Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, a powerful figure in Philadelphia politics, will take on an ambiguous advisory role inside the Democratic City Committee as rumors swirl that he is seeking to gain more influence over the local party.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who doubles as head of the city’s Democratic party, stunned both the public and close confidants yesterday when he abruptly announced that he would not seek another term in office. However, he also indicated that he intended to stay on as chair of the DCC, at least for now. Brady will have to seek another term as party chieftain in June. 

But political insiders say that Clarke – whose past political ambitions included a fizzled mayoral bid – could be interested in succeeding Brady as chair. 

Clarke did not respond to requests for comment about the appointment, but several sources close to the Council President described his new role in vague terms, saying Clarke would reportedly serve as an “advisor on government affairs” to Brady on the DCC.

Clarke, a former ward leader who left his post years ago, joined party office holders Wednesday for Brady’s announcement. One ward leader described his presence at the emergency meeting as “very unusual,” but understood the reasoning behind it.

“Brady has to look strong, and right now he looks weak,” said Greg Paulmier, leader of the 12th Ward. “Darrell needs Bob – and Bob needs Darrell to hold on to the party.”

What, exactly, Clarke’s new duties would entail was not clear. 

Clarke’s allies said privately that the new arrangement was a precursor to him eventually running for chair. But others saw the new gig as a mere consolation prize after Brady’s snap decision to hang on to the chairmanship after his retirement from Congress.

While more than a dozen of the city’s 69 ward leaders hold other elected posts, Brady has long been the sole office-holder in the DCC’s top leadership, flanking himself with trusted allies. In the past, he has given ambitious Democrats lesser roles within the party’s internal structure.

Clarke’s move also coincides with another reckoning within the city’s Democratic apparatus.

Past elections have dealt defeats to party-backed candidates, drawing the aging committee structure’s power into question. Meanwhile, new political advocacy groups like Philadelphia 3.0 and Reclaim Philadelphia have been urging reform-minded candidates to run for both vacant and tenured posts – some of which can be won with only a few votes – in hopes of replacing long-standing committee people and ward leaders. Ward sources said that Brady and others are concerned about maintaining the committee’s relevance and sway over city politics.

An influx of new blood could bring about a “seismic change” that is “probably long overdue,” said David Thornburgh, executive director of Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan watchdog group. The group has been hosting informational sessions for aspiring candidates ahead of the May primary.

“This is the story of politics,” Thornburgh said. “The next generation is going to knock on the door and say, ‘What about me?’ It’s a healthy thing, but it’s not going to be without tension.” 

 

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