making local government more ethical

An Election Official's Political Activity in Philadelphia

"You say that [we are] corrupt and I'll jump over this table and punch you out." Those are the words of Philadelphia city commissioner Margaret Tartaglione, according to an article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer. She was upset by a journalist's questions regarding the handling of elections in Philadelphia.

What got the commissioner so upset? It might have something to do with the fact that, on December 3, her daughter signed a settlement agreement with the Philadelphia board of ethics. Who is her daughter? She was, until resigning immediately after learning about the ethics board's investigation of her, the deputy city commissioner, second-in-charge of the city's elections, reporting directly to her mother's three-person board.

According to another Inquirer article, the daughter "ordered 2,000 ballots that deliberately misled voters, collected election-day "street money" from the city's Democratic Party, and served as a substitute ward leader for her jailed husband." In other words, she was an election official involved in partisan ways with the election. Appointed officials in Philadelphia are restricted in terms of political activity.

An Inquirer editorial calls the daughter a poster child for elections agency reform. One thing the newspaper and good government groups are demanding is that election officials no longer report to partisan officials. They most certainly should not be reporting to their mothers. Hopefully, the ethics board charges will be what the city needs to take some of the partisanship, not to mention the nepotism, out of the election system.

See my blog posts, Elections Should be Fought by Parties, Not Refereed by Parties and The Conflict at the Heart of the Local Election Process.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics