A farewell to Marge

    Tuesday’s Democratic primary ended the 36-year political career of Philadelphia city commissioner Marge Tartaglione, known for her gravelly voice, blunt opinions and skill at political infighting.

    Tartaglione was bested by self-styled reformer Stephanie Singer. When I was cruising polling places on election day, I noticed something surprising: three Democratic ward leaders in Northeast Philadelphia had dropped Marge from their recommended ballots, and two were pushing Singer.

    I’ve covered politics here for more than 20 years, and I knew where to find Marge on election day. Though she’s a ward leader and a citywide elected official, she’s also a neighborhood Democratic committeewoman.

    So she spends the day working her Northeast Philadelphia voting division. She was on the sidewalk in front of her polling place at a coffee shop on Horrocks Street, near the Roosevelt Boulevard.”I’m here from opening of the polls to close,” she said. “Fifty-five years I’ve been doing this.” It’s been a tough election season for Marge. She was attacked for taking a $288,000 retirement payment, and accused of running an inefficient, even corrupt office. That question prompted her to warn one reporter she could come across a table and punch him out.

    I told her I’d noticed other Northeast ward leaders weren’t supporting her. She knew, of course. She said that was about political grudges, not her job performance. She said no matter the outcome, this would be her last election.”Politics isn’t like it used to be, seriously,” she said. “You know it used to be a handshake. Now you get a handshake, a pat on the back, and you got to turn around and see what’s sticking in your back.”Marge is recovering from triple bypass surgery, and she was also wearing an orthopedic brace on her right foot.  It fractured in three places after she stepped on a grandchild’s Lego toy.She may be a political relic, but like an old school committeewoman, she gets results. She won her division overwhelmingly and delivered a solid margin for Council candidate Marty Bednarek, who lost elsewhere by a two to one margin.

    But it was a long day for a 78-year-old woman with her health issues to be on her feet. I asked if she’d make until polls closed at eight.”Oh yeah, I’m fine, fine. Before I go over to the boys club, I’ll straighten my hair and put a little lipstick on,” she said with a laugh. Then her voice lowered.

    “You know I’m tough,” she said. “Tough.”

    I thanked her for chatting.

    “Okay. See ya, Dave,” she said.

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