Philly Councilman Brian O’Neill returns fire at challenger

    There’s a new TV ad in the bare-knuckled brawl that the City Council race in northeast Philadelphia has become.

    Incumbent Republican Brian O’Neill has responded to Democratic challenger Bill Rubin’s attack ad (see an analysis of Rubin’s spot here) with a broadside of his own, which you can view above.

    The spot is 30 seconds of very scary stuff about a scary-looking Rubin.

    Like most negative ads, it’s a hard-hitting mix of truth and exaggeration.

    At the top, the ad calls Rubin a “patronage employee” and a “crony” of Marge Tartaglione, whom the ad makes look as scary as Rubin.

    Tartaglione, you remember, is the legendary Democratic ward leader who lost her city commissioner’s post in the primary. That was after Marge’s daughter Rene was forced to resign her job as deputy commissioner following an ethics probe.

    Problem with the ad here: A patronage employee in city government (there aren’t that many anymore) is one who serves at the pleasure of his or her boss, outside the civil service system. Rubin was a civil service employee of the city commissioners’ office, as are most of its workers.

    The ad then attacks Rubin for taking “free trips from special interests” while he was on the city pension board, adding that he was “caught trying to cover up his unethical actions.”

    This charge sticks pretty well.

    A 2007 story in the Philadelphia Daily News said Rubin had “accepted free trips to conferences, some underwritten by money managers who seek business from pension boards, without informing the board and in apparent violation of the board’s travel policy.”

    The story quotes many public officials saying Rubin’s trips were a problem, and that he should have disclosed them to the board.

    Finally, the ad says that under Rubin, “our pension funds have lost billions, and the shortfall will have to be made up through higher real estate taxes.”

    Ahhh…the nuclear missile of city council campaigns – my opponent will raise your property taxes.

    Now we’re really reaching. The city pension fund is in deep sewage for many reasons. The two biggest are the collapse of the stock market in 2008 and the consistent failure of mayors and City Councils to adequately fund the promises the city has made to its workers.

    Rubin was vice-chair of the board, and perhaps owns a piece of the blame, but so does any City Council member who’s shared in the neglect of the city’s obligations.

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