DROP participants Rizzo, Tartaglione lose re-election bids

City Councilman Frank Rizzo (above) and City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione (left) were targets of a lawsuit that claimed they could not be enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan and seek re-election.
City Councilman Frank Rizzo (above) and City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione (left) were targets of a lawsuit that claimed they could not be enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan and seek re-election.
Posted: May 18, 2011

THE RIZZO NAME has been a strong political brand for five decades in Philadelphia, but DROP turned out to have more juice.

City Councilman Frank Rizzo's participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan was probably the reason Republican voters rejected his bid yesterday for a fifth four-year term.

The issue also likely defeated another political icon, City Commission Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione, who appeared to lose her bid for a 10th four-year term.

Rizzo, the son of the late former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, struggled to extract himself from DROP, first seeking to withdraw from the program and then proposing to give the money back to the city.

"I think the negativity of the DROP issue is certainly a factor," Rizzo said last night. "We have some good candidates here. I think that the city will be in good hands and I will stay involved."

DROP allows a city employee to pick a retirement date up to four years in the future, with pension payments made into an interest-bearing account while the employee remains on the payroll.

Elected officials angered voters by signing up for the program, taking six-figure DROP payments, running for re-election, retiring for one day and then returning to the city payroll.

Rizzo, who was due to collect $194,517 from DROP in December, had recently asked for instruction from the city on how to return the money.

Tartaglione, long an ally of Rizzo's father, collected $288,136 in DROP money in 2008, retired for a long weekend and then went back on the city payroll. That made her a target for Stephanie Singer, a ward leader and math professor who used DROP to push a reform agenda. Singer won comfortably.

Rizzo and Tartaglione were forced to spend part of the primary-election season defending themselves from a lawsuit, rejected by the Court of Common Pleas and then the state Supreme Court, that claimed they could not be in DROP and seek re-election.

Joe Doherty, a Philadelphia attorney who filed the petition to have Tartaglione removed from the ballot, felt some vindication that the voters ultimately took care of the problem themselves.

"That office has been a backwater of city government for some time, and Stephanie is going to bring the change we need," he said. "It's huge for the city."

Other candidates in DROP considered running for re-election this year but then dropped out of their races. They include Council President Anna Verna and colleagues Frank DiCicco and Donna Reed Miller. Councilman Jack Kelly, a DROP participant, did not seek re-election.

Councilwoman Marian Tasco, a likely candidate for Council president, won her primary last night despite participating in DROP. But a virtually unknown challenger pulled in 30 percent of the Democratic vote in that race.

Rizzo last night said he didn't see the election as an end of an era for his political brand.

"I don't think it's about Rizzo politics," he said. "I think people have other ideas and other candidates that they have an interest in. I've done this for 16 years. It's been an honor to serve the people of Philadelphia."

Staff writers Catherine Lucey and Jason Nark contributed to this report.

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