Race to Watch: Philly D10 City Councilman
By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer
You can count on one hand – on one finger – the number of Republicans elected to Philadelphia offices not mandated by the City Charter.
The campaign for District 10 Councilman in northeast Philadelphia – represented by Republican Brian O’Neill- has become the hottest race in the city this fall. He and Democratic challenger Bill Rubin are on the attack.
O’Neill is the Council’s Republican leader and chairs the Technology and Information Services Committee in addition to serving on several standing committees. He also manages a law firm. He is known for his support of non-profit, volunteer organizations in his district. He and his wife live in Northeast Philly and they have three daughters and one grandson. O’Neill has been endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Rubin is married to his high school sweetheart and they have two children. Prior to running for City Council, he worked in the City Commissioners office since 1987, starting as clerk and working his way up to Supervisor of Elections. Rubin currently serves as a Consultant to The President of AFSCME District Council 33 on pension related issues.
So far the main point of contention in the campaign is O’Neill’s involvement of lack thereof in the controversial DROP program.
Earlier this month Rubin aired a 30 second spot slamming O’Neill for his supposed complicity in the formation the DROP retirement program so he could “pocket half a million in cash while still collecting his six-figure salary.”
O’Neill fired back, saying although he is eligible for the DROP program and filed initial paperwork for it, he never actually entered DROP and has publicly promised never to do so.
But Rubin is sticking to his message, saying “My ad is accurate, it’s true and there’s facts all the way through. He can say these things but he knows they’re not true.”
This isn’t the first time a Philadelphia Council member has been attacked for their association with the DROP program. In fact, disapproval of the program resulted in several incumbent elected officials losing primaries in the spring.
The DROP program allows veteran city officials to pick a retirement date up to four years in advance, start accruing pension payments in an interest-bearing account, and leave with a lump sum payment. It wasn’t necessarily intended for elected officials, but since they weren’t specifically excluded, several have cashed in.
In 2007 O’Neill filed an initial application to DROP, however he never followed through with it. According to his campaign consultant Christopher Nicholas, submitting an application was the only way to find out how much money he would get if he enrolled.
If O’Neill never intended to apply for the DROP program, Rubin asks, then why would he even bother applying to find out how much money he would get. According to Rubin, O’Neill has been inconsistent on his position on the DROP program and he’s just “reconstructing the issue” to attack his opponent.
O’Neill fired back with an equally aggressive 30 second spot. O’Neill calls Rubin a “patronage employee” and a “crony” of City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione (one of DROP’s victims in the primary this week). The ad roasts Rubin for taking free trips from special interests while he was on city pension and trying to cover up his “unethical actions.”
O’Neill’s ad also quotes multiple pubic officials corroborating Rubin’s delinquency and concludes with the message that under Rubin “our pension funds have lost billions, and the shortfall will have to be made up through higher real estate taxes.”
O’Neill has also aired a quirky, positive TV ad.
Rubin says he was never a patronage employee, and served only as a civil service employee. He claims that his trips were during his vacation time and were for the purpose of promoting business in Philadelphia.
“For every position I held I took a test and I was civil service all the way through,” said Rubin. He boasts that when he got on to that pension fund it was in the bottom quartile and when he left it was in the top quartile.