For the first time since being released from federal prison, former Councilman Rick Mariano returned to Council chambers yesterday to testify in support of a bill that would prevent employers from asking job applicants about criminal history.
Mariano, who served 10 years in Council before serving four years in prison for corruption, waxed a bit nostalgic, commending former colleagues and thanking them for their support while he was incarcerated. On the “ban the box” issue, he said being an ex-offender in a halfway house has shown him the challenges nearly one-fifth of Philadelphians face.
“I’m available if anybody wants to hire a union electrician at a union rate,” joked Mariano, who is working as a program coordinator for an organization called Impact Services. “This has to be addressed and it has to be addressed by people like yourselves.”
The bill would make it illegal for employers to ask about convictions on an application or a first interview unless permitted by state or federal law. Proponents say it would remove barriers in employment and housing that prevent ex-offenders from reintegrating into society. Six states and more than 25 cities have similar laws.
“You fill [the application] out, but nobody looks at it,” said Councilwoman Donna Reed-Miller, the bill’s author. “This way you’ll at least be able to complete the application, put down your skills and qualifications for the job.”
The legislation was passed out of committee and is expected to be passed next week.
Now he knows jail
Mariano, who is on probation, called his return to Council chambers “very bittersweet.”
“I never really enjoyed this. You might have thought I did. It was mainly something I thought I could do and I did it. I’d have been better off staying an electrician,” he said outside the hearing.
He said his time behind bars included learning to play bass guitar from John Forte of the Fugees, spending “lots of time in chapel” and meeting singer Carly Simon.
“I’m a fat 55-year-old white guy. What do I know about prison? Now I know. I hung out with the Gambinos [crime family]. I ate with the Muslim nation. I had fights, I did all that silly stuff and it is horrible,” he said. “The worst thing you could be in a prison is a pedophile. Above that a cop and then a politician.”
How about write a book? The ex-con said he has completed a memoir tentatively titled “Philadelphia Politics: Hollywood for Ugly People,” co-written by Timothy Malcolm of the Hudson Valley Times.