Tartaglione doesn’t back down

    She didn’t punch a fellow ward leader in the mouth years ago, like everybody says. She popped him twice.

    “He fell back over a television set, cigar flying out of his mouth,” City Commissioner Marge Tartaglione told me.

    More on the storied fisticuffs in a moment. I asked about that well into a long phone conversation occasioned by a burst of interest in Marge’s job this week.

    There were ethics charges against her daughter Renee, Marge telling a reporter she could punch him out, and the announcement by insurgent Republican Al Schmidt that he’ll run for city commissioner by attacking her office as rife with sleaze.

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    Asked about all this on the phone, Marge said she got angry at the reporter because he’d impugned the integrity of her office. She then made a case that for more than 30 years, she’s run elections by the book.

    She recalled being arrested on election day in 1978, when she was accused of moving polling places to help Mayor Frank Rizzo win a charter change election. She was acquitted, and she reminded me that shortly after, she helped the FBI nail a voting machine vendor who was trying to bribe her.

    Marge said the guy visited her the day before Thanksgiving, in her kitchen on the Roosevelt Boulevard.

    “He says to me, `you got a house at the shore?’” Marge recalled. “I told him no, and he says, `you want one?’”

    She called the FBI, wore a wire on the guy, testified at trial and saw him convicted. This was all reported at the time, but I hadn’t thought about it in years.

    Marge’s point was that yes, she’s been a tough politician, but she’s always drawn a line between that and her role in government.

    And I have to say she has a point. You can make a case that the election machinery here is antiquated, that it’s been way behind the digital curve.

    But in my experience, the people who actually run elections for Marge are committed civil servants to who take their jobs seriously.

    Al Schmidt, the young, well-scrubbed Republican who’ll be running against Marge,  began his campaign with what he said was documentary evidence of how politicized elections here are.

    He had copies of requests made in recent years to the City Commissioners to issue poll watchers certificates, many made by staff of politicians using government fax machines and e-mail accounts.

    In other words, an official running for re-election wants a bunch of folks in his ward qualified as poll watchers, so he has a staff  person fax a list to the City Commissioners from his government office.

    Improper to be sure, but not exactly Watergate.

    Schmidt said this is the kind of stuff elected officials get indicted for, and the City Commissioners should have warned those sending the requests from government offices, or even contacted law enforcement.

    “Oh please,” Marge said of Schmidt’s complaint. “He’s just looking for publicity.”

    I suspect we’ll hear more about Schmidt’s documents down the road.

    After Marge and I had spoken awhile, I just had to ask her about her physical confrontation back in the 80’s with Norman Loudenslager, the machinists union official and Democratic leader of the 25th ward in Kensington.

    She obliged. It was in Harrisburg, and she was there for the annual meeting of the Democratic State Committee.

    She and her daughter Tina, then 16, walked into a hospitality room for State Sen. Frank Lynch – not an ally – and Loudenslager greeted them with a profane insult.

    Marge said she belted him twice, rudely separating him from his cigar and eyeglasses. She was unapologetic about it.

    “You got kids?” she said. “If somebody said something like that, what would you do?”

    Loudenslager isn’t around to tell his side of the story. He died in 2002.

    I asked Marge, who’s 77, if she’s up to running again and serving another four-year term.

    “Sure I am,” she said.

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