposals seek to set term limits for the 17 members of the legislature, sheriff, city controller, and three city commissioners to five consecutive terms.

Both resolutions would require the votes of at least 12 council members to send the ballot questions to voters. The resolutions aim to put the questions to voters in the April primary.

Council President Darrell Clarke, the main sponsor of the resolutions, expected he could “get some traction” by linking the elimination of the resign to run rule with term limits.

But Clarke warned he would not support one without the other.

Clarke added that he favored bringing a in line with the rest of Pennsylvania, which allows elected officials to run for other offices without resigning his or her current post.

“I always thought the city municipal elected officials should be on par with that,” Clarke said on Thursday.

Voters have twice rejected ballot questions asking them to eliminate the resign to run rule. In 2007, 55% of the voters cast ballots to keep the provision in place; 54% of voters defeated the ballot question again in 2014.

Under the legislation, elected officials would be prohibited from running on the same ballot twice. Clarke’s proposal would still force non-elected public employees to resign before seeking an elected office.

Council committees have yet to schedule committee hearings on the two proposals.

City Council and mayoral elections happen in the same year; state General Assembly and gubernatorial elections happen in different cycles.

Cutting the resign to run provision would clear the way for members of City Council to run for mayor in 2023 without immediately vacating their seats, allowing them to influence legislation — and earn a paycheck — while on the campaign trail.

However, a City Council member running in the mayor’s election would still have to give up his or her seat at the end of the term if the member loses. Whereas a Philadelphia elected official could run for a state elected office or Congress without risking his or her seat.

The city’s Home Rule Charter makes a special mention of the importance of the resign to run rule, noting it was “imposed because an officer or employee who is a candidate for elective office is in a position to influence unduly and to intimidate employees under his supervision and because he may neglect his official duties in the interest of his candidacy.”

Al Spivey, a former chief of staff for Councilman Curtis Jones, said putting in place term limits could “accelerate the turnover in council,” opening elected office to new leadership and encouraging more candidates to run.

Removing the resign to run rule also could allow the legislature and its committees to continue to function if multiple members of council seek other offices in the same year, said Spivey, a senior vice president of Mercury, a government and politics consulting firm.

The resign to run provision has limited the candidate pool for some elected offices to independently wealthy individuals or those near the end of their careers, said Mustafa Rashed, chief executive of Bellevue Strategies, a government and politics consulting firm.

“It excludes good candidates from being able to pursue a different because financial consideration for employment is a real concern for a lot of people,” Rashed said.

Mayor Jim Kenney, who resigned from City Council when he ran for mayor in 2015, is prohibited from running again due to term limits.

A handful of members of council have been said to be considering running for mayor in 2023, including Councilmembers Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, and Allan Domb.

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for the Kenney administration, said in an email that the administration has yet to review the legislation. But Kenney previously sponsored legislation during his time on City Council to end the resign to run rule.

“The ‘Resign to Run’ provision of the Charter has historically hampered the City’s ability to impact State and Federal politics, as current officeholders are unable to seek candidacy for these offices without first resigning their City office,” Dunn said.

The council president’s push for term limits becomes the second in City Council. Last week, Domb proposed limiting members of council to four terms starting in 2024.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, who was elected to her first term in November, supported establishing term limits.

“We need greater participation from voters now in 2020 more than ever,” she said in an email. “So yes, I support term limits, and of course that means I support term limits for myself, and not just for City Council. Hopefully it will encourage elected officials to mentor and train the next generation of leaders.”

Michaeld D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this first appeared.