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Controversial City Commissioner Anthony Clark no longer elections chair, but still in office

The Philly elections chair who came under fire for rarely showing up to work was demoted by his colleagues this week.
From left, City Commissioners Lisa Deeley (now chair), Anthony Clark (former chair) and Al Schmidt. (Provided/Charles Mostoller)

He’s still a City commissioner, but Anthony Clark, who endured a blistering whirlwind of media criticism for his tendency to rarely visit the office where he earned $138,612 as an elected commissioner of city elections, is no longer chair.

The surprise move came after the Democrat’s fellow commissioner, Al Schmidt, a Republican, entered a motion nominating Lisa Deeley, a Democrat, for the chairwoman position during their last meeting of the year on Wednesday, at which Clark was not present. Deeley and Schmidt then voted in favor of the change. 

“Next year we’ll go into the governors’ race, which is a big election,” Deeley told Metro Thursday. “The time was right for change.”

Deeley had no criticism of Clark, who will remain in office despite the demotion, but is slated to retire in 2019 at the end of his current, third term, as he has enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) which requires retirement four years after the enrollment date. (The Inquirer estimated he will receive a $450,000 DROP payment in addition to his regular pension after retirement). 

“That’s up to the voters,” she said in response to questions about whether or not he should remain in his position. “Anthony Clark was elected and he received almost 160,000 votes.”

David Thornburgh, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, had a harsher point of view about the commissioner who, he said, has no office computer and no office phone.

“The whole Anthony Clark situation is surreal. It makes us a laughing stock around the Commonwealth and around the nation that we elect a guy, pay him handsomely and then tolerate him as a ghost employee who has left no mark on the office. I don’t know where the absurdity begins or ends,” Thornburgh said. “Okay, so Anthony Clark is no longer chair. I can’t believe this will improve his work habits or his attendance, but our frustration with this whole thing is there’s been no recourse. Elected officials are well-protected.”

Clark came under fire after the now-defunct Philadelphia City Paper first reported that he had not voted in the last several elections, which as City Commissioner, he was tasked with overseeing. Investigations by the Inquirer found that Clark is rarely seen in the office, although he claimed in response that he had been ill and was always available by phone. He did not respond to requests for comment on Deeley's promotion.

Deeley said that moving forward, she hopes she can use the post of City Commissioner to boost voter participation.

“I am looking forward to a robust community engagement and civic program, and hopefully we’ll continue to see an uptick in participation,” Deeley said. “I have a vision for what this office could be and I look forward to implementing it. I am humbled by the amount of confidence my fellow commissioners have placed in me, especially given their wealth of knowledge and experience.”