Council is back: Let jockeying begin Leadership posts may open with arrival of a new mayor.

Posted: September 20, 2007

City Council returns to work today with ethics reform, casinos, even immigration on the agenda, as members position themselves for leadership posts in anticipation of a new administration taking over in January.

After its summer recess, Council will be greeted today by a proposal by Councilman Brian J. O'Neill to require city police to check immigration status of all felony suspects. Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney want to outlaw plastic bags in many stores. And the casino carnival will reconvene next week, with another raucous hearing anticipated at a Rules Committee hearing on the proposed SugarHouse Casino plan for Fishtown.

More immediately, a decision to put two questions on the November ballot must be made today.

One ballot proposal would give the city's Inspector General's Office greater power in investigating city government; the other would reshape the Fairmount Park Commission. The inspector general bill looks as if it won't make the ballot, while the fate of the Fairmount Park question remained uncertain.

Councilwoman Carol Ann Campbell is expected to ask to delay the inspector general question until spring. The Committee of Seventy and other would-be reform supporters have said the bill could create confusion among the city controller, the reinvigorated Board of Ethics, the inspector general, and the district attorney.

"Postponing a vote will allow Council to take a harder look at the redundancy issue - to avoid unnecessary confusion, to ensure that the taxpayers are not paying two or three times for duplicative investigations, and to help safeguard the rights of individuals who are under investigation," Zack Stalberg, the government watchdog group's executive director, wrote to Council members this week.

"I think everyone's in agreement that we should take a little more time," said Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., one of the bill's chief backers.

The Fairmount Park bill would take the power of appointing members away from city judges and put it under the mayor and Council.

Two allies of Mayor Street's, Councilman Darrell L. Clarke and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, sponsored the measure. They could not be reached yesterday. But being a Street ally might hurt more than help in the waning days of his administration, in a Council whose relationship with the mayor has grown increasingly sour.

"I'm not voting for any legislation generated by this administration - because I don't trust it," said Councilwoman Marian Tasco. The Democratic whip, she is considered a strong candidate to challenge Council majority leader Jannie L. Blackwell come January, when Democrat Michael Nutter is expected to take office.

Tasco and others, such as Kenney, said they did not expect to introduce major initiatives until next year. Tasco wants to introduce a bill to tackle the complex funding of common driveways in her district; Kenney is the chief proponent of an intricate 311 system that would route all service inquiries to one call center and require departments to be accountable for their response.

But others, particularly Campbell, are on good terms with Street and have ambitious agendas. Campbell, who lost the primary and will leave office in January, has already introduced about 50 bills - many related to the needs of the handicapped - and plans more.

"My job is to try and be inventive in finding better ways to take care of people," said Campbell, who recently got the Street administration to sign off on a home-repair program tailored to her district.

Council members will spend part of the fall angling for leadership positions. That will involve lobbying for the support of Democratic Council candidates Bill Green, Curtis Jones and Maria Quinones Sanchez, who are expected to win in November.

Blackwell, who once aspired to replace Council President Anna C. Verna, allied herself with unsuccessful mayoral candidate Tom Knox in the spring primary and is considered vulnerable as majority leader. "It'll be the will of the majority, so we'll see what happens," Blackwell said in an interview.

Blackwell, long regarded as a threat to Verna, has been making peace overtures with the president, whose power she undermined in 2004 by supporting a change in Council rules.

"Obviously, I've been around long enough to consider moving up, but I'm willing to maintain the status quo for the sake of unity," Blackwell said.

Should Tasco bump Blackwell for majority leader in January, Clarke and Goode have been mentioned as candidates for whip. Goode said he would be interested; Clarke couldn't be reached yesterday.

Any power shift would likely bring an end to the 2004 rule changes that weakened the presidency by requiring all hiring and committee assignments to be decided by a majority vote of the president, majority leader and minority leader. This gave unprecedented power to Republican Minority Leader O'Neill, and for a time channeled support for Street through O'Neill and Blackwell.

O'Neill said he was indifferent about the possible elimination of that requirement. If Democrats are not fighting among themselves, O'Neill said, his vote becomes unnecessary.

The Republicans are expected to provide the most entertainment in the general election, which is usually a cakewalk for Democratic Council candidates in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Two at-large Council positions are reserved for the minority party. Observers predict Republican Councilman Frank Rizzo will win one, leaving Councilman Jack Kelly to fight off challenges from David Oh, Patricia Mattern and Phil Kerwick, with Oh making a strong fund-raising and advertising push.

Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

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