The delighted late former City Council President Anna Verna and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson with the sign dedicating a portion of Broad Street in her honor which he sponsored in 2017. Present for the ceremony were mummers whose performances Mrs. Verna always loved and supported. She passed away at age 90 on June 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Thompson, Director of Communication for Councilman Johnson).
Represented Southwest Philadelphia from 1975 to 1999
By Ted Behr
“Philadelphia is a better city today because of her service to all Philadelphians.” That was the sensitive lead statement in a Philadelphia Inquirer article announcing the death on June 15, 2021, of Anna Cibotti Verna, former Councilwoman representing South and Southwest Philadelphia. She was further selected as Council Majority Leader and then elected in 1999 as the first (and only) woman to serve the city as President of the Council.
Mrs. Verna was also the longest-serving council member in history (36 years) and is reputed to be the longest-serving city employee in any department. “In her almost 40 years representing the Second District and as Council President, she deemed herself as a consensus-builder who turned dreams of Philadelphians into realities,” was the tribute of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson who presently occupies the District 2 desk.
One of the first accolades of Mrs. Verna came from former mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Anna Verna “understood what was good for her constituents. She always fought for that. For her, that was far more important than politics or pleasing some donor.”
Barbara Capozzi, a real estate developer in South Philadelphia and City Council candidate commented, “I never heard her raise her voice… She was a leader, but in a soft, gentle way… and far, far brighter than people ever gave her credit for.”
Former Mayor Michael Nutter, who worked with Verna during his entire tenure on Council, called her a “classic Philadelphian, through and through.
“She knew the streets. She knew the top people in the city,” Nutter said. “She was comfortable talking to anybody. And she never, ever lost her touch, her connection with everyday Philadelphians.”
Nutter said he respected Verna’s directness when it came to bills up for consideration. She’d stand by a “yes” vote if she’d promised one — even if a bill was doomed to fail, he said. “She didn’t play games,” he reflected. “If she was for it, she was for it. If she wasn’t, she’d tell you. If she was thinking about it, she really was thinking about it … and if she gave you her word, that was it, you never had to worry about it.”
The late Anna Verna in front of the ornate City Council President’s chair which she occupied with such great distinction for 12 years (Photo by Tom Gralish, Philadelphia Inquirer).
Referring to her tenure as the first woman to lead City Council, former Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was quoted as saying, “She blazed the trail… she kicked the door open for whoever becomes the second woman Council president.” Blondell-Brown added, “She was kind but you were also clear about when she was drawing the line,”
“There is entirely too much noise in this chamber!” A frequent firm admonition by Council President Anna Verna when a City Council session got out of hand. Here she addresses unruly Occupy Philadelphia members in November 2011. (Photo by Alejandro A. Alvarez of Phila. Daily News)
Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Mrs. Verna graduated from Hallahan High School. She subsequently received honorary degrees from Chestnut Hill College and the Community College of Philadelphia.
Mrs. Verna entered public service as a secretary in the office of City Treasurer Richardson Dilworth. She succeeded her father, William Cibotti, as Councilmember for District 2 after he died in 1975 and assumed the Council Chair 24 years after that. In 1999, Verna became the first woman president of Philadelphia City Council — a momentous achievement, especially in the eyes of other women lawmakers.
Verna’s husband, Severino D. Verna Jr., operated a funeral home on South Broad Street where they lived. He died at age 79 in 2009.
The viewing and funeral mass for Mrs. Verna are scheduled for June 18 at St. Richards Catholic Church, 3010 S. 18th St.
(Information for this article was excerpted from Philadelphia Inquirer articles and archives.)