City Councilman David Oh is right: There is a lot wrong with Philadelphia politics. But Oh's bill to allow Philadelphia's elected officials to keep their city jobs while seeking other offices won't make it right.
The City Charter's resign-to-run rule uniquely disadvantages Council members, the mayor, the district attorney, and a few other elected officials by prohibiting them from running for another office - local, state, or federal - without quitting their current post. But requiring this small group of people to commit to the jobs they hold, as well as the jobs they want, is still a good idea.
Officials who really want another office can find a way to run for it. There is little evidence that the rule has prevented serious candidates from running for mayor, for example, which is the most likely move for Council members who want to change the rule.
Oh's bill wouldn't let candidates appear on the ballot for two city offices at the same time - for instance, to run for mayor while seeking reelection to Council. But it seems likely to encourage more officeholders to neglect their jobs while they test the waters. Given the pace of a Philadelphia mayoral campaign, a candidate would be hard pressed to run a Council office effectively at the same time.
Some candidates forced to quit their offices have taken sham jobs while they run. Although that's not an ideal result, it does speak to the all-consuming nature of a candidacy. And should taxpayers really be financing candidates' ambitions instead?
Oh's bill also raises an ethical issue. A candidate for state office can accept unlimited contributions, but a declared candidate for city office is subject to limits. What if a mayor were to open a state campaign and accept big checks from special interests seeking influence? It could roll back the progress Philadelphia has made toward cleaning up its pay-to-play culture.
The problems with Philadelphia politics are rooted in the local parties, not the City Charter. The Democrats pick candidates through a mostly old boys' network. And the Republicans are too weak to win anything not guaranteed by the charter or granted by Democrats in a backroom deal.
As proponents of the rule change note, Philadelphia doesn't have the clout it should in Harrisburg. But the threat of a city official running for state office isn't scary enough to get respect. It's more disconcerting that city Democrats, who supply so many votes for statewide candidates, and local Republicans, who supply so much money for them, let Harrisburg off the hook.
If Oh can change that, his political future will be more than secure.