O’Neill, Rubin clash at debate

The con­tro­ver­sial DROP tops a spir­ited dis­cus­sion in­volving the hope­fuls in the 10th Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict. Also on the agenda: Eth­ics, pen­sions and perks.

Bill Ru­bin de­bates City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill, an eight-term Re­pub­lic­an at the 10th Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict de­bate on Monday, Oct. 24 at The Klein JCC. Kev­in Cook/for the Times

The can­did­ates in the 10th Coun­cil­man­ic Dis­trict de­bated on Monday night, clash­ing on is­sues such as the De­ferred Re­tire­ment Op­tion Plan, the use of city-owned vehicles, out­side em­ploy­ment and the city pen­sion fund.

City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill, an eight-term Re­pub­lic­an, and Demo­crat Bill Ru­bin de­bated for an hour in the aud­it­or­i­um of the Klein JCC. The for­um, sponsored by the North­east Times and a num­ber of oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions, was mod­er­ated by Rachel Law­ton, pres­id­ent of the League of Wo­men Voters of Phil­adelphia.

The can­did­ates answered nu­mer­ous ques­tions and gave clos­ing state­ments, in­ter­rup­ted by ap­plause from par­tis­ans and one wo­man who stood up to com­plain about be­ne­fits paid to new city em­ploy­ees.

Ru­bin answered, “Ab­so­lutely not,” on ques­tions tail­or-made for him about wheth­er he would ac­cept a city car and hold an­oth­er job while serving in Coun­cil.

“I will not take one when I’m elec­ted,” he said of a car.

O’Neill ex­plained that there are more than 4,000 cars is­sued to city em­ploy­ees, adding that a vehicle is help­ful when trav­el­ing back and forth between City Hall and the Far North­east.

“I need it more than any­body,” he said.

O’Neill has told May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter that he will give up the car when hizzo­n­er does.

“I’m still wait­ing for him to call me back,” the coun­cil­man said.

O’Neill did in­dic­ate that, if the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion set a policy pro­hib­it­ing the use of city-owned cars by em­ploy­ees, he’d be glad to com­ply.

“I’d be in the front of the line with my keys,” he said.

As for out­side em­ploy­ment by Coun­cil mem­bers, Ru­bin men­tioned his op­pon­ent’s some­what luc­rat­ive work as a law­yer. The an­nu­al salary of a Coun­cil mem­ber is about $120,000, with those in lead­er­ship po­s­i­tions mak­ing more.

“If you can’t make ends meet, then there’s a prob­lem,” Ru­bin said.

O’Neill, lead­er of Coun­cil’s three-mem­ber Re­pub­lic­an minor­ity, said he works “more than full time” as a coun­cil­man. He re­called the 1979 race, when he told voters of Demo­crat­ic Coun­cil­man Mel Green­berg, “If you’ve seen, heard or met him, vote for him.”

O’Neill ar­gued that his law de­gree has al­lowed com­munit­ies to win more than 99 per­cent of cases in front of the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment.

“I have been suc­cess­ful in thou­sands of zon­ing cases,” he said.

There’s a big Demo­crat­ic voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age in the dis­trict, but most ob­serv­ers con­sider O’Neill the fa­vor­ite be­cause of his name re­cog­ni­tion, in­cum­bency and big­ger cam­paign war chest.

The wild card is DROP, the city’s con­tro­ver­sial re­tire­ment-in­cent­ive pro­gram. Coun­cil cre­ated it for city work­ers, but a num­ber of elec­ted of­fi­cials — backed by rul­ings from the city so­li­cit­or — have taken ad­vant­age of it. Some of­fi­cials have even run for of­fice after “re­tir­ing.”

“It was not ever in­ten­ded for elec­ted of­fi­cials,” Ru­bin said, ex­plain­ing that DROP was cre­ated, in part, to give city de­part­ments a bet­ter idea of when em­ploy­ees planned to re­tire.

Ru­bin con­ceded that the par­ti­cip­a­tion by elec­ted of­fi­cials in DROP is leg­al, but not ne­ces­sar­ily mor­al or eth­ic­al.

“We saw in the primary, the voters spoke,” he said.

City Coun­cil­man Frank Rizzo and City Com­mis­sion­er Marge Tartagli­one sought re-elec­tion this year des­pite be­ing en­rolled in DROP, but they were de­feated in the primary.

Ru­bin is run­ning a cable tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial that shows O’Neill pic­tured with Coun­cil­wo­man Mari­an Tasco, who is ex­pec­ted to run for Coun­cil pres­id­ent des­pite the fact that she is en­rolled in DROP. Tasco will col­lect $478,057 in re­tire­ment money in Janu­ary but re­main on Coun­cil and con­tin­ue to col­lect her full salary.

An an­noun­cer calls Tasco his “DROP ally,” shows a bag of money fall­ing in­to O’Neill’s hands and de­clares that he voted for DROP so he could “pock­et half-a-mil­lion in cash.”

O’Neill said his op­pon­ent is “spread­ing a lie.”

“I’m nev­er go­ing to take DROP,” he said.

O’Neill wondered why Ru­bin, a long­time em­ploy­ee of the com­mis­sion­ers’ of­fice, nev­er men­tioned Tartagli­one’s role in DROP and is fo­cus­ing on the is­sue only after two in­cum­bents were de­feated be­cause of it.

“He got re­li­gion. All of a sud­den, it’s the worst thing in the world,” the coun­cil­man said.

The in­cum­bent and chal­lenger were asked about their vote for Coun­cil pres­id­ent.

“Without a doubt, I will not vote for Mari­an Tasco,” Ru­bin said.

“I’m con­cen­trat­ing on my elec­tion, not the next elec­tion,” O’Neill said.

As for the city’s chron­ic­ally un­der­fun­ded pen­sion sys­tem, Ru­bin blamed O’Neill and Coun­cil for un­der­fund­ing it for years and re­called the stock mar­ket crash of 2008.

O’Neill blamed Ru­bin, who served as vice chair­man of the Phil­adelphia Board of Pen­sions and Re­tire­ment.

“I’m no pen­sion ex­pert,” the in­cum­bent said, “but ap­par­ently my op­pon­ent isn’t, either.”

For 28 years, con­stitu­ents were able to see O’Neill or his staff on Monday nights at vari­ous loc­a­tions. Three years ago, he opened a dis­trict of­fice.

“I wish I had more than one,” he said.

Ru­bin prom­ised to open a dis­trict of­fice, “where I am ac­tu­ally there.” The of­fice would fea­ture lan­guage in­ter­pret­ers for the dis­trict’s large Rus­si­an and In­di­an pop­u­la­tion. The chal­lenger also wants to hold Coun­cil meet­ings at nights, on week­ends and in neigh­bor­hoods.

In his next term, O’Neill’s goals in­clude strength­en­ing loc­al pub­lic schools. He poin­ted to Park­wood’s Steph­en Dec­atur Ele­ment­ary School, where stu­dents used to be bused in from oth­er neigh­bor­hoods. Today, it is a com­munity school with strong par­ent­al in­volve­ment and rising test scores. The coun­cil­man fa­vors break­ing the School Dis­trict of Phil­adelphia in­to smal­ler dis­tricts and cre­at­ing an elec­ted school board.

Ru­bin said he is look­ing for­ward to be­com­ing the sev­enth new coun­cil­man next year to bring en­ergy and ex­cite­ment to the 17-mem­ber Coun­cil. His year-long cam­paign has already handled con­stitu­ent re­quests.

“They’ve seen more ser­vice in the last ten months than in the last ten years,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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