Monica Yant Kinney: DROP: As in, 'dead politically'
When a politician says, "I'm entitled," he's trying - unsuccessfully - to defend the indefensible. Philadelphia City Council President Anna C. Verna used the E-word last week to justify her cash grab from the city's controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program.
When a politician says, "I'm entitled," he's trying - unsuccessfully - to defend the indefensible.
Philadelphia City Council President Anna C. Verna used the E-word last week to justify her cash grab from the city's controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program.
The economy's in the tank and Mayor Nutter is so desperate to balance the budget he's resorted to the nuclear option: tax hikes. But City Council is as fat and happy as ever.
Council already wrangled an 11 percent budget boost used to reward staffers, my colleague Jeff Shields reports. And a half-dozen Council members will soon pocket $2.1 million in retirement incentives, even if none of them retires.
Verna doesn't get the fuss.
Why should she be denied the $571,679 perk that so nicely complements her city-issued Crown Vic, nine-month work year, $140,864 salary, and hefty pension for life?
"I think," Verna said of the DROP in her bucket, "I'm entitled to it."
This is why Philadelphia City Council is such a joke. Entrenchment leads to entitlement. No good comes from either.
If City Council had a reputation for innovative initiatives and real reform, I might overlook the greed. But, mostly, members just oppose funding cuts, star in their own scandals, and preserve patronage.
"What this city needs," agrees political consultant Neil Oxman, "is a new revolution: 17 real people running on an independent ticket to 'Kick the bums out.' "
Verna, almost 78, has been in office since 1976. She's a pearl-wearing poster matron for term limits.
Majority Leader Marian B. Tasco, 71, took office in 1988 and gets $467,566 from DROP. She told Shields she "resented" being "maligned" for taking a benefit available to all city workers.
(Brief recap: DROP is supposed to help city departments manage staffing and retain institutional knowledge. Since elected officials leave only when they lose, die, retire, or are indicted, there's no earthly reason they should be included.)
Days after Jack Kelly first took office in 1988, he called his colleagues "a bunch of idiots." Soon, he'll pocket $299,163 via DROP just like the rest of them.
Frank DiCicco ($392,194), Donna Reed Miller ($190,099), and Frank Rizzo ($189,873) joined Council in 1996. None plans to step down, but when they do, they should pay for their own parties.
Arrogance R Us
Oxman is a legend in Democratic campaign circles. Chris Mottola wins big for Republican clients nationwide. Both agree that Philadelphia City Council members are choking on their arrogance.
"If I was advising these incumbents, I'd say, 'Are you out of your mind?' " Mottola says. "If I was running a challenger against them, every spot and every speech would be about" this DROP business.
"Politically, it's a suicide note."
Well, it should be.
Councilwoman Joan L. Krajewski, a 29-year veteran, enrolled in DROP, ran for reelection (unopposed in the Democratic primary), and won.
In January 2008, Krajewski took her $288,136 DROP check and "retired" for 24 hours. A day later, she returned to her $112,000 job representing a distressed river district.
"It's kind of like the old Kremlin," says Mottola. "There's no viable two-party system. Dissent and the reform movement have been pretty much squashed simply because of the amount of money and effort it would take to knock somebody off."
"The system is rigged," Oxman adds, "for incumbent protection."
Yeah, but remember the fury after the Pennsylvania General Assembly's brazen 2 a.m. pay raise?
Voters responded by ousting a Supreme Court justice and electing 54 new legislators.
"In most cases," Mottola reminds, incumbents "weren't thrown out by well-funded, well-known opponents. It was just the other person on the ballot."
The next Council election is in 2011. In a city of 1.4 million, surely there must be 17 "other" people willing to harness the DROP anger and give it a shot.