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His term ends at the end of the year.
His term ends at the end of the year. Photo: Jared Piper/PHL Council

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke will not seek re-election, ending weeks of speculation surrounding his future

The four-decade serving politician announced his retirement plans in a press conference with reporters on Thursday, Feb. 23.

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Philadelphia City Hall has its answer from City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who announced his retirement plans to reporters at the commencement of Council’s meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23, following months of speculation regarding the veteran politician's future.   

Clarke, who has served as City Council President for 12 years, will not be seeking re-election to Council in 2023 and will serve out the remainder of his term that is set to expire at the end of the year. 

“I’m extremely proud of the collective work of this legislative body so far during my term as its President,” Clarke said.

Over the course of his career, he’s been involved with building affordable housing, working to reduce poverty, and bolstering public safety in neighborhoods. 

Clarke was elected as the 5th District Councilmember in 1999, replacing former Council President John F. Street, who resigned to run for Mayor. He was re-elected in 2003, 2007 and 2011. 

Following 2011, he garnered the support of his City Council colleagues to succeed Anna Verna as Council President and went on to get re-elected to Council in 2015 and 2019. 

The former protege to John F. Street got his start as a constituent services staffer for then-Councilmember Street in 1980. He would elevate himself to chief of staff as Street would become Council president before running for mayor in 1999.

Some of his accomplishments include Council creating the $400 Million Neighborhood Preservation Initiative in 2019, a comprehensive program to build 1,000 affordable homes for sale in neighborhoods across Philadelphia, and from 2020 to 2022, his council invested over $30 million to create and fund a Poverty Action Fund, a public-private partnership to lift residents out of poverty. 

Clarke was also instrumental in violence prevention and public safety, public school funding, job creation, tax relief for homeowners, and much more. 

“From making the largest single investment in affordable housing and neighborhood preservation in Philadelphia history, to a comprehensive program to begin moving 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty, to the work we’re doing to invest in community-based violence prevention to make Philadelphia safer, City Council has led the way in taking action to make our city a better, cleaner and safer place to live and work,” he added. 

Clarke’s exit is one of several incoming changes during a time of transition in City Hall. A new mayor will take over in January and so will a city controller. City Council itself will have at least 12 members out of 17 who will have served one term or less.

His retirement also means the beginning of two different battles to win his North Philadelphia-based 5th District seat and for the Council presidency, a huge position in charge of legislation and can ultimately make a mayor’s time in office a success or a failure. 

Several candidates are now starting to get ready for the battle ahead. 

Veteran Democrats on council — Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones Jr., Cindy Bass and Mark Squilla — said Thursday that a run to succeed Clarke as President is merely a consideration at this juncture in time with the race not really starting until after the May primary.

As for his North Philly council seat, Clarke on Thursday also endorsed his former chief of staff Curtis Wilkerson. Attorney Jeffery “Jay” Young Jr, Aissia Richardson, a staffer for State Senator Sharif Street, attorney Patrick Griffin and Jon Hankins Jr., are also potential contenders for the seat. 

A win in the May 16 primary will almost guarantee a win for Wilkerson because of the district’s overwhelming Democratic electorate. 

With a little over 10 months to go until the end of his time in council, Clarke reiterated to the public that his job’s not done. 

“We have much more work to do this year.” 

“Implementing reforms to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, rolling out the first class of Public Safety Enforcement Officers, creating a new Chief Public Safety Director, studying our workforce and recommending reforms to help with worker attraction and retention, creating a new Deputy Commerce official focused on job creation – all these initiatives and others are on the plate in 2023. We have work to do,” he continued. 

He also made sure to let the public know that retirement does not mean the end of public service and working to make the city better. 

“I love my job, serving the residents of the 5th Council District,” Clarke said. “It’s the best job in the world. And I enjoy the trust of serving my colleagues as President of this body. I’m confident in our members and their abilities. It’s been the privilege of a lifetime to serve the people of Philadelphia. And I’m excited and looking forward to continuing to serve the public in meaningful ways.”

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