How is the City of Philadelphia Government structured?

The legislators that represent Philadelphia are part of the Philadelphia City Council. These people report directly to the Mayor. They can be from any political party, and are elected for four-year terms.

Philadelphia City Council is made up of seventeen members total. The city is divided into ten Districts, with one City Council Member representing each District. There are also seven At-Large Council Members, each elected by a citywide vote. No political party may hold all seven At-Large seats. The City Council drafts and enacts legislation that adds to or amends the City Code. Additionally the City Council plays a crucial role in shaping the city budget. The Mayor presents the draft budget to City Council for review and amendments by holding hearings and accepting public comment.

How is the Pennsylvania State Government structured? 

Similar to the U.S. Federal Congress, Pennsylvania has two chambers of elected representation – House and Senate. There are 50 seats in the Senate and 203 seats in the House. Both of these chambers are currently majority Republican. Senators are elected for four years, and House Reps are elected for two years.

How do political parties work in Philadelphia?

The structure of political parties in Philadelphia is complicated. The two major parties, Democratic and Republican, each have a City Committee, composed of the people who are elected into positions within the party. These people are not legislators, but instead influence how each party works within the city.

The City Committees divided Philadelphia into 66 Wards, and each Ward is further divided into Divisions. There is a lot of variability in the size and breakdown of each Ward; some Wards have only 10 Divisions while others have 55. To make it more complicated, the Wards, City Council Districts and State House Districts (see below) do not necessarily share boundaries. Every four years the voters of the Division elect two party members as Ward Committee People – essentially the ground troops for the Party. The committee people then elect the Ward Leader, who oversees Party activity in the entire Ward. The Ward Leaders of each party make up the Democratic and Republican City Committees.

Interestingly, people elected to the City or State legislature (City Council Members, State House Reps and Senators) can all also hold seats within the party as committee people or Ward leaders.

How does the Democratic City Committee work and how can I get involved?

The Democratic City Committee is made up of the Ward Leaders, and has been led by Bob Brady, a Federal House Representative for Philadelphia, since 1986. As Philadelphia is heavily Democratic, the influence of the Democratic City Committee is enormous. Ward Leaders make a significant impact on the city by endorsing candidates in each election, creating sample ballots to be distributed to all voters in their ward, determining how “street money” is distributed, and organizing get out the vote efforts. Ward Leaders have enormous discretion in endorsements. Four wards are referred to as “Good Governance Wards”, and have candidate-vetting committees in which the committee people interview candidates and independently determine the ward endorsements. The remaining 62 wards determine endorsements at the discretion of the Ward Leader, and many follow the recommendation of Bob Brady, which allows him to direct the course of elections.

The entry point for those interested in getting involved in local politics is often through the Committee Person role. It may sound like a big title, but committee people are just people who live in that neighborhood and want to be involved in the Party. Becoming a committee person involves registering your candidacy by getting a handful of signatures from neighbors, and then running for office on Election Day. People often get elected with only a handful of votes! Additionally, many of these positions are currently vacant. When the position is vacant, the Ward Leader has the discretion to appoint someone for the remainder of the term. Getting appointed is as easy as contacting your Ward Leader and expressing your interest (see our “About Us” page; many MPFers are already serving in this vital committee person role). Becoming a committee person can be a great way to experience the Philadelphia political system from within, and begin to understand where we can make big differences by working together.