Why don't more Philadelphians run for public office?
That's a question a lot of people are asking right now – particularly with respect to the mayor's race – where the candidates pool in the Democratic primary is shrinking by the week, and the outnumbered Republican machinery is still scrambling to find a candidate.
Just a couple of months ago, it was highly expected that City Council President Darrell Clarke, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo and former Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority director Terry Gillen would be facing off against each other.
Instead, Butkovitz and Clarke took a pass, and Trujillo and Gillen dropped out last month.
The remaining four declared Democratic candidates – former City Councilman Jim Kenney, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, State Sen. Anthony Williams and former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz – have been able to create much spark … nor much cash.
On the GOP side, business executive Melissa Murray Bailey, formerly a Democrat, has changed her registration to Republican, according to voter registration records, and is still exploring a potential run, as is Elmer Money, a candidate who ran in the 2011 City Council primary.
In addition, a dark-horse candidate may be emerging. Sean Clark, a 35 year-old nonprofit vice president, told me tonight that he met with the GOP's 5th Ward leader, Michael Cibik, to express his interest in running for mayor. Clark, who hails from Milesburg (just outside of State College), lives in the Washington Square area of Center City and was very clear about his intentions.
"I believe in a free and open society, ideas matter, and the purpose of elections is to vet ideas, bring them to the table, and bring them to public consideration," Clark told me in a brief telephone conversation this evening.
All great developments for voters, but why aren't there more choices, and what is scaring away potential candidates?
Often, it's how the candidates are labeled by the press.
Dr. Nathan Shrader, an assistant professor of political science at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, earned his doctorate from Temple University today, and he has closely watched Pennsylvania politics from afar.
"If you look at two of the greatest politicians in the modern history of Pennsylvania – Bob Casey Sr. and Catherine Baker Knoll – they lost multiple times statewide, but they went on to become well-respected public servants," Shrader said, adding, "It's more important to know who the candidates are and what they stand for instead of how many times they've run. It's not a crime to run and lose and should not count as a mark against them."
One candidate whom I believe has been unfairly characterized is GOP City Council candidate Al Taubenberger, who was described in a Daily News Clout column last week as a "thousand-time political loser."
I was livid and wrote the journalists who penned the remark, and Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph responded:
"First of all I want to thank you for being the first reader to ever take the Clout column completely seriously. It was created by me in 1996 as a light-hearted gossipy political column that enjoyed throwing snowballs at top hats. I believe we've even thrown some snowballs at you over the years. The description of the candidates that upsets you is ours alone and not from Joe DeFelice, who simply listed the candidates. Had it been his words, we would've put it in quotes. I will confess that hyperbole and satire are among the column's features (and some serious stuff from time to time). You are absolutely right to object to our characterization of Al Taubenberger (whom I know and respect) as a "thousand-time loser" since, in fact, he only lost five times. We were just having a little fun there."
In my opinion, "having a little fun there" by using hyperbole hurts Taubenberger and is mean-spirited.
I asked Taubenberger how he felt. Here's his emailed response from earlier today:
"I expect to be attacked, I'm a formidable candidate. I can't just sit back and watch City Council continually dig a moat around Philadelphia. They're keeping businesses and jobs from coming into the city. Yes, I'm running again. As I always taught my kids, if at first you don't succeed, try again. Of course, in my case, it's try and try again."
Shrader weighed in, as well. "People can have their differences of opinion about Al the candidate, but the most important function of a democratic system is contested elections. Al Taubenberger had ... the courage to put his name on the line in multiple elections. He gave voters a choice where they may not have had an option without him.
Two candidates for City Council were referred to as "unknowns" by Clout. "Unknown" no more. Courtesy of U-Turn, meet Randy Robinson.