City Council President Darrell Clarke’s head is full of ideas, and he just wants to get on with it already.
“I have a sense of urgency,” Clarke said, as he reflected on his first few months as president. “I’ve got to do stuff. I’ve got municipal marketing. I’ve got a development district. And, the other members too, we’ve got projects.”
Some of his ideas — like municipal marketing, selling advertising space on city property — have been controversial. But, Clarke, at a recent Tribune editorial board meeting, said it's time for city government to begin looking at fresh ways to generate revenue.
He’s going to keep throwing out ideas until he’s solved the problem.
Clarke has been portrayed as something of a sphinx – quiet, diligent, a man who worked best behind the scenes. That’s pretty much how he’s operated since being first elected to council in 1999. He held a leadership role, majority whip, but it was one that allowed him to remain in the shadows.
That’s impossible as council president. Yet, his tendency to shun the spotlight is evident in his leadership style.
“I guess I’m decentralizing the council president’s authority. I think it’s been very helpful, and I think it’s been good for the members,” he said.
Already the tenor of council has changed.
For the first time, a council president, who has traditionally exercised great authority in what legislation moves, when and who on council is involved, has delegated quite a bit of that authority.
“I think I’ve tried to be fair,” he said. “Every council person chairs a committee, which is unprecedented.”
As an example, he pointed to Councilman David Oh, a freshman and a Republican, two strikes against him under traditional council leadership, but Clarke has put in him charge of the Committee on Global Opportunities.
“He’s supposed to be chairing that committee,” Clarke said.
As president, he also expects every member to pull his or her weight.
“Don’t expect me to do the follow up,” he said. “You do the follow up and make sure the legislation gets enacted properly. They love it.”
Clarke recognizes that to get some of his ideas put in place he’ll have to collaborate even more – primarily with Mayor Michael Nutter.
“The reality is that the legislative branch of government cannot implement programs. That is, to a large degree, some of the frustration that a legislator suffers. Because at the end of the day, you can have nine million great ideas, but if the mayor chooses not to implement it that’s all it is, an idea,” he said.
The relationship between the two men – often acrimonious – is evolving.
“To be determined,” was how Clarke described it.
He stepped into the city’s top legislative job in January during a period that was deceptively quiet. Council, now knee-deep in budget hearings that are convoluted with concerns over a move to a property tax system based on full property values, and this week’s bombshell about the school district’s budget, is wrestling with issues that will shape the city’s long-term future.
Critics worried that the influence of his political mentor, former Mayor John F. Street, would be too evident.
Nutter campaigned vigorously behind the scenes against Clarke’s election to the presidency. The mayor backed former Majority Leader Marian Tasco.
Clarke doesn’t seem to hold a grudges.
He joked about Tasco’s recent participation in Dancing with the Philadelphia Stars, a charity dance contest Tasco won.
“It was a little bit rigged,” he said laughing.
As far as Nutter is concerned, Clarke admits that for progress to be made the two men will have to collaborate. The city made little progress under Mayor Bill Green, who was constantly at odds with council, he said. W. Wilson Goode had a better relationship with council but the city was broke at the time. Ed Rendell, during his tenure as mayor, managed to work well with Council President John Street.
“Street sat down and said ‘this is what I want’ and Ed said ‘this is what I want’ - they worked a deal and stuff happened,” said Clarke.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
In any event, Clarke now has a greater respect for former Council President Anna C. Verna, who steered council from 1999 to 2012.
“Every day I think about Anna Verna with a newfound respect,” he said, adding that he hoped he could be an example for his colleagues. “We’ve been given a significant opportunity and responsibility — and we need to treat it as such.”