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Prominent Philly Republican Wolfe says he will challenge for Council seat

Matthew Wolfe, the 27th Ward GOP leader since 1979, has formed a campaign committee to run for City Council At-Large in 2014.

That's not a typo.

But wait. There's no City Council election scheduled for 2014.

Or is there?

Wolfe -- whose ward encompasses most of the University of Pennsylvania's campus, the immediate off-campus area, University City, and the West Shore – is banking on a series of events, which may or may not happen, for his name to be on the ballot as the Republican nominee next year.

In an emailed copy of this "The University City Trumpet - Special Edition," a newsletter that he describes as "‏published whenever we want to publish it," Wolfe made the following announcement: "WOLFE FOR CITY COUNCIL AT LARGE:  The media has reported that the Governor is considering Councilman Bill Green as the new head of the School Reform Commission.  This seems like a bad idea to us, but if it happens, Councilman Green will resign from City Council and there may be a special election, possibly on May 20, the day of the primary election.  If that happens, Ward Leader Matt Wolfe will seek the Republican nomination.  Regardless of whether that happens, he will run in the Republican primary for council at large in 2015."

Multiple attempts to reach Councilman Green today for his comment were unsuccessful.

In the meanwhile, Wolfe has developed a temporary Website where he has laid out some very specific platform issues, such as establishing a 2-consecutive term limit for all elected city officials.

Wolfe, 57, and married to local GOP activist Denise Furey, is a former Deputy Attorney General for Pennsylvania who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania as well as Villanova Law School. He is an attorney who maintains his own practice in West Philadelphia.

A prolific writer, Wolfe has penned many opinion pieces in local newspapers, including this compelling one in the Philadelphia Inquirer that panned Mayor Nutter's "Shared Prosperity" plan.

An issue that has captured Wolfe's recent attention is City Council's referendum to weaken the "resign to run" rule – a law that requires any city employee, elected or not, to resign their current position if they run for political office, unless they are an elected official running for reelection. Wolfe told me he strongly believes in the "resign to run" rule and that elected officials running for other positions should not be "collecting a full salary" from their current position.

Fair enough.

However, when I asked Wolfe if he voted for Tom Corbett in 2010 – which he said he did – and for John McCain in 2008 – which he said he did – I reminded him that neither of them resigned their elected positions when they ran for office. Corbett didn't resign his position as PA Attorney General until January 18, 2011 – the day he was sworn in as governor. And McCain? Well, we know how that race went. As for the victor, Senator Barack Obama did not resign his position until two weeks after he won the race for presidency.

Please note that none of the three hail from Philadelphia.

When I suggested to Wolfe that it was hypocritical to not have made a big deal of Corbett's and McCain's not resigning before they made their historic runs, Wolfe replied, "Because there was no law restricting them from doing what they were doing. Here in Philadelphia, we have a good law, and City Council wants to change it. And they are voting in their own selfish interest and not in the interest of the citizens that voted for them and pay their salaries."

The proposed referendum would allow elected officials to keep their current positions while they are campaigning for other positions, an issue that equally disturbs Joseph McColgan – a popular Philadelphia-based Republican who ran unsuccessfully for City Council At-Large in 2011, and who is rumored to be interested in either seeking that position again or something larger, such as mayor.

As for "resign to run," McColgan didn't mince words when I spoke with him today. "I am against any changes that will allow the "political class" to further benefit themselves by allowing them to hold one office while running for another all the while collecting a salary and benefits off the backs of the hard working men and women of Philadelphia," McColgan said, adding, "It amounts to nothing more than political welfare. I cannot go to my employer and say to him I'm looking for another job so don't expect too much from me in the coming months, and I still expect to be paid and collect my benefits. I'd be fired in 30 seconds. And since these individuals are our employees, I would ask every citizen in Philadelphia to reject any changes to the "resign to run" law already in place."

As for McColgan's thoughts on Wolfe as well as his own political ambitions, he had this to say: "Matt is a good guy and would do what is right by the citizens of Philadelphia should he run and win a special election in 2014 or [a general election] in 2015. As for my intentions, right now my priority is my family and when the time comes to have that conversation, we will and collectively come to a conclusion.  Yes I am passionate about Philadelphia and we have real challenges facing us in the coming months - from a failed education system, to rampant poverty, to pension obligations and more- that are going to put a crimp in our collective wallet.  These challenges will cause, and are causing, some real headaches for all of Philadelphia and if I believe I can contribute to finding solutions to our challenges then I have an obligation to step up."

Both McColgan and Al Taubenberger were mentioned as potential special election candidates by Michael Meehan, the general counsel for the Philadelphia Republican City Committee. Taubenberger, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 and then for City Council in 2011, was not reachable for comment. Ella Butcher, who ran and won in the GOP primary for traffic court judge before the elected seat was eliminated this summer, has also been mentioned by Republican activists. She was also not reachable.

Meehan told me in a telephone interview that whichever Republican candidates would seek the nomination for the potential special election would have their work cut out for them, as they most likely would end up as a "sacrificial lamb." Fully aware of the greater than 6-to-1 Democrat to Republican voter registration edge, Meehan quipped, "The best do not necessarily get elected. That's the unfortunate reality."

Wolfe doesn't feel he's a sacrificial lamb in the least. "I would not waste my time, contributors' money and other people's efforts if I didn't think a win was possible."

State Rep. John Taylor, the Chairman of the City Republican City Committee, was not available for comment. However, Executive Director Joseph DeFelice chimed in. "Matt is a quality individual that I've known for a long time and have a lot of respect for. But until there is an official vacancy, I think it's premature to have this discussion," quickly adding, "But while we're on the topic, there are some important seats opening up for state rep. and state Senate in Philadelphia in 2014. We'd like to hear from anyone interested in running for those."

Finally, I spoke to Vito Canuso, the former Chairman of the Republican City Committee. Canuso offered a different twist on a potential vacancy on City Council.

"First of all, we've gone through the procedure with vacancies in the Council At-Large position. I've never seen a special election for that. The theory is that if one of the seven seats is vacant, the others can make up for it," said Canuso, adding, "Second, he's [Wolfe] making certain assumptions that are not necessarily realistic, but I guess he thinks he's believes he's going to benefit by it. But there are too many if, ands, or buts and not precedents. It's different with district council [seats], where an entire district can go unrepresented for a period of time. But given the budgetary problems the City of Philadelphia faces, if Mr. Green moves on to another position, we may benefit financially from the vacancy."

Wolfe does have a good sense of humor – sometimes so much so that I can't tell when he's joking, when he's serious, or when it's in that gray area. In his press release, Wolfe added, "In addition, Tom Wolf, a Democratic candidate for Governor, will probably spend $15-20 Million on his campaign, and even though he is a different person and spells his name differently, it will increase Wolfe's name recognition for the special election.  That may not make sense but is the reality."

When I asked Wolfe if he was serious about that comment, he told me, "Wolf spells his name incorrectly -- without the e."

Things that make you go hmmmm.