POLS ON THE STREET: Marge Tartaglione, Pioneering Woman Leader, Passes

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CITY COMMISSION Chairwoman Marge Tartaglione, joined by her husband Eugene, L, received the honor of a meeting with Pope John Paul II.

Margaret Tartaglione, who chaired Philadelphia City Commission, serving on it for 36 years, died on July 9 aged 86. With her passed an era of tumultuous changes seasoned with fierce loyalties in the city’s grassroots political culture.

More than anything else, Tartaglione was a consummate street politician. As a young housewife and mother, she was recruited to be a committeewoman, a job she took to with relish and persistence. She lived in the Oxford Circle neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia since 1965 and soon became the Democratic 62nd Ward leader there, a post she held until her death.

Marge, as everyone called her, was bluecollar to the bone. Anybody who tried to put on airs with her wound up on her bad side. She never backed away from a fight.

“She would stand up for what she thought was right,” remarked her colleague, 55th Ward Leader Bob Dellavella. “But she had a soft side as well.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke noted on her passing, “The first thing that is memorable about Marge is that she not only demanded a seat at the table in Philadelphia politics, she retained it with a presence that was trailblazing. Today, we’re seeing more women doing that on the national stage but when Marge started, it certainly wasn’t the norm. In the rough-and-tumble world that was Philadelphia politics, even people who disagreed with Marge came to respect and admire her dedication.

BOB BRADY threw his 24th annual “Brady Bunch” shore party in N. Wildwood last weekend. While this affair is a place to be seen, it is apolitical and raises no funds – just fun. L-R here were philanthropist Donald “Ducky” Birts, State Sen. Sharif Street, City Commission Chairwoman Lisa Deeley, Brady, Register of Wills candidate Tracey Gordon and Councilwoman Cindy Bass. More pics P. 12. Photo by Wendell Douglas

“Marge also always made time to listen to the average person. If you went in her office with a question or a concern, she made time for you. You might have to listen to one of her political stories first, but she would listen to you! Marge Tartaglione was, in many ways, a reflection of how Philadelphians like to see themselves: tough, strong, and completely committed to their communities. That’s who she was.”

Advocating for basic City services at the block and household level was her lifelong cause. A good committeewoman herself, she always went to bat for her committee people. As she became more active in City politics, she brought that same spirit of loyalty to the game.

“With my mother, it was all about your name and your honor. If she shook your hand, you could take it to the bank,” commented her daughter State Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-Kensington), who followed her into politics.

“Throughout her recent illness, she was surrounded by family and friends, and was provided with the very best medical care. Thank you all for bringing her joy and comfort,” said the senator in announcing her mother’s death.

Ward leaders and City commissioners deal with each other on an intimate basis to accomplish the complex and often frustrating job of running two elections a year. In 1975, Tartaglione had a falling out with City Commissioner Gene Maier and joined Police Chief Frank Rizzo’s ticket in his first campaign for mayor, winning her seat on City Commission.

As Chairwoman, Tartaglione was a stickler for accuracy, transparency and honesty. She instituted the policy of started “sunshine meetings” in which the three City commissioners discuss and vote on matters in public, a practice continued to this day.

In 2011, she lost an intraparty brawl in the Democratic Party primary. She continued to run her ward, though, whose committee meetings, held in her basement, could be colorful to the point of legend.

ADDRESSING the LA21 Business Association CDC, Congressman Dwight Evans promoted enterprise in West Philadelphia. L-R were George Stevens, Iola Harper, CDC President Kwaku Boateng, Jackie Williams, Evans and Rojer Kern. Photos by Wendell Douglas

Tim Dowling, chief deputy City commissioner, recalled, “One of my favorite memories was when Marge, as ward leader, instituted the singing by candidates. Some of the candidates were outstanding and some were so-so. But what it showed me and the rest of the people present was that even though most candidates would come in stiff and spout off their resumes in their Sunday best, they also had a human side and would relax and loosen up and enjoy the atmosphere. It was noticeable when they performed in front of the ward. Not one candidate ever complained and most still reminisce about it to this day. One candidate even brought his banjo and serenaded the ward with some fine Irish lyrics.”

Her legacy continues. Dowling noted, “Marge gave me my start, as a temporary employee back in 1987. Marge was a mentor to a lot of people, including me. She was a tough straight forward woman, who pulled no punches, and always demanded the best out of people. For me the circle of life is poetic, I began my career with the chairwoman of the City Commissioners, and will be ending my career with another chairwoman of the City Commissioners.”

MAYOR JIM KENNEY presented the fourth annual Magis Award to Connor Barwin and Philadelphia-based Make The World Better foundation. The Magis Award is presented annually during the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony on July 4 to acknowledge a local individual or group that has gone above and beyond in serving their fellow Philadelphians. Barwin, a former Eagles linebacker, established MTWB foundation, devoted to youth development through athletics, the arts and other outlets. Photo by Albert Lee

Current Chairwoman Lisa Deeley released the following statement on Tartaglione’s passing:

“Our entire department is saddened by the news. The chairwoman was a larger-than-life individual who left her mark on the Commissioners’ Office and the City in her over 4 decades of service. Today, we talk about women in politics and strong female leaders as if it were a novelty – she embodied that. The chairwoman made members of the Old Boys Club stand up and take notice, and if they crossed her, she would let them know, persistently.

“In my career, we have been on the same team and opposing sides and I can tell you the latter was no fun. Regardless of the politics, her love for the Commissioners’ Office and her longtime staff was undeniable, as well as their love for her. I am fortunate that she made time to pass on some of her years of wisdom of the office to me, advice that I will treasure forever.

“I would like to extend my condolences and the condolences of our entire department to Sen. Tartaglione and the entire Tartaglione family. Rest in peace, chairwoman, we will carry on your work.”

Sheriff Williams’ Son on the Mend

In a double shooting on July 5 that cost another North Philadelphia man his life, Sheriff Jewell Williams’ son Jewell Williams, Jr. was seriously wounded.

The latest report is that the younger Williams is making a recovery from his injuries. Along with all Philadelphians, we wish him a full return to health. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his father and family in this time.

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