Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why Is Challenger Wrong on Size of Marge's DROP Payment?

Over the past few months, City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione has been under fire from primary challenger Stephanie Singer for her participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.

Why Is Challenger Wrong on Size of Marge's DROP Payment?

Over the past few months, City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione has been under fire from primary challenger Stephanie Singer for her participation in the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan.

Tartaglione – as it is now well known – enrolled in the retirement perk, but then ran for re-election in 2007 anyway. She “retired” for a day and took a six-figure payment from DROP in 2008, before being rehired to serve her 9th term. Now she's running for a tenth term.

Singer, a Democratic ward leader, has been hammering Tartaglione on DROP and we recently came across a flyer the campaign has been sending out around town, which shows a photo of a wizened-looking Tartaglione and features the following text: “Marge Tartaglione took $308,625 of YOUR MONEY.”

There’s just one tiny problem. That’s not actually the right figure. Tartaglione’s DROP payment was $288,136, according to the Pension Board. That is, of course, still a fat six-figure payment.

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We called Singer’s campaign to point out that they were printing the wrong number in the flyers and on a website, dropmarge.com, paid for by the campaign. Campaign manager Shannon Marietta said that the $308,625 figure had been used in both daily papers, which is true, although mostly in reports that are several years old.

So we noted that the lower number has been reported more frequently and has been in most recent published reports, which is also true. On top of that, another Daily News reporter told Marietta last month during an email exchange that the paper had confirmed the $288,136 figure with the pension board.

Asked if they would change their campaign materials, Marietta said they’d have to check the veracity of the number before hurrying off the phone.

Now, we don’t want to suggest that this is a huge scandal. And there have been conflicting numbers in the newspapers, which muddies this a bit. But we do think that having your facts and figures right is important.

And what we don’t understand is this: Why didn't the Singer campaign just go to the pension board and actually fact-check this number?

UPDATE. 1:30 PM: 

Marietta just sent us an email statement which doesn’t answer any of our questions about whether the campaign knew they were wrong or if they’ll make any changes to their figures. Instead, she seems to suggest that getting the number right doesn’t even really matter.

From her email: “In fact, this number has been appeared in print in the Daily News on at least four different occasions. Whether the Daily News was wrong then or wrong now, the point remains the same - Marge Tartaglione fleeced taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars and does not deserve re-election. In fact, however you look at it, Marge's DROP payout is roughly what the average Philadelphia family earns in five years. To us - and to Philadelphia families - that's the bigger story here."

And so again we say: The $288,136 figure is right. Why won’t the campaign just confirm it and correct their materials?

About this blog
Chris Brennan, a native Philadelphian and graduate of Temple University, joined the Daily News in 1999. He has written about SEPTA, the Philadelphia School District, the legalization of casino gambling, state government, the mayor, the governor, City Council and political campaigns. E-mail tips to brennac@phillynews.com
 Follow Chris on Twitter

Jenny DeHuff is a 2005 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, where she cut her teeth in journalism. A South Philly transplant from New England, she joined the Daily News City Hall Bureau in 2013. For the past several years, she has worked as an investigative reporter exposing corruption in suburban politics, covering sometimes ghastly criminal court cases and following the people’s money and how its spent. In addition to being a dogged news hound, she enjoys reading and writing about travel, animals, Irish whiskey and aviation. E-mail tips to dehuffj@phillynews.com
 Follow Jenny on Twitter.

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