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Tartaglione defends integrity of Philadelphia City Commission

City Commissioners Chairwoman Margaret Tartaglione defended the integrity and oversight of her office Wednesday, proudly saying, "We run a clean house here."

City Commissioners Chairwoman Margaret Tartaglione defended the integrity and oversight of her office Wednesday, proudly saying, "We run a clean house here."

Later, the 77-year-old chairwoman took a more aggressive stance.

When a Philadelphia Weekly reporter asked how the City Commissioners Office could ensure that elections were handled fairly, Tartaglione excoriated him and said, "You say that [we are] corrupt and I'll jump over this table and punch you out."

The exchange occurred during the first public meeting of the three-member commission since the city announced a settlement in which Tartaglione's daughter Renee, chief deputy of the agency, conceded that for three years she had engaged in politics - in violation of the City Charter - by acting as a substitute ward leader for her jailed husband, Carlos Matos.

Renee Tartaglione, in an agreement released Monday by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, acknowledged that she also had paid for and ordered sample ballots that purposefully misled voters who wanted to support her husband's political enemy, State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila).

And she showed up six times at Democratic City Committee headquarters to pick up $56,000 worth of checks for Election Day "street money" for one ward run by her mother and another ward run by her husband.

At Wednesday's meeting, Margaret Tartaglione had little else to say about the Ethics Board's findings, which resulted in Renee Tartaglione's sudden retirement Nov. 16 from the job she had held for 26 years and a $2,700 civil fine.

"Well, that's solved. It's over," was about all Margaret Tartaglione, in her 35th year in office, would say regarding the matter. Her fellow commissioners, Democrat Anthony Clark and Republican Joseph J. Duda, said nothing.

Instead, Tartaglione spent time defending the office against criticisms of it in a report Tuesday by the Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan watchdog group that has clashed with commissioners about their management of elections. The committee has also recommended abolishing the office, which is run by three commissioners elected every four years. They are paid $118,000 annually.

The commissioners, in turn, have derided the Committee of Seventy's authority to judge their work.

For instance, the committee's report urged the commissioners to "substantially improve" their website, citing the websites of three other cities' election boards - Chicago, New York, and Washington - where online information was far superior.

In response, Tartaglione held up a Dec. 3 New York Times story about 195,000 votes missed in that city on Election Day last month. "But they got a beautiful website," she sarcastically noted.

Among other issues, the Committee of Seventy also recommended that the commissioners do more to stop electioneering within 10 feet of polling places, seek ways to find more polling-place officials to fill vacancies, require training for poll workers, and interact better with the public by inviting feedback.

In other business Wednesday, the commissioners' election-document specialist, Tim Dowling, told them that six state representatives from Philadelphia had ignored his notices that they failed to file one or more campaign-finance reports. They face individual fines of $160 to $1,660.

The lawmakers are Vanessa Brown, Mark Cohen, Kenyatta Johnson, Babette Josephs, Tony Payton, and Jewell Williams.

Dowling recommended that the city commissioners refer the matter to the state attorney general to see about enforcing the fines.