A former aide to former Philadelphia Mayors Ed Rendell and John F. Street is a leading candidate for the $180,000-a-year job of chief operations officer at the Delaware River Port Authority.

Mary-Rita D'Alessandro is one of four people who have been interviewed for the position, which has been open for about six months, DRPA chief executive John Matheussen said.

D'Alessandro works as the in-house attorney for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, headed by one of the city's most influential labor leaders, John J. Dougherty. Dougherty is one of eight Pennsylvania members of the board of the bistate DRPA.

Rendell is chairman of DRPA.

During the Street administration, D'Alessandro worked as a special assistant to the mayor in the press office; under Rendell, she worked as a deputy commissioner in the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

"I'm not concerned about her connections politically," Matheussen said yesterday. "I'm concerned about her ability to lead, administer, and do what she'd have to do here. Her political abilities count more with me with a little 'p' than a big 'p.' "

Filling the job of chief operations officer requires board approval, and the board may vote on the candidate at its March meeting.

"I know I am being considered," D'Alessandro said yesterday.

The DRPA, which operates the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross and Commodore Barry Bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line, has long been a home for the politically connected.

Govs. Rendell and Corzine appoint the members of the board, and many of the top positions of the authority are filled by former legislators, aides, and politically active favorites.

The DRPA employs about 900 people and has an annual operating budget of $229 million.

The agency expects to take in about $238 million this year, $195 million of that in bridge tolls.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Marcia Gelbert contributed to this article.