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Blackwell out; Tasco new Council majority leader

With votes in place to settle the matter, Jannie Blackwell stepped aside to "mend the split."

Clearing the Record

Faced with certain defeat if the matter came to a vote, City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell surrendered her position as majority leader to Marian B. Tasco yesterday, establishing a new hierarchy expected to work closely with Mayor-elect Michael Nutter.

Blackwell's decision set the stage for Councilman Darrell Clarke to become majority whip, the position currently held by Tasco. The whip helps the president count votes on critical issues.

The leaders are to be formally elected at the inauguration Jan. 7.

Blackwell said yesterday that she was stepping down for the sake of unity.

"My hope is that by withdrawing from contention, I can help mend the split that now divides members into factions," Blackwell said, "and we can begin the Michael Nutter administration with a unified Council."

Tasco had circulated a petition and garnered the requisite eight votes from Council's 14 Democrats for the job, leaving Blackwell little choice, according to numerous Council members and aides.

"We appreciate the support and look forward to working with the new administration," said Tasco, a Nutter ally and opponent to Mayor Street.

For Nutter, Tasco represents someone he can count on for a common understanding that emanates from their shared roots in the Northwest Alliance, a political movement driven by former U.S. Rep. Bill Gray.

Blackwell would have created more uncertainty for the mayor-elect in that she has been inclined to follow her own agenda.

Tasco blamed Street for previous divisions on Council. "He was successful in being able to manipulate that process," Tasco said. "In my estimation, he wanted to control the fourth floor as well the second floor, and for a while, he was successful."

That division manifested itself famously at the 2003 inauguration, where Blackwell staged a coup by leading a vote to change the rules of Council.

Those rule changes stripped President Anna M. Verna of the president's traditional power to appoint committee members and approve hires, instead requiring that those and other decisions be approved by a vote of the president, majority leader and minority leader.

Council is expected to restore those powers in January, though Tasco said that had not been finalized.

Street spokesman Joe Grace said the mayor "has continued to be available to work with any Council member on any issue."

Grace pointed to the alliance of then-Mayor Ed Rendell and Street when he was Council president as an example of that cooperative spirit. Council members are looking to return to those times.

"We're all very optimistic that with a new administration, we will enter into a new era of cooperation with the administration and City Council," Verna said yesterday.

Nutter, through a spokeswoman, also expressed approval. "I've worked with them for many years, and I'm excited about the future," Nutter said.

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. - who had sought the whip post - said he hoped the new structure would allow Council to rally around policy questions instead of personalities or alliances.

"I don't believe that, in the past, those leadership posts were necessarily focused on unity around an issue-oriented agenda," Goode said.