Hypocrisy of the highest order.
That’s exactly what I found with Matt Wolfe – the GOP candidate in tomorrow’s special election for City Council.
Now bear in mind, I am saying that, all the while disclosing to all of you that I am enthusiastically voting for attorney Wolfe to be our next at-large city councilman. I have had the audacity to call him an “[effing] genius” to his face on several occasions. Arguably, he is the most well-versed Philadelphian on our city’s budget.
And there is no question that Wolfe pulls no punches when calling out corruption – particularly violations of our home rule charter – as evidenced from a scathing op-ed in the Inquirer back in January.
In that piece, Wolfe ruffled a lot of feathers, hearing an earful through Mayor Nutter’s spokesperson Mark McDonald. Yet, Wolfe’s efforts found him some unlikely allies agreeing at least in part with him, including Democratic City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who said, "Do these deputy mayors have two jobs or one?"
Wolfe has been on such a mission to enforce the home rule charter that he has made it the leading topic in his campaign, as evidenced by his running an electronic flyer on social media that urges people to vote for him as well as to vote “no” on Ballot Question #2, which reads:
"Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended so that effective January 1, 2016, an elected official of the City may become a candidate for nomination or election to a different public office without first resigning from his or her current office, the same as state and federal elected officials, but may not run for re-election to his or her current office in the same election?"
[The ballot question, proposed by GOP Councilman David Oh, was supported with a 16-0 vote by Oh and his colleagues.]
I put the question to Wolfe: “Which presidential candidate did you vote for in 2008?”
Via a Facebook message, Wolfe responded, “The Republican candidate.”
Of course, the Republican candidate had a name – even though 2008 is a distant memory for many of us on the Republican side.
“The Republican candidate – John McCain – didn't resign from his office to run for president,” I reminded Wolfe, adding, “You said in your editorial that 'Council members want to continue to collect their six-figure salaries while campaigning full time for the job they would rather have.' How could you support McCain – Obama did the same thing, btw – when he did exactly what you are campaigning against in Philadelphia. It seems quite hypocritical.”
"You asked me this before. As I recall, his opponent did not resign to run either, so it was not an issue. I supported John McCain because he would have been the best President.
"Resign to run should not be a litmus test. I would support the candidate who is best for Philadelphia regardless of that issue.
"In theory I would have supported Arlen Specter for Mayor against James Tate (I was in grade school at that time). In that election, Specter was the District Attorney and did not resign to run because he argued that the District Attorney was a state office not covered by the law. He lost that legal battle, albeit after the election. Even had I felt that Arlen was wrong by not resigning, if he would have made the best mayor, I would have voted for him.
"What is on the table is the policy, which I think is good and should be kept. I would be in favor of expanding it to other levels of government.
"I am also in favor of term limits. That is not on the table. Resign to run is. I did not vote against Thacher Longstreth because he ran for multiple terms. I would have rather that term limits were in place, but if he was the best candidate for Philadelphia, he had my vote. It would be stupid to vote for an inferior candidate based on a procedural issue that is not in play like term limits or resign to run. And I try and do stupid as seldom as possible.
"I stand by my position on resign to run and am proud of having voted for John McCain, an American hero not just for his service in the Senate but for his service to our country in Viet Nam."
Adam Lang, the ward leader of the GOP’s 29th Republican Ward in Brewerytown and Sharswood, basically shared Wolfe’s view on the proposed charter change, with some additional reasoning.
"There are a variety of reasons why people have an issue with eliminating Resign to Run. Personally, my biggest issue is that in conjunction with Philadelphia's unique campaign finance limits (which is also the only county in PA to have them, like R2R) it will give a huge and unprecedented benefit to incumbents to retain office against challengers.
"Eliminating R2R will allow incumbent legislators to raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash from individuals in off years by merely saying they are running for a state office. For example, let's say eliminating R2R passes and we jump ahead 4 years. A challenger comes out and says they are going to be challenging a sitting Councilmember in the following year's Primary election. The incumbent, to prepare for that, says they are 'running for Lt. Governor' this year and they get 3 people to write a $100,000 check. The incumbent then proceeds to "run for office" only in their district to build up name ID and support for the following year's election. All the while the challenger is shackled with municipal campaign finance limits for their candidacy.
"It is grossly unfair to the democratic process. The incumbent gets another huge advantage over challengers and will be a disaster."
I asked Lang why City Council members generally don’t go further in public office outside of Philadelphia and whether resign to run was a factor. Lang’s response:
"Multiple reasons. First, because does anyone honestly think the rest of Pennsylvania would actually elect the type of people we have in City Council? Second, because of the power and money involved in being a Councilmember. There are only 6 offices that you would consider a promotion. 3 of them are held by long time Democratic Party faithfuls and Philadelphians (US Rep. Schwartz, Brady, Fattah), 1 up until recently was held by a Philadelphian (US Senate - Specter) and the other by another Democratic Party faithful (Casey). The final one was also up until recently held by a Philadelphian and long time Democratric Party faithful (Governor Rendell)."
So what exactly are the mass amounts of opportunities that City Council members have been passing up that they had a chance at winning if only they didn't have to risk their job? Not being a sitting elected city official also didn't stop Rendell, Nutter or Street from becoming mayor.
As for my reference to McCain, Lang didn’t mince words:
"It is not hypocrisy, nor is it apples to oranges. It's just simply not relevant to the discussion. We're not discussing supporting or not supporting someone playing by the rules. The discussion is about Philadelphia changing a rule. Talking about statewide law and John McCain is trying to distract from the actual topic."
I thought I’d ask a real, live candidate from the GOP side who ran for city controller last year. Terry Tracy, who ran unsuccessfully against Butkovitz, felt quite differently than Wolfe or Lang.
"I have to respectfully disagree with many of my friends in Republican City Committee, on multiple fronts.
"There is no doubt that the city's governing class has failed us and continues to do so in almost every core competency that can be associated with effective municipal governance. However, I believe the anguish over the resign to run charter change is misdirected, relative to the other challenges we face.
"I generally agree with Councilman Oh that the current rule contributes to political stagnation, that a city that represents almost a third of the state's GDP should have more clout in Harrisburg and Washington, and that larger political dynamic dissuades our best and brightest from asking fellow voters for the opportunity to serve. Reasonable people can disagree over the merits of these arguments, but I'll leave it to Mr. Oh to convince a majority, as he is better equipped to do so.
"Though what is striking about the direction of the debate to date given my own personal experience is the notion that individuals should resign from whatever professional commitments they currently have to run for elected office.
"First, while mulling a run for office, there were a number of important individuals involved in the decision making process. One of them was my boss. I discussed my thought process at length with my employer and subjected myself to an internal review process in order to construct an arrangement that ensured I remained true to my professional and civic commitments. It is possible to do both and I am proud of the campaign we ran under the circumstances.
"Second, most people, regardless of socio economic status, cannot afford to leave their jobs. Should we preclude the vast majority of individuals from the political process because they have to pay their mortgage and feed their family? Personal wealth or access to it should not be a prerequisite for seeking office. Too often it is. How do you think we wound up with so many millionaires in Congress? How is that working out for the average American?
"Third, I was personally astonished how many of our locally elected officials lack any meaningful practical experience outside of Democratic machine politics and its related apparatus in city "industry". While I rushed to the office at 5AM to put a full day in before any number of scheduled campaign events, others benefited from party arrangements that ensured they remained sufficiently compensated throughout the election cycle. Further, while Alan Butkovitz stumbled through his litany of excuses as to why he was incapable of auditing every city agency, every year, I worked to continue to improve my company's financial performance by virtue of subjecting each of my business units to comprehensive quarterly audits. This was essential to my belief that I would have been a more effective Controller.
"Perhaps this whole debate misses the point. Maybe the real question is why DON'T or SHOULDN'T the majority of our elected officials - particularly legislators and some row officers - HAVE to SEEK other jobs? Are these all really full time jobs? Are all the tax payer funded courtiers really necessary? Wouldn't the city benefit from a legislative body made up of folks that had to make payroll the day after Council was in session? I suspect the result would be more prudent policy making and maybe even a hint of humility in our political class."
And, of course, there was Councilman Oh, who is politically very supportive of Wolfe’s candidacy, had this to say:
"As a Councilman working to improve our city, I learned how much we depend on the support of Harrisburg and how disadvantaged our city is because of resign-to-run. We don't notice it inside Philly, but outside of Philly the reduced clout is apparent. I began to examine the history, reasoning and effect of resign-to-run and found it does far more harm than good. It was established at a time when Philadelphia was reacting to corruption. As a limitation, it was ineffective but did reduce the influence of the city in Pennsylvania. I believe it is better to be positive than negative. Like entering a marriage thinking the worst and being prepared to end it with minimal damage rather than thinking the best and being prepared work through it for maximum happiness. Elect good people, be vigilant and let them do the best they can to represent our city. That is how we can overcome our challenges and make our city great."
Finally, I wanted to get a pulse of how an aspiring Democratic state committeeman felt, so I contacted Micah Mahjoubian, a political consultant and founder of Soapbox Solutions, the firm that designed the Philadelphia City Commissioners website.
"The biggest problem with 'Resign to Run,' ” Mahjoubian said, "is that it creates a playing field in Philadelphia where we have less competitive elections. We act like running for office is a bad thing. It’s not. I would like to have the greatest number of choices for every election. Competition allows for a healthy dialogue about what kind of priorities we expect from our government officials, and it helps drive voter turnout which engages more people in the process. The current system discourages qualified people from running for office, because if they believe they currently have a safe seat, why should they risk it? And it’s also just unfair. Only Philadelphia municipal officials face this requirement. And that puts Philadelphia at a disadvantage in State Politics. We need more Philadelphian’s representing us in State Government, and this policy effectively gives us less representation. I support ballot question number two because it will eliminate the “Resign to Run” requirement. I think it is a good first step. But I don’t think it goes far enough. My problem with the legislation is that does not allow city officials to run for re-election in the same election in which they are running for another office. Since most city officials run every four years during the same election, it basically has no effect. No sitting council member could run for Mayor. No At-large Councilperson could run for District Council. I would eliminate that position, which would put city officials on the same playing field as their state and federal counterparts."
I agree with everything Mahjoubian said – and will add that the legislation doesn’t go far enough. I believe the ballot question should extend to all city employees – not just elected ones.
But how you do feel, U-Turn readers?
We will find out in about 24 hours.