The outgoing director, Charles Duld, has applied for a disability pension
from the city, citing back injuries that first occurred in 1953. Duld's last official day on the job is Friday, and Jannotti will start work Tuesday.
In an interview last night, Coleman said he had no reservations about hiring Jannotti despite his Abscam conviction. Jannotti will head a staff of four, with an annual budget of about $150,000.
Jannotti, who once was one of Council's most powerful members, was named to the job because of "his vast knowledge, depth and interest in veterans," Coleman said.
"How does one ever become rehabilitated," said Coleman, "if . . . nobody ever allows you to come back, regardless of how hard you attempt to come back, how competent you may be, how qualified you may be, how honest and loyal? . . .
"I think that he has paid his debt to society, a debt for an unfortunate mistake."
Coleman also said Jannotti enjoyed an "outstanding" reputation among veterans' groups, although Jannotti's colleagues said the former councilman never served in the armed forces.
Coleman also noted that Jannotti had served as an unpaid member of the Veterans Advisory Commission since 1973.
Neither Jannotti nor his attorney, Robert N. DeLuca, could be reached for comment yesterday.
The appointment drew some immediate, though muted, criticism from some Council members and triggered a flurry of phone calls to Coleman late yesterday.
Councilwoman Patricia A. Hughes, a former aide to Jannotti who succeeded him in 1984, said, "I really never thought that (Coleman) would consider anyone other than a veteran for that position - and I'm not aware that Mr. Jannotti is a veteran."
Another Council member, who refused to be quoted, expressed shock at the appointment and predicted that other Council members would question Coleman closely about it.
Some political observers speculated that Jannotti and Coleman were using the appointment to gauge public reaction to a possible political comeback by the former councilman. Others said they believed that Coleman, who will be up for re-election next year, hoped to tap the support of veterans' groups who helped Ronald D. Castille win election as district attorney in November.
Coleman said he had no political motive, and Hughes discounted the likelihood that Jannotti would run for her Seventh District seat or an at- large Council seat.
The five-member advisory commission that oversees the office had not been formally notified of the hiring yesterday.
"No one told me," said Francis J. Lederer, chairman of the Veterans Advisory Commission and the brother of another Abscam defendant, former U.S. Rep. Raymond F. Lederer. However, Francis Lederer said he did not object to Jannotti's appointment.
"To be very candid, (Jannotti) has had his problems, he's met them and he's a citizen again," he said. "I personally don't feel he would cause any loss of integrity within the commission. . . . And I would feel that he would be qualified."
The head of a veterans' counseling agency that deals frequently with the city's veterans' commission, Edward J. Lowry, also said veterans' groups were likely to support Jannotti's appointment because the former councilman had been a key ally.
"He was right there all the time, and it's hard to find people in government who are that supportive," said Lowry, executive director of the
Vietnam Veterans Multi-Service Center, 1302 Sansom St.
"If it was someone who had not supported veterans' programs in the past, (Abscam) might be an issue," Lowry added. "But the traditional veterans' groups in Philadelphia have strongly supported him through the whole process."
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Fiorvanti, who prosecuted both Jannotti and former Council President George X. Schwartz in the Abscam investigation, said that Jannotti had "paid his debt to society" and that the hiring was "a city decision."
Councilman David Cohen, like others, noted Jannotti's experience in veterans' affairs and said he "would certainly seem to have the qualifications" for the job.
Jannotti, 61, who runs a bar at Fourth and York Streets in the city's West Kensington section, was first hired by Council in June 1968 as its deputy chief clerk. He quit in September 1969 to make a successful run for the Kensington district Council seat.
He rose to become Council's second-most-powerful member, becoming Council's Democratic majority leader and chairman of the Finance Committee. While in Council, he developed a reputation as an expert on the intricacies of the city budget.
He was second only to Schwartz, who was also convicted in the Abscam investigation, a controversial undercover operation in which an FBI agent, posing as a representative of an Arab sheik, paid bribes to elected officials.
The investigation eventually resulted in the convictions of 12 people, including six members of the U.S. House; a U.S. senator; the mayor of Camden; a lawyer, and three members of City Council.
Both Jannotti and Schwartz resigned after being convicted in September 1980 of accepting payoffs from the phony sheik - $10,000 for Jannotti and $25,000 for Schwartz.
Schwartz's political demise paved the way for Coleman to be elected Council president in mid-1980.
Jannotti entered the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp on April 22, 1985, the same day Schwartz began serving his sentence of a year and a day at a prison in Florida.
James Youngman, public information officer at Allenwood, said Jannotti was released Sept. 6. His six-month sentence was reduced by about six weeks for good behavior, Youngman said.