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DN Editorial: Decommission Clark

Isn't it funny that a guy paid to promote voting never votes?

City Commissioner Anthony Clark. Photo by Bob Warner
City Commissioner Anthony Clark. Photo by Bob WarnerRead more

DID YOU HEAR the one about the guy whose job is to oversee elections in Philadelphia but never bothers to show up to vote?

Sorry to say it is not a joke.

As the City Paper reported recently, Anthony Clark, chair of the City Commissioners, hasn't voted in the past five elections.

The three commissioners run the city's Election Bureau. Part of their job is to promote registration and encourage people to vote. Yet, Clark hasn't voted since 2011.

Maybe he could argue that he is too busy on Election Day to take time to vote.

(We don't actually know what he would say because Clark hardly ever answers questions from the media.)

But, anyone familiar with Clark would not buy that "I'm too busy" theory. Clark, who is paid $135,000 to serve as chair, has a reputation of not being very interested in working at the job. We can't quite call him a no-show; he is more of a low-show.

The day-to-day running of the office has been left to Commissioner Al Schmidt, who is the lone Republican on the commission, and who works hard at the job. Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democrat, is estranged from her colleagues and has hardly any decision-making power.

Clark has excellent qualifications for the job, at least in the eyes of Democratic Party chairman Bob Brady. He is a Democratic Ward Leader (North Philadelphia's 28th Ward), and held a string of patronage jobs before he won a spot on the commission in the 2007 election. In short, he is a political hack.

As little as Clark does now, he will have even less to do next year.

The law states that when the commissioners are running for election, they must step back from running election operations and hand that power over to a panel of judges.

Citing this forced, yearlong paid vacation, Ellen Kaplan of the Committee of Seventy has written Clark, Singer and Schmidt asking them to reduce their pay by a "reasonable amount" next year when they will seek re-election.

Singer has said she does not intend to reduce her $125,000 yearly salary. Schmidt has voluntarily agreed to reduce his salary by 25 percent.

Clark hasn't responded to Kaplan's letter, nor is anyone expecting him to. He couldn't care less what the election-watchdog group thinks.

All this raises the question: Why do we still have City Commissioners? The positions date back to the early 19th century when they served the same role as county commissioners in the state's other 66 counties. Since the city consolidated in 1854, gobbling up adjacent townships and boroughs into the city of Philadelphia, they haven't had much to do. Running election operations is their sole job.

When you add up their salaries, benefits, office expenses and aides, the three cost taxpayers something close to $1 million a year. It's wasted money. A professional director of elections could do the job for a lot less money.

Abolishing the City Commission would require voters to approve a change in the charter.

Putting that question on the ballot may be the only thing that would get Clark to show up and vote. That's no joke.