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Filed Under: News || By Jason Togyer

January 26, 2011 | Link to this story

A Note About Doug Hoerth

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By Jason Togyer

I was a weird kid, and those of you who know me as a weird adult won't be surprised. But I started listening to talk radio in 1985 or 1986 --- I was a big fan of Lynn Cullen's feature stories on WTAE-TV, and when she moved to the radio side of the operation, I moved with her.

That's when I started listening to Doug Hoerth, who died Tuesday at 66. I even called his show a few times when I was in high school. But mostly I listened to him. I've told many people that much of what I know about pacing a radio show, I stole from Doug Hoerth.

In my mediocre backwater radio career, working at college and suburban stations, I've often used "Doug-isms" on the air. For instance, I've caught myself saying, a la Uncle Dougie, things like "I hope you know what your name is. If you don't, you're in big trouble --- I don't know who you are, either."

I stole his habit of dropping in little off-mike comments and soundbites (including some from one of his favorite movies, "Blazing Saddles"). I stole some of his taste in music. (I've also tried to acknowledge those things on the air, at WRCT and elsewhere.)

. . .

I wish I could have stolen his interview technique (or his guest list). I loved his interviews. He was a great interviewer, and one of only a few broadcast journalists I've ever heard who actually prepared for interviews. (Larry King's complete lack of preparation drove Hoerth nuts, and it drove me nuts, too. I couldn't watch Larry King without thinking of Doug Hoerth.)

One hot, miserable summer, I was cutting lawns for spending money. I remember wearing headphones and a Walkman tuned to the old WTAE (1250), so that I could keep up with Hoerth as I worked. One day, he was interviewing one of my comedy heroes, Stan Freberg, who was pimping his then-new autobiography.

Freberg --- never one to mince words --- essentially claimed credit for inventing comedy records, funny commercials, and a bunch of other things, probably also including the Internet and wrapped gum. Hoerth tried to interject some questions, and Freberg just kept gassing on and on.

Finally, Hoerth wrapped up the interview, said goodbye, then asked his producer, "Is he off the phone? He is? Good ... modest son-of-a-bitch, ain't he?" And BAM! He went right into a WTAE jingle and a commercial. I laughed so hard, I thought my pants would never dry.

. . .

There were many great Doug Hoerth on-air moments. There was his notorious, oft-repeated segment with poor Mrs. Gertrude Wilson, who accidentally called WTAE radio while trying to get a pumpkin pie recipe from WTAE-TV, and was tortured by Hoerth for several agonizingly funny minutes.

And there was "Jane," an elderly, slightly demented lady who called regularly to sing her self-penned songs about death. And there were his marathon sessions with former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, rambling about politics, pop culture, presidential assassinations and everything in between.

Shortly before he was let go from his last radio gig, at McKeesport-licensed WPTT (1360), Hoerth was using the last hour of his three-hour show for monologues about his life. I suspect they were actually chapters from the book he was supposedly writing.

I wish I had been able to tape those monologues, because few people have done personal radio storytelling better than Doug Hoerth, except for Garrison Keillor and the late Jean Shepherd, who was one of Hoerth's radio heroes. Certainly no one in Pittsburgh radio has done them better in my lifetime.

The last time I talked to Doug, I told him the monologues very much reminded me of Shepherd's, and he seemed genuinely touched by the comparison.

. . .

I interviewed Doug a few times, and even hung out with him on two occasions --- once while I was working for Kennywood, another time at a DJ remote in Wilmerding. He was wickedly funny, foul-mouthed, and amazing observant, offering a pointed, running commentary on the parade of Mon Valley humanity we were watching.

But I never really got to "know" him. Several times I invited him out to dinner at one of his Bellevue hangouts, like the Eat'n Park or the Rusty Nail, but he always begged off.

I always sensed that only a few people could penetrate his inner circle, and I certainly wasn't one of them. I envy the people who did get admitted into that elite group. I enjoyed basking in his attention, even for a few minutes.

. . .

Because of his encyclopedic knowledge of radio, I always thought Doug would have made a marvelous teacher of broadcasting and communications.

But Doug once admitted to me that he lacked a certain "drive" --- to escape from radio's shackles or to escape from working in the Pittsburgh market, which has steadily declined in size and prestige over the last 30 years.

As Doug would have pointed out, when he arrived to work in Pittsburgh radio, KDKA was the flagship of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and Pittsburgh was the seventh-largest media market in the United States. Now, KDKA is a minor cog in the CBS wheel and Pittsburgh is barely in the Top 25.

I always sensed that Doug lacked a certain self-confidence, which is a shame. But then again, so many creative people doubt their own talents. (And so many completely un-creative people are completely uncritical of themselves.)

. . .

Several people, including Cullen, have remarked that Doug lived to be on the radio, and that when radio didn't want him any more, he essentially died of a broken heart.

I don't know about that. But I do know that my heart broke a little bit on Wednesday morning when I heard he was gone.

See you around, Uncle Dougie, the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, a ricky-ticky-cha-cha-cha. Wherever you are, I hope the diet pop is ice cold, and that the supply of Frank Sinatra records is endless.

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January 25, 2011 | Link to this story

As Kennedy Campaigned, U-2 Spotted Cuban Missiles

Category: History || By Jason Togyer

It turns out that when I wrote about President Kennedy's visit to McKeesport, I missed an important footnote. As Kennedy was touring the Mon Valley on Oct. 13, 1962, the world was edging as close as it's ever come to nuclear war.

U.S. intelligence and military experts were convinced that the Soviet Union was supplying ballistic missiles to its allies in Cuba, but they needed solid evidence.

So on the morning of Oct. 14, 1962, one day after Kennedy visited McKeesport, a U-2 spy plane piloted by Air Force Major Richard D. Heyser flew over western Cuba. According to a U.S. State Department website, it took 928 high-resolution photos during its 6-minute south-to-north flight.

The flight "produced the first verified evidence of the existence of Soviet offensive missile sites in Cuba," the State Department reports.

"Analysis and interpretation of the photographs at the National Photographic Intelligence Center revealed that three medium-range ballistic missile sites were being developed near San Cristobal, in Pinar del Rio province. Photo analysts counted eight large MRBM transporters at the three locations and four erector launchers in tentative firing positions."

. . .

When Kennedy left McKeesport on Oct. 13, he headed to Monessen and Washington, Pa., and then to Indianapolis for another campaign event on Oct. 14.

According to William Taubman's book, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy was informed the following day --- Oct. 15 --- "but since President Kennedy was out of town on a campaign trip," Bundy didn't inform him until Oct.16. Kennedy received the news in his bathrobe and slippers, Taubman writes.

By Oct. 22, little more than a week after Kennedy had been on stage with Gov. David Lawrence, McKeesport Mayor Andrew "Greeky" Jakomas and other local officials, the president was on nationwide TV and radio explaining the situation, and announcing a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba. A Soviet ship tried to run the blockade, and an American spy plane was shot down over Cuba.

. . .

When on Oct. 29, the Soviets agreed to dismantle the missiles, the crisis passed --- but Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev lost face back home, and the Cuban Missile Crisis and other missteps led Kremlin power-brokers to force him from office.

Ironically --- well, at least for McKeesporters --- Khrushchev left office on Oct. 14, 1964, almost two years to the day that Kennedy spoke to those crowds at the corner of Lysle Boulevard and Walnut Street.

And as the late Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know the rest of the story."

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January 25, 2011 | Link to this story

Mystery Photo Location Identified

Category: General Nonsense, History || By Jason Togyer

Earlier this month, I posted a Depression-era photo of a steel mill and coke works, and suggested it might be U.S. Steel's Clairton Works.

Almanac contributor John Barna and Alert Reader Bill suggested it was actually Jones & Laughlin's Hazelwood Works.

The other morning, while eating my Post Toasties, I was perusing a history of Pitt football and saw this photo of former quarterback Dan Marino. Taken by Marlene Karas, the photo was shot in the North Oakland neighborhood where Marino grew up, overlooking the very same Hazelwood Works.

Something about the background caught my eye --- the coal docks jutting out into the river looked mighty familiar. So I enlarged the photo on a flatbed scanner:

And sure enough, the coal docks and the line of hills in the background match those in the mystery photo:

John and Bill are correct --- the mystery photo shows the J&L Hazelwood Works.

So that's yet another mystery solved by Tube City Almanac. The bigger mystery, of course, is what the hell happened to Pitt's football program after the Danny Marino era? But that's a question for other websites in other places.

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January 24, 2011 | Link to this story

Political Candidates: Please Read This

Category: Another Viewpoint, Politics || By Jason Togyer

(Political Candidates: Deadline for submissions to Tube City Almanac is May 2. Entries will be published May 9. Details below.)

. . .

As a public service, Tube City Community Media Inc. again will make available this space as a free, public outlet for local political candidates --- with strict rules attached.

If you know any political candidates, please let them know of this opportunity. Deadline is May 2; profiles will be published at Tube City Online on May 9.

Profiles received after the deadline will be published at the editor's option, time permitting.

. . .

Free Space for Candidates

1.) Any candidate for a municipal or school board office in the Duquesne City, McKeesport Area, South Allegheny or West Mifflin Area school districts* may submit a candidate profile for publication at Tube City Online.

2.) "Candidate" includes anyone registered to run in the Republican and/or Democratic primary. Independents, write-ins and third-party candidates will not be considered.**

3.) Candidate profiles may include biographical information, statements on various issues, and website URLs or other public contact information. Personal attacks on other candidates and commercial endorsements or other irrelevant information are not permitted. In case of any dispute over content, the decision of the editor is final.

4.) Candidate profiles must be 400 words or less. Handbills and fliers are acceptable submissions, but may be modified to fit the space or converted to plain text. Tube City Online reserves the right to edit for style with or without notice, at the editor's option.

. . .

Complete rules follow after the "more" link and are subject to change at any time.

Thanks for your cooperation, and for running for local office!

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January 18, 2011 | Link to this story

Kennedy's 1962 City Speech Now Available Online

Category: History || By Jason Togyer

The world's first statue of John F. Kennedy --- on Lysle Boulevard, Downtown --- marks the spot where the nation's 35th president gave a rousing campaign speech in 1962.

Audio of that speech is now available online at the website of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Kennedy visited Western Pennsylvania on Oct. 12-13, 1962 while on a campaign swing for Democratic candidates, including U.S. Rep. Elmer Holland of Pittsburgh's South Side and former Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth, who was then running for governor.

The audio of his speech in McKeesport is part of a vast trove of digitized materials unveiled last week by Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, president of the JFK Library Foundation, and David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States.

The portions of the Kennedy archive digitized so far include approximately 200,000 pages of documents, 300 reels of audio tape and 1,500 photos. Alert Reader Adam Spate last week tipped off the Almanac that Kennedy's remarks in McKeesport are among the artifacts now available online.

. . .

Kennedy's speech in McKeesport was seen by more than 25,000 who thronged Lysle Boulevard and Walnut Street for a chance to see the charismatic president, then just 45 years old. According to the tape recording at the Kennedy Library website, the address was a barn-burner in which Kennedy struck themes that still sound familiar nearly 50 years later.

Among other topics, the president expressed his frustration that Republicans and some Democrats in the closely divided Congress had blocked signature programs of his administration --- including a bill to provide universal health care, which was defeated by one vote in the Senate.

"I believe that this world will not be strong and free unless the United States is strong and free," Kennedy said, "and it cannot be strong and free unless the President and the Congress are committed to this kind of progress --- and it involves your welfare and the welfare of your children, and most especially those who come after us."

Afterward, the crush of the crowd to shake Kennedy's hand was so great that the wooden rail around the speaker's platform collapsed.

. . .

According to newspaper accounts, Kennedy's visit to the area began on Friday, Oct. 12 at the former Greater Pittsburgh Airport and included a motorcade ride to Aliquippa, Beaver County, and then down Ohio River Boulevard to downtown Pittsburgh, where he stayed on the 16th floor of the William Penn Hotel, then known as the Penn-Sheraton.

That night, the motorcade headed to Oakland and the Field House at the University of Pittsburgh, where 8,500 heard Kennedy deliver a mostly extemporaneous attack on Republicans, accusing them of "blind, negative opposition" to his administration's programs.

The Post-Gazette reported that an estimated 300,000 people lined the motorcade route, while the Press reported that the president was "greeted more like a matinee idol than a chief executive."

Most of the people in the crowds were friendly, the Post-Gazette said, although "in such Republican strongholds as Sewickley, Ben Avon and Avalon ... the reception was different. In Sewickley, the motorcade was greeted with signs that read, 'Cuba-Berlin?' and 'We Like Ike.' In Ben Avon, one spectator held up a sign that read, 'Impeach Earl Warren.'"

. . .

Photos show Kennedy, accompanied by Dilworth and Pennsylvania Gov. David L. Lawrence, riding in an open four-door Lincoln Continental convertible. The limousine --- apparently the one built for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy --- is similar to the one in which Kennedy would be assassinated one year later in Dallas, Texas.

Security was described as tight, with "more than 1,000 policemen of all kinds" swarming the motorcade route, according to the Pittsburgh Press.

"Everyone got into the act, including four county policemen on horseback and four members of the K-9 corps," wrote the Press' Robert Field.

"Expert marksmen were stationed on the rooftops of buildings rimming the hotel and Mellon Square. Plainclothesmen and uniformed officers were everywhere. They milled through the lobby of the hotel and through the crowd at the Field House. They lined the streets and guarded corners along the route of the presidential motorcade."

Kennedy's visit to McKeesport came the following day --- a Saturday --- at the beginning of a visit to industrial towns including Monessen and Washington, Pa.

. . .

His McKeesport speech was delivered at 10:30 a.m. in what was then a parking lot at the corner of Lysle and Walnut, between the Municipal Building and the Daily News Building. An estimated 25,000 people thronged the city's Downtown, with some sleeping overnight.

Or at least they were trying to sleep --- a 19-year-old student from what was then called California State Teachers College told the Pittsburgh Press he had arrived Downtown at 5 p.m. the night before to get a spot close to the speakers' platform, and spent a restless night in his friend's car. Thomas O'Neil said his dinner had consisted of "five bottles of pop and two bags of pretzels," but that the chance to see Kennedy was worth the discomfort.

Mayor Andrew "Greeky" Jakomas introduced the speakers, including U.S. Senator Joe Clark and Lawrence, and until Kennedy's appearance the crowd was subdued and polite. Indeed, they "moaned" when Lawrence, whose term as governor was expiring at the end of the year, began to speak, and when Clark delivered a few remarks, the moans increased.

But when Kennedy approached the podium, "the crowd kept up a sustained roar of approval," according to the Pittsburgh Press' account the next day.

. . .

Not everyone was happy to see Kennedy, even in heavily Democratic and working-class McKeesport. According to the Press, a fight broke out in a Downtown beauty shop on Friday night.

"One woman made the remark that she had gone to Pittsburgh to see (Soviet premier) Khrushchev, but wouldn't walk two steps to see the President. This so incensed another patron that a hair-tugging brawl broke out."

The Press' tipster said, "I understand that the woman who made the remark needs a wig and not a permanent, now."

Dilworth's opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Scranton, a Republican from the northeast part of the state, called Kennedy's visit a "sign of panic" by the Democratic party. Dilworth lost the gubernatorial election to Scranton, though Holland would be elected to Congress three more times, serving until his death in 1968.

. . .

Little more than a year later, McKeesporters would join the rest of the world in mourning Kennedy's death. Three days after Kennedy was cut down by a sniper's bullets in Dallas, Jakomas announced plans to erect a statue of the late president on Lysle Boulevard. "The city doesn't have a statue of any kind right now," Jakomas said, "and I'd like this to be our first one."

English-born sculptor Bryant Baker was commissioned to design the monument, which became the focal point of today's Kennedy Park. Baker, who died in 1970, also designed statues of presidents Washington, Cleveland and Fillmore, as well as a statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Fulton, Mo., and a 27-foot-tall statue outside of the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Okla.

Three of Baker's statues --- of U.S. Senators John M. Clayton, Caesar Rodney and William Borah --- stand in the National Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol.

The marble base of the Kennedy statue in McKeesport bears a simple inscription --- the president's dates of birth of death, his years in office, and the most famous line of his 1961 inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country."

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January 11, 2011 | Link to this story

Shermenti: Seven Plow Crews Take Streets During Storms

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

With three to six inches of snow expected to fall in the Mon-Yough area today and tomorrow, city crews will hitting the streets on seven different routes, giving priority to heavily trafficked thoroughfares and streets that serve school buildings.

That's according to Nick Shermenti, city public works director, who said last week McKeesport's salt bins were full. The street-plowing strategy has been in place for more than a decade --- and unfortunately for the perpetually cash-strapped city, so have some of the trucks, Shermenti joked.

The top priority streets include Lysle Boulevard, Walnut Street, O'Neil Boulevard, Eden Park Boulevard, Versailles Avenue and Evans Avenue.

Although Lysle and Walnut are state-maintained highways, the city is reimbursed for snow removal, Shermenti says. Similar agreements are in place for snow removal on county-owned roads, including O'Neil.

Larger dump trucks attack main arteries while smaller pickup-size trucks are sent into neighborhoods, Shermenti said. A complete circuit of the city by seven public-works employees takes "about five to six hours if we're plowing, and about four hours if we're salting," he said.

. . .

But even the best-laid plans would have trouble if the storm turns much worse, like the blizzard on Feb. 5 and 6, 2010 that unexpectedly dumped 24 inches of snow on Western Pennsylvania in about 24 hours.

For now, the National Weather Service in Moon Township says the McKeesport area is expected to receive 1 to 3 inches of snow before 8 p.m. Tuesday, with a total of 3 to 6 inches by Wednesday night.

"Conditions will deteriorate rapidly early this afternoon as the steady accumulating snow moves in, making for a difficult evening commute," the NWS reported in a weather advisory. Areas of blowing and drifting snow are possible Wednesday, the service said.

. . .

McKeesport's street department has 11 employees to maintain 104 miles of street, Shermenti said. Routes near George Washington, Centennial, Founders' Hall and other schools are plowed and salted in the early-morning hours in hopes of reducing school cancellations to mere delays, he said.

An approved list of private snowplow contractors is also maintained by the city, he said.

During the February 2010 cleanup, seven private contractors supplemented city crews, Shermenti said. According to news reports, Pittsburgh paid from $50 to $300 per hour for snowplowing, but Shermenti said McKeesport had locked all of its contractors into a rate of $45 per hour.

But the record-setting snowfalls of last winter did blow apart the city's salt budget, Shermenti said. While the city had planned to purchase 3,000 tons of salt at a cost of about $100,000, it wound up using 5,000 tons at a cost of more than $247,000, he said.

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January 07, 2011 | Link to this story

Mystery Photo: Clairton Works, 1938?

Category: History || By Jason Togyer

Something a little bit lighter today, yes?

While looking through the Library of Congress' online archive of photos from the Office of War Information, I found the above photo by Arthur Rothstein, labeled "Industrial development along Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." It was taken in 1938. (Click the photo to enlarge it.)

By the way, the "Library of Congress" is more government out-of-control spending. Why is the government making a power grab for America's history? Surely our history should be sold to the free market, undoubtedly at a lower cost than the Library of Congress, which is probably an invention of socialists like Nancy Pelosi.

Whoops! Sorry, for a minute there, I thought I was writing a letter to the editor of the Daily News.

Anyway, to this former son of Liberty, that sure looks like the Clairton Works, circa mid-1940s, with Liberty and Lincoln boroughs on the hillside in the distance:

If it's Clairton, then that's the coke-making portion of the plant at the center, with the steelmaking portion in the lower left foreground.

The coke works is obviously still operating, although U.S. Steel in 2009 announced that a plan to pour more than $1 billion in improvements into the facility is on hold.

As best as I can tell, steelmaking in Clairton ended in the mid-1960s. I found an article from the Youngstown Vindicator saying the hot end of the plant of the plant was ordered "permanently closed" in 1962, and another story from the Post-Gazette saying that a blast furnace was being reactivated in 1964.

Finally, if you read the Post-Gazette's recent series on pollution and cancer risks in the region --- including in Clairton --- you have to be wondering what was pouring out of those smokestacks back in 1938. Ah, the good old days!

. . .

P.S.: I seem to have overlooked a great blog called Olio, written by a former Clairton resident whose pen name is "Dr. Forgot." Not all of the posts are about the history of the City of Churches, but many of them are. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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January 06, 2011 | Link to this story

Mayor, Council Mend Fences; Pledge Cooperation

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

City councilors and Mayor Regis McLaughlin on Wednesday apologized for holding two rowdy, disorderly meetings one day earlier and pledged to set aside politics while working on city business.

While McLaughlin and council have not yet reached an agreement on appointing a city solicitor, both sides also promised an amicable settlement to the dispute within 30 days.

"The events of last night do nothing but damage the city I and all of you love so much," Council President Michael Cherepko said, reading from a written statement before the meeting. "It's all right to disagree, but we must settle our disputes the way rational leaders do."

. . .

For now, former city Solicitor J. Jason Elash will share duties with veteran McKeesport attorney Bert Moldovan, who has been appointed acting head of the city's law department by McLaughlin. Moldovan is affiliated with former Allegheny County solicitor Ira Weiss. The two men sat side-by-side in the front row at Wednesday's council meeting, offering concurrent legal opinions.

Cherepko set the tone Wednesday with his opening statement apologizing to city residents and employees, "many of whom have been put in a bad position as a result of the upcoming election."

"We need to focus our attention on stopping the violence in our streets and bringing new businesses into this city --- besides law firms," he said.

. . .

It's possible that McKeesport could end up being represented by two attorneys --- Moldovan for the mayor, and Elash for council --- but Cherepko said after the meeting that he hoped that wouldn't happen. McLaughlin, council, and the two attorneys will meet "as soon as possible" to reach some compromise, Cherepko told the Almanac.

"I really don't know what to expect, but I hope we can come up with some kind of amicable solution," he said. "And I hope it's very soon --- as soon as tomorrow."

Moldovan was named acting head of the city's law department --- de facto city solicitor --- under a provision of McKeesport's charter that allows the mayor to make an emergency appointment of up to 30 days. He will be paid $5,000 for the month. The law department's annual budget for 2011 is $120,000.

. . .

Several councilors made references to the last time McKeesport's mayor and council had separate attorneys --- during the administration of former Mayor Wayne Kucich, who was frequently and vocally at odds with city department heads and other elected officials.

Then as now, the attorney hired by city council was Elash, who in 2004 became city solicitor, replacing attorney Falco Muscante.

"Last night was a rude awakening," said interim Councilman Dale McCall, who was appointed in December to fill the remaining year on McLaughlin's term. "It reminded me of when I first sat up here nine years ago."

Like his colleagues, McCall also apologized for any intemperate remarks: "There were some things I said last night that I should not have said."

McCall suggested that council should consider a comprehensive overhaul of the city's 34-year-old Home Rule Charter, which arguably has ambiguous language regarding the appointment and removal of the city's solicitor. His suggestion was echoed by Councilman Darryl Segina. Changes to the charter would require approval from city voters in a referendum.

. . .

There were rumblings Wednesday --- at the council meeting and in the Daily News --- that McLaughlin's decision to replace Elash was triggered by Elash's political support of Cherepko, who is expected to run for mayor in the May primary.

One of Cherepko's opponents could be McLaughlin, who told the Almanac last month he was considering running for a full term as mayor. Both are Democrats. Several other city officials are reportedly also considering campaigns for mayor.

McLaughlin has not made a public comment on his reasons for seeking a new city solicitor, but noted that Weiss' firm would ensure that McKeesport was "ably represented."

. . .

In a letter to council dated Wednesday, McLaughlin said he was "impressed" by Weiss' firm and said they would "serve for a retaining fee of $5,000 per month, which will represent a substantial savings to the city compared to last year's legal expenses ... Mr. Weiss' office will be an independent contractor and not an employee.

"The city will save money by not incurring the additional expenses of paying for medical benefits for the city attorney (or) pension benefits, nor will we be required to pay matching withholding taxes for an employee," the mayor said.

On Tuesday, council by 4-3 vote named Elash, the city's solicitor since 2004, "special counsel" to city council at a fee of $5,000 per month. McLaughlin had vowed to veto that decision, but said Wednesday night he has stayed his veto pending the outcome of the meetings between the attorneys and other city officials.

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January 05, 2011 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted: Curbside Recycling of Christmas Trees

Category: News || By Staff and Wire Reports

City residents who want to recycle their natural Christmas trees should place them at the curb on their regularly scheduled pickup days.

Responding to inquiries from city residents, City Clerk Patricia Williams told Tube City Almanac that according to Public Works Director Nick Shermenti, any trees left at curbside will be recycled by McKeesport's contracted trash haulers, Nickolich Sanitation.

For more information, call city hall at (412) 675-5020.

. . .

McKeesport Still High in Reader's Digest Poll: McKeesport is flirting with the Top 50 in a nationwide poll of cities by Reader's Digest magazine.

Through its "We Hear You America" project, the Pleasantville, N.Y., based magazine has promised to donate 21 prizes totaling $5 million to cities whose residents "cheer the loudest" about their community, or about a certain local need or project.

Prizes will be awarded to individual projects, and to municipalities based on the number of "cheers" they receive.

McKeesport's participation is being urged by Annette James, special assistant to Mayor Regis McLaughlin.

"It would be a great way for the city to get some needed funds --- even if it's just a little --- to help with things like demolishing abandoned buildings," James says. "This would be a great way for (McKeesporters) to help out their community with very little effort."

A grand prize of $40,000 will be awarded to one municipality, along with a second prize of $25,000 and four third prizes of $10,000 each. Runner-up prizes of $10,000 will be awarded to each community receiving the most votes in its population category.

People entering are also invited to submit stories about their hometowns, and why they can use the money. Voters must be 18 years of age and provide a valid email address, but may vote up to 10 times per day through Feb. 7. For more information, visit the Reader's Digest website.

. . .

Hartwood Lights Through Jan. 9: The annual Celebration of Lights at Hartwood Acres Park is open through Sunday, an Allegheny County spokesman said.

Hours are 6 to 10 p.m. today and tomorrow, 6 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 6 to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

"This is the final opportunity this season for visitors to enjoy more than two million lights along the three-mile drive," Allegheny County Parks Director Andy Baechle said in a prepared statement.

The 629-acre county park is located in Indiana and Harmar townships, about 45 minutes north of McKeesport, near state Route 8. Vehicles must enter the park from Saxonburg Boulevard. The suggested donation is $12 per car, $3 per person for non-profit organization buses, and $5 per person for for-profit organization buses. Proceeds are donated to WTAE-TV's Project Bundle-Up and other local charities.

The Allegheny County Celebration of Lights has raised more than $3.5 million for charity to date, a spokesman said.

For additional information on the Allegheny County Celebration of Lights and Hartwood Park, including directions, visit the county's website.

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January 04, 2011 | Link to this story

Raucous Meeting Kicks Off City Council's 2011

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

Several candidates for mayor of McKeesport apparently held their first, unofficial debate Tuesday night in city council chambers.

Officially, council was assembled to appoint a new president and vice president, and to set the agenda for Wednesday's regular scheduled meeting. But four council members and at least one other official are rumored to be considering a campaign for the city's top position.

As a result, the likely rivals and Interim Mayor Regis McLaughlin squared off Tuesday night for an hour over what otherwise appeared to be routine items, including the reappointment of city Solicitor J. Jason Elash and language in the city's 2011 budget, which was approved last month.

. . .

The first heated exchange came at the city's reorganization meeting.

On a motion made by Councilman Dale McCall and seconded by Councilwoman Loretta Diggs, Councilman Michael Cherepko was elected president of council by 5-2 vote. Councilmen Darryl Segina and A.J. Tedesco voted no. Diggs was elected vice president of council unanimously.

Cherepko then addressed a story by Patrick Cloonan in Tuesday's Daily News in which McLaughlin said he had dismissed Elash effective Dec. 31.

"It is our opinion here on council that under the terms of the city charter, the position of solicitor is not vacated until it is approved by council," Cherepko said.

. . .

That brought a sharp rebuke from Segina, who said Cherepko could speak only for himself, not on behalf of council. Cherepko and Segina are both reportedly planning to run for mayor; Cherepko has the backing of former mayor Jim Brewster, now a state senator.

Asked by Walker why he wanted to remove Elash, McLaughlin declined comment, saying it was "a personnel matter."

On a motion by McCall and seconded by Diggs, council voted 4-3 to name Elash "special counsel" at a salary of $60,000. Segina, Tedesco and Councilman Richard Dellapenna dissented.

Cherepko said that he intends to introduce a resolution at Wednesday's council meeting to re-appoint Elash as city solicitor.

. . .

Following the reorganization meeting, council held its regular monthly agenda meeting, which usually takes only a few minutes. This month, however, council engaged in a lengthy debate over a proposal to reappoint Ed Coulter as the city's emergency management coordinator.

Under the proposal, Coulter would be paid $12,000 per year for the part-time position.

Several councilors, including Segina and Tedesco, questioned why the numbers on the budget approved on Dec. 1 didn't correspond with the line items on a spreadsheet presented to council later in the month by City Administrator Dennis Pittman.

. . .

The budget authorized a total appropriation for Coulter's department of $25,000, which Pittman said includes Coulter's salary plus expenses to run the office.

But Segina said the spreadsheet showed only $12,000, and said he had voted on the budget based upon the spreadsheet, not the ordinance.

Segina and Tedesco questioned whether someone had "changed the numbers" after council voted. Cherepko exploded. "Can you read?" he said, holding up the spreadsheet. "I didn't vote on this. I voted on the budget ordinance."

The budget ordinance adopted on Dec. 1 set general appropriations for each department, but did not break down exact line items, Elash said. Putting the line items into the ordinance would tie the city's hands and prevent it from re-allocating money within a specific department, he said.

. . .

City Controller Ray Malinchak --- also rumored to be considering a run for mayor --- questioned whether Coulter's expenses should be included in the mayor's budget, since the position reports to the mayor.

"With all due respect, I think that's 100 percent wrong," Pittman said. "The expenses that accrue to that position should stay in that part of the budget."

Council also clashed over a proposal to officially lease a house on the so-called Palkovitz property to a tenant who has lived there for at least a decade. The property, soon to be incorporated into Renziehausen Park, was acquired by the city in 2009 in lieu of delinquent taxes.

. . .

Other items on council's agenda for Wednesday include creation of a subdivision between Old Long Run Road and Marshall Drive Extension; and a lease on an empty, unfinished warehouse in the city's Third Ward. Currently owned by Allegheny County, the warehouse was built by the now-defunct Capco Contracting Co. and is being used for boat storage by McKees Point Marina.

Council meets at 7 p.m. in the Public Safety Building (former Municipal Building), 201 Lysle Blvd. at Market Street.

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