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Golden Pension Plans Prove Liability for Philly Council Incumbents

2:15 PM ET, 01/25/2011

By Tom Mulkeen, Contributing Writer

Many benefits go to long-term incumbents.  In Philadelphia, those benefits can come in the form of a large check from the city.

Frank DiCicco has been a fixture in Philadelphia politics since 1967 when he was first elected as a committeeman and has been involved in public service ever since then in a multitude of jobs.  He has represented the South Philadelphia-based first district since 1996.  However, the May 17 Democratic Primary is shaping up to be a crowded one with six candidates officially in the running.

The candidate with the most political experience outside of DiCicco is Joe Grace, a former communications director for Mayor Street and campaign manager for former Congressman Bob Borski and Joe Hoeffel.

He has plenty to campaign on, and has spoken at every turn about reforming Philly politics. Grace wants to change campaign finance laws and end the entitlements that come with being powerful in Philadelphia.  In an interview last week with the Northeast Times, Grace reiterated his plan to review and look for possible changes to the controversial deferred retirement option program, more commonly known as DROP, a loophole that allows city officials to “retire” for a day, collect a hefty pension and then return to work as if they had never left where they continue to earn the same salary.

Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News has written about the program multiple times and has a “final four” of councilman who have signed up to take the money should they be re-elected. Newly elected officials are not eligible for the program.  DiCicco is high on the list, as he is the original author of the loophole according to Bykofsky.

DiCicco would take home about $420,000 if he was re-elected and opted to “retire” for one day before heading back to work.  He did pledge that he would give his yearly salary of $120,000 back to the Council or donate it to charity if he was re-elected.
According to Grace, the DROP program is, “a symbol of what’s wrong with City Council. If you’re eligible, take the program and retire. You shouldn’t be able to do both … If you’re going to retire, retire and let someone else represent the citizens of this city.”  According to one study, the Philadelphia pension fund is underfunded by 45% and will be broke by 2015.

Grace said in an interview with Fox 29 that, “the City Council seems more concerned with their own benefits through the DROP program than with the unfunded pension liability fund.”  With the deep trouble Philly faces over its pension crisis, DiCicco would do well either to retire for real, or pledge not to take $420,000 from the taxpayers.

The other candidates are Vern Anastasio, an attorney who has lost to DiCicco twice before; Jeff Hornstien, organizing director for the Service Employees International Union’s local branch; Mike Boyle, an attorney and leader of the 5th Ward in Center City; and Karen Brown, a committeewoman and retired teacher.

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