The government watchdog group Committee of Seventy has named the son of a former Pennsylvania governor as its new leader.

David B. Thornburgh, executive director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, will take the helm in December. He replaces former Philadelphia Daily News editor Zack Stalberg, who retired in July after a nine-year run at Seventy.

"David checked all of the boxes we were looking for in a CEO," Stephen S. Tang, search committee chair, said Wednesday. "But above and beyond that, the committee was struck by his interest and passion for civic engagement and better government, as well as his experience improving the economic competitiveness and public sector performance of Philadelphia and the region."

Thornburgh, 56, is the son of Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who served from 1979 to 1987. He has been director of the Fels Institute since 2008. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of the Alliance for Regional Stewardship and executive director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia.

Thornburgh, who lives in Chestnut Hill with his wife, Rebecca, a children's book illustrator, said he was interested in the job because of its reputation.

"It's made a difference in improving the quality of elections and the quality of government in Philadelphia," Thornburgh said Wednesday.

Although he reserved laying out precise ideas until he takes over, Thornburgh said he wants to engage political candidates "in more fundamental ways."

He said he has been disappointed with how candidates simply answer serious questions in a few words on Twitter - especially questions about what they intend to do in office.

"You elect people to office. You don't elect platforms to office," he said. "How good are these people at managing and driving agendas? We should know more about their track record."

The committee was founded in 1904 to combat rampant corruption in City Hall. Its name is a reference to the Book of Exodus, in which Moses appoints 70 elders to lead the Israelites to the promised land.

The group has evolved into a watchdog organization that advocates for campaign finance reform and clean and fair government.

Stalberg, now living in New Mexico in what he calls a "permanent vacation," declined to speak specifically about Thornburgh.

But he said the challenge for Seventy's new leader will be to maintain the organization's courage.

The Committee of Seventy "only has value if it has nerve," Stalberg said.

Stalberg agreed with Thornburgh's goal of pressuring political candidates to "articulate what they are going to do," especially in the next mayoral race, where "there's a very ordinary set of politicians running for mayor."

Thornburgh hopes to use Seventy's influence to improve government but also "make sure people trust."

215-854-5520 @InqCVargas