A new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that the members of the Philadelphia City Council have served longer, on average, than their counterparts in any of 14 other major cities including the nation's 10 largest.
With an average tenure of 15.5 years in office as of the end of 2010, the council is Philadelphia's longest-serving in at least six decades. The council also had one of the lowest percentages of first-term members of any of the cities studied.
The report, City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities: Who Holds Office, How Long They Serve, and How Much It All Costs, compares the 15 city councils in a number of ways that can be quantified, including council budgets, staffing, salaries, certain electoral conditions, tenure and the representation of historically underrepresented groups.
“Relative to the other cities, Philadelphia's council is well-paid and well-staffed, although it is not the highest-paid or most-staffed,” said Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of the Philadelphia Research Initiative and the primary author of the report. “Philadelphia's council members have more weeks without scheduled sessions than their counterparts elsewhere, are more likely to use city-owned cars and are among the few who must give up their seats to run for other elective office.”
The cities included in the report, in addition to Philadelphia, are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose and Washington. Three other cities—Denver, Nashville and San Francisco—were included in some of the cost comparisons because they, like Philadelphia, have consolidated city/county governments. A PDF of the report and an interactive Web graphic that allows users to compare councils are available.
This research was conducted on the heels of a recession that has led many cities to cut their municipal budgets. City councils were heavily involved in those decisions, and councils' own spending levels have come under increased scrutiny. And the cities are about to engage in the once-a-decade council redistricting process that will define the parameters of local political representation for the next 10 years.
One reason that Philadelphia has the longest-serving council is the absence of term limits. Eight of the 15 cities in the study, including New York and Los Angeles, have term limits for council, limiting members to no more than 12 years in office, less in some cases.
Philadelphia and all of the other cities studied except Detroit, Houston, New York and San Diego have elections this year at which all or some council seats will be on the ballot. In Philadelphia, all of the seats are up for election, and four veteran members—including Council President Anna Verna, a 35-year incumbent and longest-serving council member since at least 1920, have decided not to seek new terms.
Among the other key findings of the 15-city study are these:
About the Report
City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities was written by Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative, with the assistance of senior associate Claire Shubik-Richards and staff at the Pew Center on the States. The report is limited to the parameters described above, as well as other measurable factors. It does not, for instance, look at such items as voting records of council members, nor does it attempt to measure the political effectiveness of individual members or any of the councils as a whole.