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May 28, 2009 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted

Category: Events, News || By

Golf Outing July 13: Registration is now open for the McKeesport Housing Corp.'s second-annual golf outing, to be held July 13 at Butler's Golf Course in Elizabeth Township.

Spokesman Jim Haughey says the outing will be "four-man scramble" style, with sign-in at 8 a.m., "shotgun start" at 9 a.m., and dinner, Chinese auction and award ceremony at 2 p.m.

Prizes will be given for the longest drive, lowest net-score, longest putt, and shot "closest to the pin," while a hole-in-one will net the lucky golfer a new car, donated by Tom Clark Chevrolet, Long Run Road.

Sponsorship starts at $110 per golfer or $400 for a foursome, while guests may attend dinner only for $30.

All donations benefit MHC, a tax-deductible corporation which provides financial assistance to low- and moderate-income homeowners in the city.

Since 1985, 700 homes have been renovated or repaired through MHC, while 33 new homes and the 26-unit Grandview Apartments complex were constructed, Haughey says.

For more information, call (412) 664-7003 or download the registration form.

. . .

New Scholarship Money: Penn State's Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport has received $50,000 in scholarship money from the Penn State Alumni Association, a spokeswoman says.

The city campus was included in the second of seven installments first pledged by the alumni association in 2008. When complete, the pledges will amount to $2.1 million in gifts across the Penn State system.

Other gifts were made this year to Penn State campuses in Abington and Scranton, along with the College of Agricultural Sciences in University Park.

An additional $100,000 has pledged to support recruitment of Penn State undergraduates to the university's Dickinson School of Law.

. . .

Advice for First-Time Homebuyers: Mon Valley Initiative will hold a free pre-purchase "housing workshop" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 25th at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Building, 475 E. Waterfront Dr., Homestead.

Part of the presentation will feature lending products available for low-to-moderate income first-time homebuyers that include down payment and closing cost assistance, spokesman Mike Mauer says.

One such program is the Targeted Areas Homebuyers Program offered through the Allegheny County Residential Finance Authority.

Designed to encourage homeownership in seven Allegheny County communities, including the city, Clairton, Duquesne, Homestead, Rankin and West Homestead, the program provides fixed-rate, 30 year mortgages with up to $5,000 in assistance for down payments and closing costs.

Homebuyers must meet Federal Housing Administration guidelines and fulfill other requirements, Mauer says.

All participants who successfully complete the course receive a certificate which enables them to obtain community development mortgage loans from local lenders. These loan programs are designed specifically for families earning less than 80 percent of the Allegheny County median, or less than $50,000 for a family of four, Mauer says.

Additional topics covered at the seminar will include budgeting, shopping for home loans, and home maintenance.

There will also be information about homes that MVI currently has available for purchase. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

To register, call Mauer at (412) 464-4000 or visit the MVI website.

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May 28, 2009 | Link to this story

They Laughed When Greeky Did It

Category: Commentary/Editorial, Satire || By

Back in 1963, when former Mayor Andrew "Greeky" Jakomas blocked off Fifth Avenue between Market and Locust streets and turned the area into a pedestrian mall, people around here were laughing so hard, they could barely breathe.

In fact, bring it up now, and certain people still laugh until the tears run down their cheeks. (Or until the tears run down their legs, as my friend Larry Slaugh used to say.)

The idea --- which was proposed again in 1969 --- is still shorthand in the Mon Valley for "dumb city planning."

But now New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to block off the "crossroads of the world" --- Times Square --- and create a pedestrian mall. I'm pretty sure that Times Square sees more traffic today than Fifth Avenue in 1960s McKeesport.

And people in New York (with the exception of cab drivers) are saying the idea is "good for business" and that they're "in love with it" (New York Daily News) and that it's "satisfying" and "calming" (New York Times).

We all owe Greeky Jakomas an apology.

Also, New York City owes McKeesport royalties.

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May 27, 2009 | Link to this story

Touring the Mon-Yough Area, 1940

Category: History || By

"Left from Duquesne across the Monongahela River to McKEESPORT, 1.1 m. (750 alt., 54,632 pop.), at the junction of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers, a highly developed industrial city with a large foreign population. David McKee, a north country Irishman who settled here in 1755, acquired title to 844 acres and in 1775 obtained ferry privileges from Colonial authorities. McKeesport was a center of conflict during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

"A town was laid out in 1795, but it was not until 35 years later, with the opening of coal mines in the vicinity, that it began to grow. The plants of the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company and the National Tube Company, among the largest of their kind in the world, are along the river, as is the Firth-Sterling mill, first fabricator of stainless steel in America. The city rises in curves and terraces from the river banks."

. . .

That's the description of Our Fair City compiled as part of the Federal Writers' Project, a New Deal program designed to put thousands of unemployed writers to work during the Great Depression.

Though criticized during the 1930s as a waste of taxpayers' money, the Writers' Project did compile some 300,000 documents, including oral histories from first- and second-generation immigrants, that offer an unprecedented look at life in the United States before and during the Depression.

Perhaps the best-known works of the Writers' Project were the 48 books of the "American Guide Series," which described the major cultural and industrial influences in all of the (then) United States, and provided capsule histories of the most significant communities.

The 1940 Pennsylvania guide includes a series of about two-dozen tours, including one through the Mon-Yough area along Route 837. Although many of the mills described on the tour are now gone, many of the sites remain historically significant.

For the first time on the Internet, and just in time for the summer travel season, Tube City Online is presenting the 1940 Mon Valley auto tour, along with some commentary on the present-day status of the landmarks described.

It's in our "Visitors" section.

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May 25, 2009 | Link to this story

G.C. Murphy's in Iraq?

Category: General Nonsense || By

A little late for Memorial Day, perhaps, but what does McKeesport's late, lamented G.C. Murphy Co. have to do with an airman serving in Iraq?

Details at the G.C. Murphy website.

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May 21, 2009 | Link to this story

A Better Learning 'Enviroment'?

Category: Commentary/Editorial, Satire || By

Click to enlarge

I almost forgot about this piece of campaign literature that I picked up over the weekend.

To paraphrase a famous comment by a great philosopher, "Rarely is the question asked: Is our school directors learning?"

Look, we're all busy people, and we all make mistakes. Frankly, I give these folks a lot of credit for serving on the school board. It's a difficult, time-consuming, low- or no-paying job that's thankless.

No matter what you do, someone hates you --- teachers think you're cheapskates, parents think you don't like their children, and elderly taxpayers think you're a spendthrift. Maybe I'm soft-hearted, but I like most school directors and other elected officials.

. . .

Still, this mailing from four incumbent school directors was really, really bad. "In three shorts years, this group has ... educational priorities." Uh ... what?

And they used "three shorts years" a second time.

Oh, my head. More? OK. "Enviroment" is misspelled in a headline. One of the school board's achievements was negotiating a new bus contract "that's saves the taxpayers" money.

I hate to even point out the phrase "educational learning center." Yeah, it's redundant. It's also a highfalutin way of saying "school."

. . .

I didn't want to post this before the primary because I didn't want to criticize any of the candidates, for fear of being accused of favoritism. Frankly, I'm doing them a favor by blanking out their names.

You can figure out who they were, if you're really curious. Three of them lost their bids for re-election. (That probably has nothing to do with this mailing.)

Again: I respect these folks. But if you're going to supervise the school system and trumpet your "proven record of results," you ought to make sure your mailings aren't riddled with mistakes.

. . .

In conclusion, I can't overstate the benefits of proofreading.

Remember, as that same philosopher also said, "Reading is the basics for all learning." How true.

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May 21, 2009 | Link to this story

Somebody Get the Hook

Category: Commentary/Editorial, Satire || By

Cluttered items from an empty mind...

. . .

Statewide turnout in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary averaged 15 to 20 percent, according to the Associated Press and several newspaper accounts.

There were 8.7 million registered voters in Pennsylvania as of last year. That means fewer than 2 million people voted this week.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Lottery sells about 3.8 million $1 lottery tickets every day.

The odds of getting all three digits in the Daily Number in the right order are 1,000 to 1.*

Pennsylvania voters apparently prefer those odds to the chance of nominating the right candidate to school board.

. . .

The lines at the voting booth were certainly shorter than the ones at the lottery machines.

When I voted at about 7 p.m. on Tuesday, only 100 people had signed in ahead of me.

I haven't seen demand so weak since that vendor at Eastland Mall was offering while-you-wait vasectomies.

. . .

West Mifflin voters, showing their usual sense of humor, turned out two incumbent council members, but kept Richard Olasz Sr.

That's good news. Council meetings will continue to be entertaining for the next four years.

West Mifflin should sell tickets for admission. They'd make a killing. But would they collect the amusement tax correctly?

. . .

In North Versailles Township Ward 1, East Allegheny school director Bill Gates has been nominated for re-election.

I don't know him, but when a guy named Bill Gates wins an election, you have to wonder about the reliability of computerized voting machines.

Mr. Gates' opponents are hoping that someone named Steve Jobs moves into the district. He'll promise to create a school system that's more expensive, but smaller and less prone to freezing.

. . .

Speaking of touch-screen voting machines, I'm still not used to them. I miss the old-fashioned lever machines. When you pressed that big red button and heard the gears grinding, by God, you knew you had voted.

Now, I feel like I'm at Sheetz, ordering a hoagie. When I got to "district magistrate," I wrote in "extra pickles."

. . .

I'm glad that we have to elect judges. It's one way for me to keep up with the Colville and Zappala families.

A lot of people don't realize this, but state law requires all Allegheny County ballots to contain at least one person named Zappala, Costa, Flaherty or Wecht.

In the event that no members of those families are available, Jay Jabbour is automatically selected to fill the vacant spot.

. . .

Trying to select judges is hard enough. In our borough, we had contested primaries for constable and tax collector.

Constables serve warrants and transport prisoners to and from hearings. I suppose I can understand why they're elected --- you want accountability in those positions --- but why do we need to elect a tax collector? Couldn't H&R Block do that job?

Local wage and income tax collectors are going to be phased out in Pennsylvania beginning this year. The elected tax collectors only handle property taxes, which must make them really popular at parties.

. . .

The only job that gets less respect than "tax collector" is "local journalist," and the only job that's lower than that is "Internet journalist."

Luckily, the position of "Internet journalist" isn't elected, because I'm not sure I'd win.

I don't even think I'd vote for me. I'd probably write in "extra pickles."


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May 20, 2009 | Link to this story

Ominous or Ridiculous?

Category: General Nonsense || By

John Barna photo

Photographer John Barna snapped this photo of a vulture perched on the Peoples Building earlier this week.

"I don't know if it's an omen about the building or McKeesport or what," he says. "I leave it up to you to supply an appropriate acerbic witticism!"

John, it's not an omen. The explanation is simple: The Bluebird of Happiness had the day off, and the Vulture of Unease was filling in.

Either that, or it was the day my car broke down and had to be pushed out of the middle of Lysle Boulevard. (On second thought, it was raining that day, so that couldn't have been it.)

If the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano each year, and the buzzards return to Hinckley, why shouldn't vultures come to McKeesport?

And most of the vultures who visit McKeesport become Section 8 landlords. (Rimshot!)

OK, smart guys and gals. Why was this vulture watching the intersection of Fifth and Walnut?

Winner gets a subscription to Tube City Almanac. (Second place gets two subscriptions, third place gets three subscriptions, etc.)

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May 19, 2009 | Link to this story

Election Day

Category: Announcements || By

A reminder that today is Primary Election Day. The polls are open until 8 p.m.

Voters in most Mon-Yough area municipalities are nominating candidates for local offices, including mayor, borough or city council, township commissioners and school board.

The irony, of course, is that these offices have a very serious impact on our every day lives --- especially regarding taxation, local services and infrastructure maintenance --- but they're the offices to which we all pay the least attention. We can all name the president and our U.S. senators, but how many of us can name the mayor or president of our local school board?

Also on the ballot are party nominations for Allegheny County Common Pleas Court and state Commonwealth, Superior and Supreme courts. Don't know how to choose? Neither do I.

But you can go to the Allegheny County Bar Association's website and download a list of which judges are recommended. Ditto for Westmoreland County.

The Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette also endorsed candidates. You could do worse than considering their opinions.

Finally, several candidates for local offices submitted biographic information to Tube City Almanac. You can find that information here.

Get out and vote! And if you don't feel informed enough to make a choice in the primary, then educate yourself before Nov. 3. It's more than a right --- it's a responsibility.

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May 18, 2009 | Link to this story

History Lesson: Students Remake Downtown for Class Project

Category: News || By

(If video fails to load automatically, go directly to the Daily Motion website.)

It's not unusual for developers to present plans to city council.

It is unusual when they're not old enough to drive themselves to the meeting.

Students from Danielle Hocko's eighth-grade American History classes at Founders Hall Middle School attended a city council meeting earlier this month to show off their plans for remaking the city's Downtown business district.

Every year, Hocko teaches a unit on capitalism and the development of the free market. This year, she says, students struggled with some of the concepts, such as regulation and competition. Some didn't understand how property was divided up for public and private uses.

So Hocko, a teacher for the last eight years, asked her students to re-design the Downtown business district to become the kind of a place where they and their families would want to shop.

About 110 students in five sections took up the challenge. They divided themselves into teams of four or five students each.

Hocko asked them to research different sections of Fifth Avenue and its neighboring streets and propose both public and private uses for different parcels.

Then, they had to justify how each business would generate revenue, or why each public space was important.

Hocko, a native of McKeesport herself, says that one of the most interesting parts of the project was that many students got their parents, grandparents and other older relatives involved. Their relatives told the students about stores and businesses that used to be Downtown.

The projects that received the highest grades are now on display at City Hall, corner of Fifth Avenue and Sinclair Street, Downtown.

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May 15, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

My Blue Heaven: Johnny Angel and the Halos join the McKeesport Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for an "Americana" concert of popular music.

The Halos are one of the Pittsburgh area's top oldies acts, having backed up '50s and '60s rock legends like Chuck Berry and Frankie Valli.

The concert is at the auditorium of McKeesport Area Senior High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and $8 for students.

Call (412) 664-2854 or visit the website.

. . .

You Oughta Be in Pictures: McKeesport Art Group hosts its 51st exhibition at Jacob Woll Pavilion, Renziehausen Park. Doors open at 5 p.m. tonight.

Additional hours are from 12 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is free, but selected artworks and crafts will be for sale, and the art group will also sponsor a "Chinese auction."

The Jacob Woll Pavilion is located inside Renzie Park, just off University Drive near the entrance to Penn State Greater Allegheny campus.

For more information, call Jan Catalogna at (412) 469-2710.

. . .

Heard it Through the Grapevine: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., presents the comedy "Rumors" by Neil Simon, 8 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Capsule Review: Your humble correspondent and his dear, sainted mother took in a performance last weekend with a pretty big crowd. They've got a good cast --- the guy playing Ken Gorman, one of the key roles, is especially good --- and generally strong production values. I'm always amazed at how much action MLT manages to fit on that stage.

(Also: Dave James, former radio news anchor at KDKA (1020) and other stations, plays Dr. Glenn Cooper, another juicy part. I was waiting for him to boom out, "I'm Dave James," but he stayed in character!)

No credit cards are accepted. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the website.

. . .

Send event listings, announcements, bouquets and brickbats (what the heck is a brickbat, anyway?) to or Tube City Almanac, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. (Non-commercial events only, please!)

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May 13, 2009 | Link to this story

Walnut St. Project: Beautification or Boondoggle?

Category: News || By

Crews from Joseph Palmieri Construction are finishing the installation of sidewalks and new curbs along Walnut Street between the 15th Avenue Bridge and Christy Park.

New landscaping and benches are slated to follow. The work could significantly improve the appearance of a corridor traveled by 12,000 to 15,000 cars daily, according to state Department of Transportation estimates.

But on Internet message boards and at a May 1 "meet the candidates" forum sponsored by the McKeesport NAACP, some residents --- including at least one political candidate --- have criticized the $181,000 project as a waste of money.

They say investment in sidewalks along the unoccupied stretch of Walnut Street would have been better spent on other neighborhoods.

. . .

And there have been allegations that Mayor Jim Brewster, who lives in Christy Park, is focusing on his neighborhood at the expense of other sections of the city.

That charge raised Brewster's hackles.

"It was insulting," he says. "Those are the kinds of comments you get, particularly at election time. If I sound a little bit upset, that's because I am."

Walnut Street is being improved under the state's Elm Street Program because it was one of the few parts of the city that qualified --- not because the mayor lives there, Brewster says.

. . .

The money being provided by the state can't be used in other parts of the city, or to raise salaries, he says. It's designated for the Walnut Street corridor.

"Everybody knows what we need," Brewster says. "We know what streets need to be paved, we know what houses we need to tear down. What we need is the money."

Constructing the sidewalk will get pedestrians out of the mud alongside the street, he says, "so we look like a city and not some hick town."

. . .

According to the Elm Street Program's website, McKeesport is one of only a few dozen municipalities participating in the initiative, which was created in 2004 by the state Department of Community and Economic Development to "strengthen older historic neighborhoods."

To be recognized as an "Elm Street" neighborhood, a district must be adjacent to a borough or city's downtown business area and include a heavily traveled thoroughfare.

The non-profit Pennsylvania Downtown Center, which provides assistance to communities in the program, calls such areas "the heartbeat of Pennsylvania's cities, towns, and boroughs."

Locally, several sections of Pittsburgh, including Lawrenceville, East Allegheny, East Liberty, Friendship and South Side Slopes; parts of Irwin Borough along Pennsylvania Avenue; and the Gallatin neighborhood of Uniontown have also been designated as "Elm Street" neighborhoods.

. . .

Downtown areas are not eligible for the designation, according to PDC, because "most downtown revitalization programs ... have had little impact beyond the borders of downtown into adjacent neighborhoods."

Besides the sidewalks along Walnut Street, Elm Street grants are available for homeowners and business owners in Christy Park to improve the exteriors of their buildings. Five people sit on the local committee overseeing Elm Street improvements, including three business owners in Christy Park.

. . .

Councilman Darryl Segina, who's seeking re-election to a third term and running for the Democratic nomination in the May 19 primary, says preserving and redeveloping the Walnut Street corridor is key to the city's future.

"We all feel bad about what's happened in our (Downtown) business district," he says, "but if you look at Walnut Street, that is becoming our business district, and it's very important to us from a business standpoint."

Brewster's more blunt, and earthy. The only reason McKeesport is receiving money for Walnut Street or any other project, he says, is because he and other city officials swallow their pride, "go to Harrisburg and pucker up."

"Anyone who wants to go with me, you're welcome to go," Brewster says.

. . .

Update, 11 p.m. May 14: Jim Haughey, Elm Street Coordinator and deputy director of McKeesport Housing Corp., points out that a sidewalk connecting Christy Park with the Third Ward was a requirement imposed by the state Department of Community and Economic Development in order for the city to receive Elm Street designation:

"The state funding for this project was specific and could not be allocated to another project within the city.

"Designation could mean upwards of $250,000 per year for a five year period for both housing facade and neighborhood improvements in Christy Park.

That would translate into more funding (CDBG, HOME, etc.) availability throughout the other city neighborhoods."

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May 12, 2009 | Link to this story

Y Director Counsels 'Patience' During Transition

Category: News || By

"Be as patient as you can." That's the message that the executive director of the YMCA of McKeesport has for patrons being displaced by the facility's closing.

"I can see the disappointment on their faces," Dexter Hairston tells the Almanac. "We understand it's a difficult time. We're all on their team.

"We're working to make sure we meet with whoever we can and try to preserve a YMCA presence in McKeesport," he says. "We're trying to tell folks that this is a quality community and that we want to stay involved."

. . .

As reported first by the Almanac last week, the YMCA's 87-year-old Sinclair Street facility will close to the general public on June 1. The indoor pool closed on Saturday.

The downsizing comes as the city Y struggles with more than $500,000 in debt incurred by previous managers and with a rapidly aging building that needs $4 million in capital improvements.

"There's some history that we have to face up to," Hairston says. "With today's economic climate, it makes it a longer process ... it's going to be a rather arduous task, but we need to work through the disappointment and keep looking for the end of the rainbow."

. . .

YMCA health and fitness members are being redirected to the Wilmerding YMCA, which is a branch of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

The McKeesport Sharks swim team has merged with the Wilmerding YMCA's swim team, and is splitting meets between McKeesport and East Allegheny high schools, Hairston says.

"Most people have been kind and understanding," says Hairston, who became executive director in 2007. "It's extremely disappointing to them, because this is a very close-knit community. A lot of the members have been here for years, and their families before them, and they share that with you."

. . .

Youth educational and after-school programs, which are funded by public and private grants, are generally located off-site and will continue to operate as usual, Hairston says.

The one exception is the Teen LEAD program, which meets at Sinclair Street. Hairston says he has asked McKeesport Area School District for permission to relocate to one of its buildings.

About 20 part-time staff members worked on health and wellness programs, and officials of the Pittsburgh YMCA, who have been providing management assistance, have said they will try to find positions for them at other facilities.

. . .

The city YMCA has nine full-time employees, including two at Camp T. Frank Soles in Somerset County. Their futures --- and Hairston's --- are unclear.

Hairston confirms that Camp Soles may have to be sold to pay down the YMCA's debts.

He adds there have been discussions about finding a way for Camp Soles to continue as a Y camp.

The YMCA's residential housing for low-income tenants, which is subsidized by Allegheny County, will continue through June 2010, Hairston says.

But without additional funding the program will have to be discontinued, and the Sinclair Street building will have to be closed completely, he says.

. . .

As for the popular fitness programming, Hairston says the McKeesport Y is committed to finding an alternative site. Any decision, however, is probably some months away.

"We have a huge 'Silver Sneaker' population, and our group exercise program is very popular," Hairston says. "We hope this is just a temporary setback."

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May 11, 2009 | Link to this story

Candid Camera

Category: News || By

Award-Winning Essays: McKeesport police Sgt. Dorothy Kuharski, head of the city's school crossing guards, holds a microphone for John May, a student at Centennial Elementary School, while he reads his prize-winning essay about the late Lee "Poo" Burke.

Burke, 40, died Feb. 17 of complications of diabetes. A McKeesport police officer for 10 years, Burke was law-enforcement coordinator for the city's "Weed and Seed" initiative and oversaw the department's community outreach to schools.

Students were encouraged by Kuharski to write essays about the lessons they learned from Burke.

The top two essays were presented to Burke's widow, Missy, during a ceremony at Wednesday's city council meeting.

The other winner was Christopher Lynn of George Washington Elementary School. Both winners received trophies and prize baskets.

(Tube City Almanac photo/Jason Togyer)

. . .

Bravery Cited: McKeesport police Officer Francis Angert, center, receives the department medal of valor from Mayor Jim Brewster on Wednesday as Assistant Police Chief Al Tedesco and police Lt. Art Pero watch.

During a training exercise on April 1, Angert intervened when his K-9 partner, Nero, accidentally bit a Bethel Park police officer near his face and neck. According to Police Chief Joe Pero, Angert got between Nero and the Bethel Park officer, received a serious bite wound to his bare leg and had to be rushed to UPMC Presbyterian hospital.

In recommending the citation, city police Sgt. Tim Bliss said that if Angert hadn't intervened, the Bethel Park officer might have suffered a severe or fatal injury.

(Tube City Almanac photo/Jason Togyer)

. . .

New Member Welcomed: David R. Luikart is the newest member of Veterans of Foreign Wars "Intrepid" Post 914 in West Mifflin.

Luikart, a Marine who saw combat during the Vietnam War, was inducted at the post's monthly meeting April 30 at the Thompson Run Athletic Club.

Post spokesman Mike Mauer said that Luikart was an aviation radio technician, rising to the rank of staff sergeant.

At right, Post Commander Charles Krebs, wearing garrison cap, welcomes Luikart.

Another new member is Robert A. Sanchez of Creston Drive, West Mifflin.

Mauer said Sanchez earned combat honors while serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War as an aviation navigation systems specialist.

(Submitted photo/Mike Mauer)

. . .

News Tips? Story Ideas? Notable Events? Write to or Tube City Almanac, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134. All items become property of the Almanac. Please include a phone number for verification.

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May 10, 2009 | Link to this story

Stompin' Tom and Mike Lange, Together Again

Category: General Nonsense, Wild World of Sports, Radio Geekery || By

In honor of the Penguins' unlikely victory in Game 5, I thought it was time to bring back this song that I cut together last year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As I noted at the time, the song was inspired by an episode of the Canadian sitcom "Corner Gas" called "The Good Old Table Hockey Game," which incorporates "The Hockey Song" by the great folk singer Stompin' Tom Connors.

It's the product of many long hours spent slaving over a hot tape machine at the World Headquarters of Tube City Community Media Inc., located in the verdant hills overlooking Our Fair City and the Dravosburg sewage treatment plant.

Enjoy, if that's the word, but please credit the Almanac, and don't use it for commercial purposes:
"The Hockey Song" by Stompin' Tom Connors (with Mike Lange)
MP3, 2.8MB

P.S.: You can buy Stompin' Tom's CDs at the A-C-T Records website.

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May 08, 2009 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By

Boogie-Oogie-Oogie: The '70s and '80s disco tribute band "Dancing Queen" plays the Palisades, 100 Fifth Ave. at Water Street, Downtown, in a benefit for the Carnegie Library of McKeesport.

Admission is $10 at the door and refreshments and prizes will be available. The show starts at 8 p.m. Call (412) 678-6979 or (412) 672-0625.

The Dave Iglar Band plays Harvey Wilner's Tavern, 1620 Pennsylvania Ave., Duquesne Village, West Mifflin, at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Call (412) 466-1331.

. . .

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick: The Frank Lasko Band plays the ballroom at Elks Lodge No. 11, Buttermilk Hollow Road, Lincoln Place, tonight at 8:30. Call (412) 461-3322.

. . .

People Are Talking: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., presents the comedy "Rumors" by Neil Simon, 8 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Saturday's performance will be preceded by a special Mother's Day dinner, but reservations are required. No credit cards are accepted. Call (412) 673-1100.

. . .

Read All About It: Dollar General Stores, Vigilant Hose Co., the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department and Port Vue Borough team up to raise money for literacy Saturday at the shopping center, 1515 Washington Blvd.

Cash donations and gently-used books will be accepted, starting at 11 a.m.

Experts will be on hand to fingerprint and photo ID children, the fire department will display equipment, and free emergency information will be distributed. Refreshments will also be served.

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May 08, 2009 | Link to this story

City Y in Jeopardy; Fitness Center, Pool Closing

Category: News || By

The financially troubled YMCA of McKeesport will close the fitness facilities at its Sinclair Street location on June 1, the Tube City Almanac has learned.

The city Y's indoor, Olympic-size swimming pool is being closed even sooner.

Local residents inquiring about memberships are being redirected to the YMCA in Wilmerding, and Camp T. Frank Soles near Rockwood, Somerset County, will probably be sold to pay off past debts estimated between $500,000 and $1 million.

Youth programs --- which are funded by the United Way, private foundations and public subsidies --- will continue to operate for as long as possible, but will be moved to other locations.

Staffers who are no longer needed will be offered jobs at other YMCAs where possible, officials say.

. . .

Lisa Christian, chief operating officer of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, tells the Almanac that the McKeesport Y "needs to cut costs drastically and stop the bleeding." The Pittsburgh Y has been offering management support for the city's Y since last year.

Christian says the city Y's fitness and wellness programs are breaking even, while operating the pool drains the organization of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" per year.

"There's not enough revenue to cover the expenses --- they're barely able to make payroll," she says. "The Y will stay in the community, but at this point, we don't know what that looks like."

. . .

The McKeesport YMCA was founded in 1888 and moved to its current location in 1922.

A serious problem with the landmark building on Sinclair Street is that it provides 87 rooms upstairs for transients, low-income tenants and people who need transitional housing. The rooms are subsidized by the county.

Sleeping quarters were once common in American YMCAs, but the McKeesport facility is one of relatively few remaining to offer them.

The building's layout doesn't make it easy to separate the tenants from the approximately 1,000 people who use the fitness facilities, gymnasium and swimming pool.

Residents will be moved into alternative housing over the next year, Christian says.

. . .

Although the Y has been in financial trouble for several years, Christian says the magnitude of the debts became apparent only over the past few months.

Though the McKeesport YMCA is partly a victim of the region's declining population and continuing poor economic conditions, other wounds may have been self-inflicted.

Sources familiar with the organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the Y suffered in the past because of weak fundraising efforts and cash-control procedures.

Christian confirms that an audit found that the McKeesport Y had "poor systems in place and long-term management issues," but she did not blame current Executive Director Dexter Hairston, who took over in 2007.

. . .

"Dexter has been a trouper," she says, adding that he has been meeting with donors steadily for two years. "It's a lot to clean up in a short period of time. We did not know and they did not know how big their liabilities were."

In addition, the 87-year-old building has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance. In March it was evacuated because of carbon monoxide leaks. A recent report concluded the Sinclair Street building requires $4 million in repairs to bring it up to code, Christian says.

"The occupancy costs of that building are very high," she says. "The windows aren't efficient, the lights aren't efficient, and there's no money to replace anything."

. . .

There have been preliminary discussions about moving the fitness center to another location in the city.

UPMC McKeesport spokeswoman Claire Daday says the hospital has had preliminary talks with the YMCA about moving some activities to the former Frank R. Bondi Medical Center on Evans Avenue, which is owned by the hospital.

Daday said the plan is "still in the discussion phases," but the hospital would welcome providing a temporary home to the YMCA.

. . .

McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster says the YMCA is a "tremendous asset" to the city and that officials are doing whatever they can to help the organization get through the current crisis.

"Certainly it's something we absolutely want to keep in town, and we want to help them find an option that makes sense financially," Brewster says. "It's probably safe to say that there's going to be a short-term strategy and a long-term strategy."

The city has identified several potential locations where the YMCA could re-locate within McKeesport, he says, though he does not want to speculate publicly on those sites.

It will be important, Brewster says, for the YMCA to continue to offer one of its biggest drawing cards --- the swimming pool. There are no other public swimming pools within the city, though White Oak's borough pool, which is outdoors, can be used by non-residents for a fee.

"Frankly sometimes out of adversity comes good things," Brewster says. "A new Olympic-size pool in a state-of-the-art location could be a good thing."

. . .

But a new full-service YMCA is unlikely to reopen any time soon, Christian says, and certainly not at Sinclair Street. "It's not in the offing unless they find a donor," she says. "I don't see a full-fledged YMCA coming back to McKeesport any time soon."

Although the Greater Pittsburgh Y has considered absorbing the McKeesport Y, it "is not in the position" to assume a half-million dollars in past debts, Christian says.

"We will maintain a Y presence," she says. "We're trying every opportunity we can to work with funders, with county officials, with the mayor --- Dexter's opening every door he can."

. . .

Unfortunately, Christian says, no "$4 million angel" has come forward, and none appear to be on the horizon.

"It's very heartrending," she says. "The last thing anyone wants to do is close down a Y."

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May 07, 2009 | Link to this story

City Mulls SWAT Unit, Rescue Boat

Category: News || By

A 90-minute wait for Allegheny County's special weapons and tactical unit during a hostage situation in April 2008 has convinced Police Chief Joe Pero that the city needs to be better prepared.

"I'm not knocking the county police, but it took them approximately an hour and a half to respond," Pero told city council last night. "We feel a special services unit is needed here."

With the aid of a grant from the federal Department of Justice, the city would like purchase an armored tactical vehicle that police officers could use to take cover while under fire, he said.

. . .

A similar armored unit was used by Pittsburgh police during the shooting April 4 in that city's Stanton Heights neighborhood in which three officers were killed.

A delay bringing the truck to the scene, however, hampered efforts to rescue the fallen officers and control the shooting suspect, Richard Poplawski.

Local police have responded to several armed standoffs in the Mon-Yough area, including two incidents last fall in Clairton. One of those lasted eight hours, and another required a lockdown at Clairton Education Center.

"To be able to return fire while mobile and under cover is something that's sorely needed," Pero said.

. . .

The city's proposal to the Justice Department --- approved last night by 6-0 vote of council --- calls for creation of a regional "critical action response team" that would be staffed by McKeesport officers and provide mutual aid to 33 other Mon-Yough area communities.

Though more common in large cities, there is precedent for SWAT-type units in smaller municipalities. Last year, municipalities in the South Hills Area Council of Governments, including Mt. Lebanon, formed a joint Critical Incident Response Team.

In Westmoreland County, Greensburg police have a tactical sniper team.

Pero said city police have a long way to go before officially creating a tactical unit --- including special training and certification --- but that several officers have volunteered for the program.

. . .

One sergeant has already received basic instruction and can train other officers, he said.

Pero called it a "morale builder" for the force of 65 officers. "We'd really like to get this off the ground," he said.

. . .

Also proposed is a new river rescue boat that would primarily patrol the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers near the city limits, but would also be available to assist any community between Lock and Dam No. 4 at Charleroi and Lock and Dam No. 2 at Braddock.

The specifications being drawn up by city firefighters include a boat that can carry a small all-terrain vehicle and a built-in pumper capable of delivering 2,000 gallons of water per minute in case of a fire, said Dennis Pittman, city administrator.

Because of the city-owned marina on Water Street and several private and public boat launches nearby, officials have wanted a new river-rescue boat for several years. Mayor Jim Brewster has described the current craft as "a glorified fishing boat."

. . .

Brewster cautioned council that both proposals are preliminary and require a competitive bid process and approval from the Justice Department.

"We're going to put in for the funding, but we also have a backup plan," he said.

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May 06, 2009 | Link to this story

Press Release: LPFM Group, TCO Vote Merger

Category: Shameless Horn-Tooting || By

Well, we did it. Our McKeesport-based low-power FM radio group and this website are merging.

At a meeting Sunday in West Mifflin, directors of Lightning Community Broadcasting Inc. voted 5-0 to combine with Tube City Community Media Inc., which operates Tube City Online and The Tube City Almanac.

Both are Pennsylvania-chartered non-profit corporations, but don't presently have tax-exempt status.

. . .

My co-conspirators in Lightning have been Alycia Bencloski, Derrick Brashear, Chad Dougherty, Daniel Malesky, Tom Schroll Jr., and Tim Weis.

We're all natives of the Mon-Yough area (which explains the brain damage, maybe) and we're all geeks to some extent. (We grilled hot dogs during the meeting, leading Tim to joke that we should have renamed ourselves "Tube Steaks Online.")

Bill Scully Jr. served on the Lightning board until recently, and Jen Fritsch, formerly of West Mifflin, was one of our founding directors.

(I was the sole director of Tube City Community Media. Now I have to answer to someone else. Surprisingly, they know about my attitude problem, and they agreed to do it anyway.)

. . .

I hate to use the term "no-brainer," but this really is. Both projects have similar goals --- creating an independent, alternative voice for the Mon-Yough area --- and Derrick and Tom have provided hours of free technical assistance and hosting services for the website.

(The website currently lives on the servers of Tom's company, Skymagik Internet Services. Go put your website there. Tell 'em Goober sent you.)

The merger requires approval of the state's Corporation Bureau --- largely a formality --- and will become effective when the combined board approves new bylaws. The merged organization will operate as Tube City Community Media Inc.

. . .

We founded Lightning in 1999 to bring a 100-watt public FM station to the McKeesport area, taking advantage of the Federal Communications Commission's creation of a new class of low-power FM radio stations.

Penn State's campus in McKeesport also laid plans for an LPFM station.

Both efforts stalled when the U.S. Congress, under pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters, overruled the FCC and insisted that stringent rules be enforced to prevent possible interference.

The chain of events was detailed in a recent Pittsburgh City Paper article that spotlighted Lightning, Tube City Online, and your humble correspondent. (I actually called it "the great LPFM screwing of 2000." Yes, I do kiss my mother with that mouth.)

. . .

Government-sanctioned technical studies have since indicated that Congress' restrictions were unnecessary, and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, Forest Hills Democrat, has introduced legislation to roll back those restrictions.

Co-sponsors of Doyle's H.R. 1147, the Local Community Radio Act of 2009, include U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Upper St. Clair, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Republican of Texas and 2008 presidential candidate. Doyle's introduced this bill before, and it died in committee. We're hoping this time is the charm.

Tube City Online was founded in 1996, while The Tube City Almanac, a journal of local news and opinion, was launched in 2004. It currently has about 2,500 unique visitors per month.

We are going to recruit additional writers and editors from the community, probably sometime later this year, after we develop a shared business and operation plan.

. . .

It's no secret that the Mon Valley has a significant "image problem," and the McKeesport area is often ignored by the Pittsburgh media --- or they only report on the negatives.

The ultimate goal of Tube City Online, and the LPFM station (if we're lucky enough to get a permit), is to offer more context and maybe a picture that's more nuanced.

We'd also like to offer a creative outlet and a training ground for Mon-Yough area residents to experiment with media and radio.

. . .

So, to put it briefly ... Tube City Online is preparing to grow, and we're all hopeful that the radio project will get off the ground as well. (It's a big question mark at this point.)

As this website evolves away from "Jason sucking his thumb and ranting," towards something like a community news site, I hope you'll be patient.

We're trying to be a compliment to the existing media outlets, not a replacement.

I also hope that if you have any interest in participating, that you'll contact me. (I've already heard from several people.)

. . .

And yes, I've seen this story from The Onion.

We're going to try to be better than the fictional Park Hills Beacon. We'll try not to make things "mind-numbingly insipid" and "grindingly dull."

We may not always succeed.

And I can't guarantee that we won't be "grammatically shaky" from time to time. We're yinzers, after all.

. . .

More about low-power FM:

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May 05, 2009 | Link to this story

Election Announcements

Category: Another Viewpoint, Politics || By

The following candidates running in the May 19 primary election submitted information to Tube City Almanac before May 2.

These announcements were written by the candidates, not by the Almanac's editor. In some cases they were slightly edited to fit this space.

Tube City Community Media Inc. provides this forum for the public's information only. The appearance of a candidate's name in this space does not imply endorsement.

Announcements received after the May 2 deadline will be printed at the editor's discretion.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

McKeesport City Council: Paul Shelly Jr. | Alfred (A.J.) Tedesco Jr. | V. Fawn Walker

McKeesport Area School Board: Dale (Terry) Cooper | Marti Gastel | Mary Jane Keller | Patricia A. Maksin

West Mifflin Borough Council: Daniel J. Davis

(Click here to read the candidates' announcements)


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May 01, 2009 | Link to this story

Children's Room Renovations are Overdue at City Library

Category: Events, News || By

Tube City Almanac photo

The cheerful color palette --- reds, yellows and blues --- can't hide the fact that the children's room at Carnegie Library of McKeesport is looking run-down at the heels.

More than 1,000 Mon-Yough area children use the library each month, borrowing books or hearing tales that are mostly happy stories.

But the thread-bare carpets and peeling paint in the children's room tell a sad story: Too much need, not enough money.

The first floor of the 1902-vintage library was restored to its original glory in 2005. The contrast between its attractive but functional appearance and the appearance of the children's room, located on the ground floor, is jarring.

. . .

Click to enlargeThankfully, the children's room is about to turn a new page.

With help from the Allegheny Foundation and other private donors, as well as a matching grant from the state, the children's room will close in a few weeks for $100,000 in renovations, says Jo Ellen Kenney, executive director of the library, which has branches in White Oak, Duquesne and Elizabeth Township.

The work --- which will take about three months --- comes as more families with small children are taking advantage of free educational and entertainment events at the McKeesport library.

Kenney expects that's a function of the economy.

"We now have 30 or 40 families showing up for programs, and attendance at our story hours (is) building," she says. "So we can see that the popularity of the library is out there for these kids."

. . .

The children's room is located in the library's former auditorium, once the home of community dances and piano recitals. The auditorium closed in 1969 and was converted to the children's department the following year. Chris Kritikos is the manager.

Under the direction of Pittsburgh architects Pfaffman + Associates, the stage area will be partially restored for use during story hours and other events.

The story hours and the annual Summer Reading Program have been temporarily relocated to the three branch libraries, and Charley Quinn, assistant director of the McKeesport library, says other sites in the city are under consideration for use while the construction continues.

. . .

Shelving will be relocated to open up more floor space for school visits and other events, and careworn desks and tables will be replaced. New carpeting will also be installed, except on the stage, which will revert to its original wood surface.

The renovations will also include moving several public Internet terminals up to the main floor and making some of them wireless.

Eventually, Kenney says, the library would like to convert to movable shelving, which would allow the book stacks to be rolled away when additional room is needed for children's activities.

. . .

For now, however, those plans are somewhere in the future, dependent on funding --- something that remains in short supply despite the McKeesport library system's yearly allocations from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

Giving is way down, Kenney says. "This is not one of our better years," she says. "Foundation giving is down, and everybody's holding onto their money as long as they can."

Kenney has also warned the library's board to be prepared for a cut in RAD money. The funding comes from the 1 percent Allegheny County sales tax, and consumer spending has been sharply curtailed in the current recession.

"This year, we are truly more wary than we have been in a long time," Kenney says. "If there are any 'library angels' out there who want to help fund the renovations, I hope they'll step forward."

. . .

On May 8, the Palisades will host a fundraiser for the library, featuring the '70s and '80s style funk band "Dancing Queen." Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door, and a table for eight can be reserved for $80.

"Polyester suits and big hair are not required," Kenney says.

All proceeds from the 8 p.m. show will benefit the library.

Tickets are on sale at the library or the Palisades, 100 Fifth Ave. at Water Street, Downtown. Call (412) 678-6979 or (412) 672-0625.

. . .

Donations to the Carnegie Library of McKeesport's capital campaign may be made via PayPal or credit card at its website, or send a check or money order payable to Carnegie Library of McKeesport, 1507 Library Ave., McKeesport 15132.

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