Darrell Clarke could be City Council’s next president, but that has some on Main Campus worried.
Councilman Darrell Clarke’s fifth district is not only plagued with a poverty rate that hovers as high as 68 percent, but it’s also riddled with crime and drugs and holds onto some of the most dense amounts of property tax delinquents in Philadelphia. Still, Clarke appears to have enough votes to become the next City Council President.
According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Clarke, who is Majority Whip, has the backing of 10 of the 17 council members. Barring any changes, he will probably take control of council from outgoing President Anna Verna in January.
Clarke has represented the fifth district since 1999, which includes Main Campus. Specifically, his district stretches from 33rd to Sixth streets, and from Lehigh to Spring Garden streets. If he maintains his lead against Councilman James Kenney and Councilwoman Marian Tasco, who are also running, he could bring much needed services and attention to North Philadelphia.
Council is expected to vote for a new council president formally after the Jan. 2 inauguration of the city’s new elected council members. The president does not have any legislative authority but does have a great deal of responsibility and political influence in city government, said political science professor Megan Mullin.
“Someone has to organize the council members and help build majorities to make city policy and in any legislature, the leadership is very important because politicians don’t like to be organized,” Mullin said. “The council president has a big job trying to build majorities and make sense of the law making process.”
The personality of the council president is a part of that, said President of the nonprofit Committee of 70 Zack Stalberg, which is a government watchdog group based in Philadelphia.
“A strong leader can really pull together the other 16 council people—or many of them—and have a real influence on policy in the city,” Stalberg said.
If Clarke wins, he will have to take on the responsibility of not just the fifth district, but the entire city of Philadelphia.
“His challenge is to shift his focus from just one part of Philadelphia to the whole city and traditionally that hasn’t been the easiest thing,” Stalberg said. “You get used to feeling like you’re the mayor of a town of 150,000 people, as opposed to the second most powerful person in a city of a million and half people, so it takes a while to make that transition.”
Clarke was not available for comment on his bid as the council president election, nor has he responded to any of The Temple News’ repeated requests to go on record about previous issues pertaining to Temple students for at least a semester.
That’s not a surprise to some students.
“The community is in disrepair around campus and worse further outside of campus. Isn’t it the job of council members to fix it?” said senior international business major Yoeun Joo Lee. “If he can’t clean up North Philly, how can he get anything done to the city as council president?”
“I’m not sure what he’s done around here. I’m sure if he becomes something like council president, then it’s more politically motivated than anything else. It’s always about politics,” added senior finance major Todd Clark.
Sociology professor Mary Stricker said that Clarke has walked a fine line when dealing with issues between Temple students and permanent residents.
“Clarke is well aware and heavily involved in all that’s going on at Temple and in the community,” Stricker said. “He’s inserted himself to try to deal with the development battles in terms of Temple students living in the community.”
Clarke tends to favor permanent residents before students because most Temple students do not vote in his district, Stricker said, despite the value that Temple and its students provide to his district and North Philadelphia.
Despite most of the council’s backing Clarke, Mayor Michael Nutter has declared his support for Councilwoman Tasco, which Stalberg said would create a challenge for Clarke and could possibly force next year’s council to again butt heads with the mayor.
“They probably can find common ground if they’re both trying. [Nutter] has not had a good relationship with most council people so it’s not as if it was just Clarke,” Stalberg said. “These politicians have an ability to develop new relationships when they have to, so…assuming that Clarke is elected council president, then it’s in their best interest that they find some common ground.”
On top of the relationships that the new council president must form, Stricker said council’s biggest priority should be to improve Philadelphia public education in North Philadelphia.
Sean Carlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Petrillo contributed to this report.