The perks of politics

Karen Heller: Who's a help and who's not By Karen Heller Inquirer Columnist Let us now praise famous local politicians. Oh, what are we thinking? The problem with, say, City Council is that they make it so very, very hard. Like being a legislative body that took off 24 weeks from legislating last year, including such notable holidays as Memorial Day Week. Or that by playing Retired Princess for a Day - but what a day! - Joan Krajewski collected $274,587 through the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. The good news about Krajewski is that, of the seven members in DROP, she's the only one who is making good on her promise by planning to retire in 2012. Last week, Krajewski announced that she's joining the ranks of Council members taking a 5 percent pay cut in these difficult times. She joins W. Wilson Goode Jr., who already trimmed his payroll an impressive 23 percent, including laying off an assistant. That's something that most Council members, with their inner court of staff, are loathe to do. To her credit, Council President Anna C. Verna was the first to do so in November after Mayor Nutter announced he would reduce his salary by 10 percent. This leaves, for those keeping score, the following members who have yet to reduce their checks: Darrell L. Clarke, Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, Jannie L. Blackwell, Blondell Reynolds Brown, William K. Greenlee, Jack Kelly, Donna Reed Miller, Brian J. O'Neill and Frank Rizzo, titans all. Actually, I had thought better of Clarke and Quiñones-Sanchez, both self-styled reformers. So the next time you hear one of these elected officials wail about brutal economic times, or how we all have to do our part, please remind them that they have not. Not telling Not that these officials are alone in their hubris. Philadelphia's district attorney, Lock 'Em Up Lynne Abraham, has refused to prune her $156,441 annual salary. She's another elected official who will be enriched mightily by DROP, entitled to $416,496 when she leaves office next year. That's on top of her pension of $8,677 a month. See! Crime prevention does pay. Her office's statement is as brusque and superior as you might expect. "Every year since Lynne Abraham became the district attorney in 1991, this office has lived within its budget. A number of other city agencies have not. The district attorney has committed to live within the budget reduction requested by the mayor for the current fiscal year," the statement reads. "Because we are a law enforcement agency, the details of how we achieve that reduction will not be made public." Like the bad guys would see the reductions and know where to strike? Philly Auto Show This is the kind of attitude that drives hardworking taxpayers bonkers. You know what else drives them crazy? City cars. Rina Cutler is the deputy mayor and managing director for transportation and utilities. Guess what? She doesn't have a city car. "I walk or takes cabs, carpool or take SEPTA," Cutler says. Imagine that: a public official supporting public transit. Goode, Bill Green, James F. Kenney and Frank DiCicco are all doing without city cars. They set the standard, especially since all but DiCicco are members at large, their territory the entire city. Council's 13 other members are tooling around in a Crown Victoria, Taurus, Escape or Impala. Kelly is the lone Chevy driver because, according to a staffer, he didn't like the Crown Vic. Yes, being on Council is like winning a beauty pageant where you get to select the car of your choice. In November, Reynolds Brown was secretly taped by Fox29 driving her daughter almost daily to a suburban private school in her city-owned Ford Escape, as well as having a $29,000-a-year staffer serve as a driver, pick up flowers, and haul dry cleaning. Perhaps this explains why she used more gas than any other Council member. The city's entire fleet is worth $285 million. The cars are bought, not leased. Most are used for essential services: police, fire, medics, streets, prisons. Many other vehicles are necessary for performing vital jobs: tree trimming, street lighting, L&I inspection. The number of vehicles operated by elected officials totals 119. The annual cost of maintenance and fuel is $270,000. That's not much when the city faces a $2 billion shortfall over the next five years. It's hard to be in touch with the common man when you're living so much larger, earning $112,233 annually or more. And members can't be surprised they're getting pelted with criticism when they're entitled to a city car, can transform staffers into drivers, are able to hold outside jobs and, as members of a legislative body, have so much time off. Officials, and Council members in particular, would build considerable political capital - since they have so little - if they took a pay cut, trimmed the fat, gave up entitlements, and learned to use SEPTA. Karen Heller's column appears Tuesday and Saturday. Contact her at 215-854-2586 or