DiCicco DROPping re-election bid

Posted: March 07, 2011

CITY COUNCILMAN Frank DiCicco was to announce today that he is dropping his bid for a fifth term, convinced he could have won but doesn't have the "fire in the belly" to face the coming battle over his participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP.

DiCicco said that a poll he commissioned last week showed his popularity in Council's First District was still strong enough to win re-election but that it would have been a tough fight in a crowded field.

"I made a bad decision three years ago to get into the program," DiCicco said of DROP, which has become a political liability for several Council members this year. "Had I known it would cause all this trouble and confusion, I never would have done it."

DiCicco, who is set to receive $424,646 in a lump payment for DROP, has attempted in the last 18 months to come up with a politically feasible way to reach re-election. He had suggested that, if returned to office, he would donate his Council salary back to the city and collect only his pension payments. DiCicco said that he would have needed to raise about $500,000 for his re-election bid. Challengers in the May 17 Democratic primary include Joe Grace, former communications director for Mayor Street; attorney Vern Anastasio; Mark Squilla, president of the Whitman Council, in South Philly; and Jeff Hornstein, an official with the Service Employees International Union.

"I don't want this to be what Frank DiCicco is remembered for," he said of the anticipated battle over DROP. "I don't have that fight in me to have to go 24/7 and raise half a million dollars."

DiCicco said that he will support Squilla as his replacement, adding that he and Squilla came up in public service in similar ways.

"He has a record of doing it," DiCicco said of Squilla, before adding, in a dig at Anastasio: "He [Squilla] doesn't show up only every four years." DiCicco also suggested that Grace only recently moved back into the district after living at his wife's house in Chestnut Hill while maintaining a residence in Port Richmond.

Jim Kenney, an at-large councilman who lives in DiCicco's district and is one of his closest political allies, also plans to support Squilla.

"I do think that Frank has been the best councilman who has ever served the district, and despite the DROP controversy has done a wonderful job as my councilman," Kenney said.

Grace last night expressed respect for DiCicco's service on Council and praised him for putting "the best interests of the city ahead of his own political interests.

"DROP is the issue in City Council races in 2011," said Grace, who has capitalized on the political unpopularity of the pension program in his campaign.

Anastasio, after saying that he would not run against DiCicco, launched a campaign and also highlighted the issue.

Anastasio last night objected to DiCicco's criticism, saying that he had been involved in a civic association since founding it 17 years ago.

Still, he offered mild praise for the retiring councilman.

"As opposed to some of his colleagues, he has not done a terrible job," Anastasio said. "I know he loves the district."

DiCicco said that his poll showed that Grace, Anastasio and Squilla all have about the same level of support in the district "because nobody knows them."

DROP allows a city employee at retirement age to pick a retirement day up to four years in the future. The employee's potential pension payments are then frozen at their current rate and paid into an interest-bearing account that the employee collects on the day he or she retires.

Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who is also retiring this year, sparked outrage four years ago after being re-elected by retiring for one day, collecting her DROP payment and then going back on the city payroll.

Three other Council members - president Anna Verna, Donna Reed Miller and Jack Kelly - are enrolled in DROP and not running for re-election this year.

Councilman Frank Rizzo and Councilwoman Marian Tasco are enrolled in DROP and seeking re-election.

DiCicco on Jan. 27 introduced legislation that would allow DROP participants to withdraw from the program. He expressed frustration last night that he was unable to get a hearing for that bill to move it forward.

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