COUNCILWOMAN Marian Tasco gave me a call last week. It was the day after she "retired" for a day, thereby pocketing the cool lump sum of $478,057 thanks to the DROP program. She thought our treatment of her windfall was racist; we'd superimposed her face on a seemingly rich lady's body, outside a Prada store and next to a Bentley (right).
Register of Wills Ron Donatucci had also gotten a DROP payout, but we hadn't mentioned him. In other words, we went after the black lady and not the white guy. I told her that she'd have a point if our rabidly anti-DROP columnist Stu Bykofsky hadn't already treated Franny Rizzo and Frank DiCicco with the same level of outrage as we were now treating her. Those white males received the same ire we sent her way because, as lawmakers, they ought to be held to higher ethical standards than, say, a row-office holder.
Besides, how many people even know who Donatucci is or what a register of wills does?
Then we really got into it. Councilwoman Tasco said that, as a city worker, she was entitled to the DROP payment - "That's my money," she said. I told her that she's not a city worker - she's an elected official who works for the voter. You don't need a law degree to know that partaking in this subterfuge of a fake retirement in order to pocket nearly a half-million bucks - on top of her $117,000 Council salary - just stinks all to hell. I told her she should be ashamed.
Councilwoman Tasco, bless her heart, is no shrinking violet. "Why don't you run for City Council?" she said. "I wish you would. You'd see that this job is 24/7, that you're out in the community at events every night. You wouldn't be able to do it."
"What are you talking about?" I responded. "What about your week off for Election Day? Or the five-week holiday recess? Or the two-month summer break? Or the week for Presidents Day? Or Easter week? Or Columbus Day week? Or Flag Day?"
There was a pause. "We don't get Flag Day off anymore," she said - and I think I detected a playful laugh.
"Well, finally - reform, City Council-style."
I told Councilwoman Tasco that I'd make her a deal. I'd put her on our cover and take up a collection to erect a statue in her honor - if she gave the money back. She refused: "That's my money! I'm entitled to it!"
Here's an alternative: Let's pretend that this isn't a backwater, banana-republic town and let's actually debate the issue. If Councilwoman Tasco really believes that her participation in DROP hasn't harmed the city and hasn't been a slap in the face to its voters, she should make that case. Hell, we could do it on philly.com in real time, so that readers could chime in and vote on whether elected officials taking DROP is cool or not. Hell, after she explains herself, maybe they'll be in her corner.
Look, talking to her, I actually kind of liked Marian Tasco. Years ago, I'm sure, she got into public service for all the right reasons. Now she's armed with findings from the City Solicitor's Office saying that it's legal for her to take this money, pretend to retire and then come back to work. But having the right to do something is not the same as doing the right thing. DROP is a deferred-retirement program. If you want to collect the cash, then ride off into the sunset and retire.
"But I don't want to retire," she said.
Harry Truman once said, "You can't get rich in politics unless you're a crook." The 2012 Philly version of that would be: "You can't get rich in politics unless you take DROP." Like many of his generation, Truman used to speak often of "doing the right thing." It was a black-and-white world back then, morally speaking, and would that we had some of that clarity today.
I'll tell you what I told Councilwoman Tasco: Our role is to shame people like her into doing the right thing. Hopefully, we'll do it with some humor and humility. But, c'mon. Someone's got to call these people out, right?