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Mascara pushes A-K Connector in House run

| Saturday, March 9, 2002

U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara of Charleroi stopped in New Kensington Friday to size up the situation in the Valley and garner voter support as he runs for re-election in new territory.

"This is like home to me," Mascara said. "I am beginning to understand the needs of this district."

Mascara, 72, was first elected to Congress in 1994 to represent the 20th District, which includes all of Washington and Greene counties and parts of Fayette, Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.

But in a political game of musical chairs, Pennsylvania will lose two congressional districts next January, including Mascara's 20th District.

So Mascara's home turf has been partially merged into the 12th Congressional District, which, beginning in January, will include most of the Valley's municipalities in Armstrong and Westmoreland counties along with Tarentum and parts of Brackenridge and East Deer in Allegheny County.

That pits him against the current 12th District representative, John Murtha of Johnstown.

The campaign between Mascara and Murtha is expected to be costly and divisive.

Although Mascara resides in what will be the 18th District, he decided to run against Murtha in the redrawn 12th District rather than face Republican state Sen. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair this November.

About 47 percent of the new 12th District's Democrats are from Mascara's old district, about 43 percent from Murtha's old territory, and the rest from elsewhere.

After meeting with community leaders at Buffalo Bill's Roadhouse and stopping by a fish fry at a local church Friday, Mascara surveyed the afternoon traffic along Tarentum Bridge Road.

"You can't develop this area further unless you build access to state Route 28," Mascara said.

He avowed his support for a four-lane connector bridge over the Allegheny River between the Parnassus Triangle and Springdale Township. "The bridge will provide the necessary access to regional employment and commercial centers. It will be high on my list."

Eighty percent of the funding for the project is slated to come from the federal government, and 20 percent would be state funded. Construction is projected to begin in 2010.

Mascara also said he plans to learn more about the proposed commuter and excursion train from Arnold to downtown Pittsburgh.

He said the infrastructure problems plaguing the Alle-Kiski Valley mirror those he has handled for many years in the Mon Valley.

As the second highest-ranking Pennsylvania Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Mascara has been a longtime supporter of the proposed high-speed maglev train between Pittsburgh International Airport and Westmoreland County.

Pushed for funding

He also has pushed funding for the Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway projects as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, also called TEA 21.

Already, $5 million in TEA 21 funds have been designated to evaluate the proposed connector bridge over the Allegheny River.

Mascara feels his power to shape federal transportation policies that affect southwestern Pennsylvania helps to set him apart from Murtha.

"He's (Murtha) is on defense, I'm on transportation, which is more related to this part of Pennsylvania," Mascara said.

"Also, I'm a more hands-on, local kind of person. I roll up my sleeves and involve myself personally."

Mascara recently hired hard-hitting political consultant Billy Horton, the so-called "Texas Mudslinger," to manage his campaign and wants to make sure voters understand how he differs from Murtha.

"Because of my past experience with county government, I know what the needs are of local communities," Mascara said. "No one has to train me."

Before entering the political arena in 1973, Mascara was a small businessman, accountant and educator. He served as Washington County controller for 13 years, until he was elected chairman of the Washington County commissioners in 1980.

Member of steel caucus

In addition to serving on the House transportation and finance committees, Mascara is a member of the steel caucus. He favors imposing steep tariffs on imported steel to stop dumping.

"I would have liked to have seen 40 percent," Mascara said, referring to President Bush's announcement on Tuesday that he will impose 8 percent to 30 percent tariffs. "But the steel industry is ready to collapse, and the president had to do something."

Mascara also would like to earmark federal money for states to allocate to municipalities for security.

"Life will never be the same again after September 11," Mascara said. "The federal government needs to set aside billions of dollars to protect local communities because they don't have the money themselves."

Although the experienced Mascara is new to the Valley, he is drumming up support among local officials and community members.

Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds Tom Murphy accompanied Mascara during his visit to New Kensington and said he was impressed by the congressman's record on redevelopment and creating jobs.

"I hate to see two good Democrats have to run against each other," Murphy said, "But I am standing up to tell people Frank Mascara is the man for us."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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