Resign To Run -- Like Hell

(April 2014)

On Election Day, Philadelphia voters will be asked to change the Home Rule Charter to eliminate the "Resign-to-Run" provision and allow city elected officials to continue to serve in their elected capacity while running for another office.  In effect, this allows people to be paid by the taxpayers to look for a new job!  We can do nothing about the fact that incumbents get to run for re-election to the same office while we pay them and provide them a staff to help them earn re-election, but we must draw the line on allowing them to look for another job on our dime.  Philadelphia must respond by voting no!

Proponents suggest that removing the "Resign-to-Run" clause would be a boon to the city's political fortunes, while actually it is just a boon to politicians' fortunes.  The theory is that by allowing elected officials to pursue other political ambitions without having to worry about their next paycheck, Philadelphia might see more political competition locally and/or more city politicians elected to state and federal positions.  For example, the thinking would be that if they did not have to worry about resigning, City Council members might be emboldened to challenge an incumbent mayor and give voters a real choice when a long-shot bid might otherwise discourage a run.  Similarly, a popular Mayor might be encouraged to run for the US Senate then help out her home town from Washington.


Anyone who has ever sought public office will tell of how all-consuming and intense a political run can be.  The need to connect with voters, raise funds, and oversee a campaign staff places a huge demand on a candidate's time and attention.  Families are neglected.  Sleep is skipped.  It is simply inconceivable to believe that any candidate is able to devote the proper attention to a position -- especially one that they will tell you is already a 24/7 job -- while they are simultaneously a candidate for office.  This may be unavoidable in the case of an incumbent seeking re-election but it is unacceptable when candidates are seeking another position where campaigning is much more likely to remove candidates' physical presence from their office and the jurisdiction they represent.  Any candidate who does not resign to run is short-changing constituents by neglecting the job he or she was elected to perform.

Anyone who has ever worked for a politician will say that part of the job is making your boss look good.  That doesn't necessarily mean doing political work on the clock (although it is well documented that too many politicians routinely engage their staff to perform political work while being paid by the public), but it is absolutely true that little occurs in the office of an elected official where the political consequences of an action are not carefully considered.  Everything from the timing of mailing a legislative update to announcing a new initiative to a public-speaking engagement is planned by public employees -- and paid for with public dollars -- to help ensure that their boss gets re-elected.  It is true that the best way to get re-elected or to be elected to higher office is to do an excellent job in office, but if Philadelphia office holders are permitted to campaign for other offices while holding office, Philadelphians will be paying their staff to further their boss' run for another office.

Look, we can understand why politicians want to end the requirement that they must resign to run -- life in politics is unpredictable and it is hard to be politically bold while worrying about supporting a family or making a long-term career in public service.  Giving up an otherwise "safe" Council seat to try to unseat an incumbent Mayor is a gamble and giving up a paycheck as District Attorney to attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat doesn't put food on the dinner table.  Who would want to walk a tightrope without a net?

But voters understand what's going on and see this for what it is and what it is not.  It is not an attempt to build Philadelphia political clout.  It is an attempt to help Philadelphia politicians.  

Less than a decade ago, voters wisely rejected a previous attempt to end the "Resign-to-Run" rule.  I would even argue that Philadelphia voters take into consideration candidates' willingness to resign their office when judging their fitness for higher office.  I submit that Michael Nutter's decision to resign his Council seat to run for Mayor contrasted with his opponents' ability to run while holding state and federal offices and signaled to voters a seriousness of purpose that contrasted with his rivals' ability to "fall back" upon their other elected positions.    

The only argument that seems compelling at first is Philadelphia politicians are at an unfair disadvantage against other (non-city) officials who do not have to resign their offices to run.  That is absolutely an unleveled playing field, and I feel for any Mayor who has to consider resigning to run for Governor while his rivals are able to campaign as seated (and publicly paid!) elected officials.

But in this case Philadelphia has it absolutely right and other are wrong.  Our political system would benefit greatly if no official could keep a publicly paid seat while running for another office.  Constituents would be much better served -- and deserve -- officials who are present and accounted for and not missing hearings and votes while off on the campaign trail.  Public money would be better spent on staffers focused on helping their bosses do their jobs instead of run for new ones.  Government would be infinitely improved by ending the sham of allowing office holders to "serve" while campaigning for another job.

We elect officials to do the public's business and they work for us.  We should politely -- but firmly -- tell them that we are quite happy with the "Resign-to-Run" rule as is, and that if they want to keep working for us, they should stop trying to change it!