By Denise Clay
ABOVE PHOTO: State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson (in red tie) is surrounded by supporters,(from left) Sen. Anthony H. Williams, State Rep. Dwight Evans, State Rep. Jewell Williams, Sen. Larry Farnese at his announcement last week to run for a City Council seat.
According to one of the many think tanks that seem to do a whole lot of research on this type of thing, Philadelphia’s City Council has been working together the longest.
The study looked at city councils around the country and found that the folks in Philadelphia’s City Council don’t usually have any problems with getting reelected. They have stayed in office as a unit the longest of any such unit in the country….and are collecting the most money for their trouble.
But this year, thanks to the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (or DROP to those who curse its existence), four of the members of the longest serving City Council in the country are taking their lump sum payments and retiring. Council members Donna Reed Miller, Jack Kelly and Joan Krajewski (who is actually retiring for a second time) are stepping out of their seats. Even Council President Anna Verna (and her nearly $600,000 DROP nest egg) is leaving.
It means, according to a friend of mine, that Philly’s political landscape is going to look like a scene from the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus….the clown cars are gonna open and all of the “clowns” are going to fall out.
In some cases, those of us who follow city politics are kind of used to this. Cindy Bass, a legislative aide to Congressman Chaka Fattah, was probably going to run for the Eighth District Council seat no matter what Donna Reed Miller did. Community activist Greg Palumier was also going to run no matter what, as was Verna Tyler, a community activist from Tioga .
Now Derek Green, a legi slative aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco, had stepped back when Reed was still in the mix. But now that she isn’t…..
We’re also used to Jack Kelly having to fight for his Council at Large seat, but now that he’s retiring, the fight is going to be between David Oh, the attorney who came really close to being the first Asian in City Council last time around, former Speaker of the House Denny O’Brien, Joe McColgan, hospital administrator Elmer Money, and two other Republicans who got smacked around in city-wide races by the guys currently holding the office: Michael Untermyer, who was taken to school by District Attorney Seth Williams and Al Taubenberger, who Michael Nutter soundly defeated to become Mayor.
As for Joan Krajewski’s seat, I’m more interested in seeing if anyone gets arrested in that race. When a candidate, former School Reform Commission member Martin Bednarek is telling folks that someone threatened to break his legs if he ran for the office, this race moves right into “On the Waterfront” territory.
PHOTO: Damon K. Roberts
But while the four councilmembers mentioned above have decided to honor their DROP obligation and leave, they aren’t the only ones eligible to do so. They’re just the ones who have decided to go.
Councilwoman Marian Tasco is eligible to take the money and run, but she isn’t. She wants to be Council President and knows that her way is much clearer now that Verna’s moving on. Plus she has folks in her district who are determined to make sure she does another four-year term.
Then there’s Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Frank Rizzo Jr. DiCicco is trying to curry favor with the “progressives” (quotes mine) in his district by trying to pass legislation that allows folks who are in the DROP program to drop out. Failing that, he’s promised to work for free if re-elected.
But that’s not enough to keep him from having to fight off a few challengers. Some of them are the usual suspects, like lawyer (and perennial candidate) Vernon Anastasio.
But others are new blood, like Joe Grace, a former spokesman for Mayor John Street, Dan Stephenson who has the backing of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (or in shorthand, DiCicco’s nemesis Local 98 executive John Dougherty) Whitman Council president Mark Squilla, labor organizer Jeff Hornstein, and retired schoolteacher Karen Brown, who plans to run for an at-large seat simultaneously.
(I guess that pensions for retired teachers aren’t nearly as generous as all of those Republican Governors would have you believe…)
Rizzo, however, isn’t putting himself through those kinds of changes because (a) he’s a Republican, (b) he’s an at-large councilman, (c) he’s renowned for his constituent service, and (d) his last name is Rizzo. There’s a lot of people in the mostly Republican Northeast for whom that’s enough.
(Note to Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News: Trying to say that by running for re-election Frank Rizzo Jr. besmirches the family name would only make sense if the last name wasn’t Rizzo. I personally don’t think that there’s anything that Rizzo Jr. could do to mess up the family name that comes close to the shenanigans his father pulled. He’d have to strip search Phillies superstars Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in the street to come close to being as despicable as his father. Somehow, I don’t see him doing that.)
But while DiCicco is looking at six challengers, that’s nothing compared to the logjam that’s starting to form in the race to succeed Verna. About 10 people are either looking to run, have declared themselves candidates, or are about to do so soon.
Among those 10 are State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, local attorney and community activist Damon K. Roberts, former State Rep. Harold James (the man that Johnson beat for his current seat), Richard DeMarco, a former Verna legislative aide, realtor Barbara Capuzzi and Maurita Crawford, Councilman Bill Green’s director of constituent services, who has already gotten an endorsement of sorts from Local 98.
Roberts and Johnson are the only two who have formally announced. While it’s not a situation where you can’t invite these two friends to the same parties, let’s just say that their relationship is a little strained…
“We got together about two days before Council President Verna announced that she wasn’t running,” Roberts said. “He said he wasn’t interested in that seat, but as soon as she announced that she wasn’t running, he changed his mind. Apparently he got an epiphany as soon as Verna announced she wasn’t running.”
When Johnson was asked about that, he denied saying he wasn’t interested. In fact, he gave the stock answer that politicians usually give when their opponents point out the kind of thing that Roberts pointed out.
“Everyone has the right to run,” he said.
Yes they do. And a lot of people are going to exercise that right this year.
In any case, City Council is going to look a lot different in 2012. Hopefully, this different look will translate into some different solutions to a lot of the problems this city faces.
If it doesn’t, the political “clown cars” will surely start to fill up.