Verna won't run again: 'The time has come'

Council members applaud Anna Verna after she announced she won't seek another term.
Council members applaud Anna Verna after she announced she won't seek another term.
Posted: January 25, 2011

FOR 11 YEARS, City Council President Anna Verna has ruled over the city's legislative body with a firm, but gentle hand, her curly blonde coif and jaunty red suits visible from her lofty seat in Council chambers.

With Verna's announcement yesterday that she will not be running for a 10th term, the race now officially begins for who will ascend to that ornate, gilt-trimmed chair when a new term starts next year.

According to insiders, the fight started months ago when Council members Darrell Clarke and Marian Tasco began quietly seeking support for the presidency in the next term. Concerns over whether she could remain president likely fed into Verna's decision to retire.

Both Tasco, Democratic majority leader, and Clarke, majority whip, were cautious in their comments yesterday. Tasco acknowledged that she was interested, but said that any serious talk was premature; Clarke declined to comment. Both must first win re-election.

So who has the edge? For now, it seems too close to call. The winner needs to lock down nine votes, and it doesn't look like either has that many from the 13 members seeking re-election.

Most members said it was too soon to commit yesterday, but two said they were supporting Tasco - Councilmen Jim Kenney and Frank DiCicco.

"I think that Marian, it is her time, she has the temperament for it," said Kenney. "She's been a solid supporter of mine for a long, long time."

DiCicco said it was Tasco's turn to take the top job.

"Darrell's young, there will be another chance for him," he said.

Verna, 79, has represented the 2nd District in South Philadelphia since 1975, when she succeeded her father, William Cibotti. In 1999 she became the first female council president.

During a news conference yesterday, Verna said she struggled with the decision to retire.

"I am the longest-serving city employee," she said. "I'm the longest-serving Council member. I'm the longest-serving president of City Council. I really think I have done what I wanted to accomplish in life."

Verna first started working for the city under Mayor Richardson Dilworth in 1951, making her the longest-running employee on the city's payroll. She's known as a hard worker and a straight shooter. Colleagues yesterday praised Verna for being fair-minded and capable of consensus-building.

"I don't know of any enemy she has, which I don't think you can say of too many people in this business," said Councilman Bill Greenlee. "The adjective 'classy' I've heard many times."

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown agreed, saying: "Even if she did not support you, she always did it with class."

But Verna had taken some hits in recent years for her participation in the controversial DROP retirement plan.

Verna will collect $584,777 from the Deferred Retirement Option Plan before her term ends in January 2012. The program allows workers to set a retirement date in up to four years, amass pension payments in an interest-bearing account and collect them in a lump sum in addition to their pensions.

Government-reform groups have criticized a loophole that allows elected officials to enroll in DROP, run for re-election, then "resign" for a day to take the payout before being rehired for another term.

Asked yesterday if DROP figured into her decision to leave, Verna vehemently disagreed.

"Absolutely, unequivocally, no," she said. "No, no, no."

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