Democracy isn't always pretty. It hasn't been in the First City Council District this year, as challenger Vern Anastasio has gone after incumbent Frank DiCicco with theatrics and accusations.

Anastasio styles himself as one of the leaders of the rising civic reform movement that promises to shake up City Hall in Tuesday's election.

Hooray for civic activists; alleluia for the winds of reform.

But there's dissonance between Anastasio's embrace of the reform brand and his noisy, hardball behavior - and his history of alliance with union boss John Dougherty, the very emblem of old-style Philly politics.

DiCicco, too, has some things to answer for in the court of reform. A protege of state Sen. Vincent Fumo, he was a co-founder of the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, which played a starring role in the shenanigans that have earned Fumo a thick federal corruption indictment. DiCicco is mentioned in the indictment, though not by name, and no charges have been made against him.

DiCicco's closeness to Fumo also hampered him from being the champion that anti-casino forces sought, given how Fumo wrote the state casino law that jammed slots parlors down the throats of two neighborhoods in the First District.

Elections sometimes aren't clean and obvious choices. Weighing merits and demerits, The Inquirer recommends FRANK DiCICCO as Democratic voters' better choice.

Here's why: DiCicco, despite his huge blind spot on Fumo, has evolved into a skilled legislator who knows how to assemble a Council majority behind good ideas.

He sponsored the 10-year property tax abatement law that spawned new construction from Fishtown to Queen Village. A Council reelection bid is in part a referendum on the health of the district in question; well, DiCicco's turf is mostly thriving.

DiCicco helped push the smoking ban and the wireless Philadelphia initiative over the finish line. He's supported trimming the city's job-killing tax burden. He took a risk in spearheading the Jefferson Square project in Southwark, a model for how to redevelop city neighborhoods.

Besides his link with Fumo, DiCicco does some other head-scratching stuff, such as curbing activists' ability to oppose billboard blight.

On casinos, he at least recovered from early paralysis by initiating the central riverfront planning process being led by Penn Praxis, a model of neighborhood engagement.

In sum, he's not perfect, but he's one of the adults on Council.

Anastasio is a true lover of South Philadelphia, but can seem pretty immature. He's a lawyer with a good record of community service in Bella Vista. For a guy painting himself as an outsider, though, he's spent a lot of time working in government, as a Council and legislative aide and with the Redevelopment Authority (led by Johnny Doc). Nothing wrong with government service, but this is one way in which his rhetoric comes across as overheated and phony.

In this one, stick with the devil you know.