In so many ways, the Tartagliones are the gift that keeps on giving. Momma Marge is one of my favorite fictional characters - her name, voice and behavior straight out of
- except that she oversees the City Commissioners Office, the people who oversee Philadelphia's elections.
Tartaglione, 77, has been in office since 1975, the Ford administration, before cable, in what shouldn't be an elected position in the first place.
She's a ward leader, part of the election process she's charged with supervising. The whole office reeks of conflict, patronage, entitlement, and nicotine, and it's long been as much a circus as an office.
For 26 years, daughter Renee was the deputy commissioner, landing her job the old-fashioned way: She inherited it.
Renee recently "retired" from her $69,400 job so she could "do the things I want to do when I want to do them."
Odd, because it appears she was already doing precisely that.
Renee's "retirement" came only after a 14-month Board of Ethics investigation determined she had ordered 2,000 ballots that deliberately misled voters about State Rep. Angel Cruz, husband Carlos Matos' rival. In the 180th District May primary, Cruz beat Tartaglione-supported Jonathan Ramos by 124 votes in an election that by any standard might be described as hinky.
The Ethics Board found that Tartaglione collected "street money" six times from the city's Democratic Party for Momma and Hubby, and also served as a substitute ward leader on Matos' behalf, all in violation of the Home Rule Charter.
Matos has been on the Democratic Party payroll ever since his 2009 release from the slammer on corruption charges. In his trial, Matos was heard boasting of a city councilman: "He's my bitch."
The city was Atlantic City, not Philadelphia. But I digress.
After the Ethics Board investigation, Renee admitted to nine violations and agreed to a $2,700 fine. She will still collect almost $51,000 in annual pension.
When asked if, given Renee's actions, the integrity of the City Commissioners Office had been corrupted, Momma Marge answered by threatening Philadelphia Weekly's Aaron Kase, "I'll jump over this table and punch you out!"
Even with a half-century on Kase, she probably could.
Marge has had so many fights with so many people - many of them physical - that HBO could feature her on its boxing specials and charge extra.
Would that the famed Tartaglione vs. Krajewski bout of Sept. 4, 1980, in the ladies' room of Master Restaurant, had been filmed. Dub it the Beasts of the Northeast.
In that match, which started with name-calling and differing opinions on city politics, Joan allegedly said to Marge: "You're nothing but a has-been."
The most amazing aspect of this statement is that, three decades later, they're both still in office.
Of course, that's not without being crowned Retirees for a Day (trademark pending) to collect DROP payouts, almost $300,000 for Marge, almost $275,000 for Joan. Elected office: It pays!
Marge has seen many relatives elected or hired by the city and state government. That's one of many things to love about our country. America was founded as a reaction to an entrenched monarchy only to then create so many political dynasties of its own.
Think of the Tartagliones as our own House of Windsor, our Kennedys with attitude.
Then again, maybe not.
After Renee retired, The Inquirer's City Hall reporters phoned top officials to get their reaction about the state of the city's Board of Elections. They were met with the Silence of the Lambs. Or sheep.
Democratic Boss Bob Brady? Declined to comment.
Republican leader Michael Meehan? Ditto.
Mayor Nutter? "The mayor needs some kind of indication from Council that we can move forward," said his spokesman, Mark McDonald.
The 17 wise members of City Council? Silence, deafening silence.
On Friday, District Attorney Seth Williams, who campaigned to be more proactive than his predecessor about municipal corruption, issued a tepid statement:
"We will be considering whether the matter merits additional consideration, although it appears that the only possible violations are those of the city code, and in this instance, summary violations."
How many new ways and new days must we endure before city government improves?
When I spoke to the district attorney Tuesday, he was more specific. "I look forward in the winter to making public the creation of a public integrity task force," Williams said.
He doesn't believe now's a good time, it being "the 12 days of Christmas" with so much excitement about "the Phillies' signing Cliff Lee," and this kind of announcement being better left to January's chill.
"We don't go into depth about our investigations of a department. Those types of things are generally done on a stealth basis," Williams said, but he added that "we're actively investigating and, at the appropriate time, when it's thoroughly completed, we'll see if prosecution is merited."
Fittingly, we'll give Marge Tartaglione the last word. "Let me tell you something," she once said of the City Commissioners Office she's run for 35 years. "This department is unique."