Two years ago this month, City Council Majority Leader Marian Tasco made a speech during Council's weekly Thursday session, complaining about a front-page Daily News story about the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Tasco is one of six Council members enrolled in DROP. She and Frank Rizzo are running for re-election this year amid voter fury over the costly program.
We tried to check back in with Tasco on the subject this morning, since she's being sued by people who say participating in DROP disqualifies her from the May 17 primary election ballot. But Tasco was in no mood for speeches today. She brushed right past us when we asked about DROP and said "I'm not talking about it."
This is not the first time we've noticed a new caution in Tasco's approach to DROP. We asked her about it last week and she said "Whatever" and then described it as a "minor issue" that only matters to a few voters. A few hours later, Tasco had a staffer call to ask if we were recording that brief interview.
After the jump, you can read Tasco's full-throated defense of DROP, as reported in the Daily News on March 27, 2009.
Verna, Tasco defend their DROPs
Daily News story sparks outcry in City Council
By CHRIS BRENNAN
CITY COUNCIL Majority Leader Marian Tasco would like the media to DROP the subject of the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Tasco, in a speech yesterday at the end of Council's weekly session, complained about a front-page story in the Daily News on what she derisively called the "infamous DROP program. "
Tasco is one of six Council members enrolled in the program who will collect six-figure pension payouts at the end of their terms. Together, it adds up to $2.1 million.
The Committee of Seventy yesterday called on the Nutter administration to reverse an opinion from former Mayor John Street's city solicitor that elected officials can run for re-election, retire for one day, collect the pension payment and return to work.
Nutter has submitted legislation to exclude future elected officials from the program, while giving a pass to officials already enrolled.
Tasco, who had refused Wednesday to comment for the story she was complaining about yesterday, said that her colleagues were being portrayed as "taking suitcases of money out of the city" while the five-year financial plan has a $1.4 billion deficit.
She will collect a one-time $467,566 payment from DROP, on top of her annual pension.
"It seems we are being maligned because we are accepting the money that we have contributed in the DROP program for four years," Tasco railed. "None of that money comes from the general fund. The DROP money can't pay for recreation centers. The DROP fund can't keep libraries open. "
Five of the six Council members in DROP - Tasco, Anna Verna, Frank DiCicco, Donna Reed Miller and Jack Kelly - were coy this week when the Daily News asked if they would use the DROP loophole to run for another term and collect their payment.
The sixth, Councilman Frank Rizzo, said that he planned to collect his payment and run again.
That's what Councilwoman Joan Krajewski did in 2007, winning an eighth term, retiring for one day and collecting $288,136.
Verna, the Council president, backed Tasco's complaints and asked why her colleagues should be shut out of a program available to other city employees.
"I think I'm entitled to it," said Verna, who will collect $571,679 from DROP.
As for the loophole, Verna said that voters can close that themselves.
"If her constituents were so angry about it, they would have not voted her into office again," Verna said of Krajewski.
The Committee of Seventy, in a letter to City Solicitor Shelley Smith, asked her to revise the legal opinion submitted by former solicitor Romulo Diaz in June 2006 that said that it was legal for Council members to do as Krajewski did.
But Nutter didn't seem to favor overturning Diaz's opinion.
"That's a legal opinion," Nutter said. "That's an analysis of the law. It's not like somebody's opinion just walking down the street. "
Nutter said that Smith would review the matter.
"I don't tell the solicitor what opinion to have," Nutter added.
Zack Stalberg, who heads the Committee of Seventy, a political-watchdog group, was glad to hear that Smith would review the issue.
The loophole, he said, "is really at the heart of this controversy," and opinions vary from one mayor's staff to the next.
"We're not talking about the U.S. Supreme Court here," Stalberg said.
"We're talking about the Law Department's opinion. That does shift from administration to administration." *