Anna Verna, first woman president of Philadelphia City Council, dead at 90

 Former Council President Anna Verna oil painting by Robert Coletti (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Former Council President Anna Verna oil painting by Robert Coletti (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

A trailblazer. A fair and well-respected leader.

That is how Philadelphia politicians are remembering Anna Verna, the first woman president of Philadelphia’s City Council, who has died at age 90.

Verna, who remains the only woman to have held that position, was also one of the longest-serving employees of the city.

She began her career at age 17, working for her father, former Second Ward Councilmember William Cibotti, according to Philadelphia Democratic Party chairman and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. Verna succeeded her father in 1975 after he died in office.

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She became council president in 1999 and continued to hold the gavel until she retired at the end of her last term in January 2012.

“She was a trailblazer and a strong leader who dedicated her life to serving the people of Philadelphia,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a tweet. Kenney served on City Council from 1992 until 2015, when he resigned to run for mayor. “Anna was also kind and open-minded … She was like a big sister to me.”

Current Council President Darrell Clarke said in a statement that Verna “served the people of her Second Council District in South and Southwest Philadelphia and Center City with professionalism, dignity, and resolve” for 36 years.

“On a personal level, President Verna taught me the importance of patience and confidentiality in dealing with our colleagues, and her genuine concern for any issues or challenges you had as an elected official,” Clarke said. “You knew that she was always there for you.”

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Former Councilmember Marian Tasco said Verna will be remembered for her fairness and for taking the time to work out disagreements among councilmembers without hostility or anger.

“She respected all areas of the city of Philadelphia, and she tried to use her leadership to bring organizations [and] the various councilmembers together on issues,” Tasco said.

“When you talk about Anna Verna, the one word that comes to mind is class,” said Brady, remembering how a simple tap from her gavel on the podium would restore order to the council chambers. “She was a classy lady, had her own style, nobody disliked her, very effective.”

WHYY’s Tom MacDonald contributed reporting.

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