ON THIS, THE day before Christmas, it's beginning to look a lot like the 1st District City Council race may have as many candidates as Santa has

reindeer.

Councilman Frank DiCicco, who plans to run for re-election, is politically vulnerable due to his participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).

If re-elected, DiCicco can retire for one day on Dec. 30, 2011, collect a $424,646 payout, and then go back on the city payroll when his new term starts in January 2012. DiCicco says he will collect his pension money but give back his Council pay.

Joe Grace, a former spokesman for Mayor John Street and one-time Daily News political writer who just left a job as executive director for CeaseFirePA, is pushing the DROP issue in his second try for a Council seat.

"I think the DROP issue symbolizes the need for change in City Council," Grace said. "I don't think that's a secret."

Vern Anastasio, who twice tried to knock off DiCicco in Democratic primaries, also declared this week his intention to run again. Anastasio said last summer he would not run if DiCicco was running for re-election. Here's what Anastasio told us this week:

"I'm running if Frank retires. I anticipate he's going to retire. He's in the DROP program. He has to retire."

Anastasio added that it is not relevant to him whether DiCicco retires for one day or forever.

Jeff Hornstein, a local leader for Service Employees International Union, also is running in the Democratic primary. Hornstein, who spent 10 years in academia before 10 years in labor, could be the very first Council member with a doctorate.

Attorney and 5th Ward Leader Mike Boyle and retired teacher Karen Brown also plan to run in the May 17 primary.

While the candidates are very forthcoming about their plans, nobody is claiming responsibility for a robo-poll from an unnamed Washington, D.C., firm that rang the phones of 1st Council District voters earlier this month.

That poll asked about DiCicco, Anastasio, Boyle, Brown and John Dougherty, who leads Local 98 of the electricians union.

Everyone named in the poll denied putting it in the field.

We spoke with three people who received the robo-poll. All said it asked a lot of questions about DiCicco and DROP.

Runyan sacked before snap?

Politics, like professional football, can be a tough occupation.

Consider U.S. Rep.-elect Jon Runyan, the former Eagles offensive lineman and New Jersey's newest Republican member of the U.S. House.

Runyan this week confronted the possibility that the 3rd District seat he won from Democratic U.S. Rep. John Adler in November could be on the redistricting chopping block in 2012. The 2010 Census shows that New Jersey should lose one of its 13 congressional districts.

There are two ways for that to happen: Politicians can study the map to decide which area has lost population and needs less representation, or the guys who have been in the business the longest can drop the ax on a rookie.

Runyan was in Texas with family for the holidays, and his top campaign adviser, Chris Russell, said the freshman legislator is not focused on redistricting.

Russell said speculation holds that a seat in North Jersey would be more likely to face oblivion because of population losses there.

"This was something that everyone knew was out there," Russell said. "That wasn't something we were worrying about during the campaign. We were trying to win the seat, not worry about what happens after that."

End of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

A trip to the White House Wednesday to see President Obama sign the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy banning service by gays in the military brought back some old memories for Micah Mahjoubian, a former Street staffer who now runs the political-consulting firm Soapbox Solutions.

Mahjoubian, co-chairman of the Liberty City Democratic Club, recalled marching on the D.C. mall in 1993 to protest the ban on gays in the military as a still-closeted freshman at American University.

"When I got to the mall, I was amazed," Mahjoubian said. "I had never seen so many gay people."

That protest was part of the political process that led to the DADT compromise President Bill Clinton reached with Congress in 1993.

Mahjoubian said U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war vet who advocated in Congress for the end of DADT, received an "extended standing ovation" Wednesday when Obama introduced him. Murphy, who represents the 8th District, lost his bid for re-election in November.

Quotable:

"Politics is no longer the art of the possible when senators are intransigent in their positions. Polarization of the political parties has followed. President Reagan's 'Big Tent' has frequently been abandoned by the Republican Party. A single vote out of thousands cast by an incumbent can cost his seat."

- U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, delivering his "closing argument" in the Senate Tuesday. Specter switched parties last year in a failed bid for a sixth term.

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