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Pretzel logic: Santorum joins Bush to watch Steelers

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002

President George W. Bush plans to enjoy a relaxing afternoon at Camp David today, watching the Steelers whup the New England Patriots on their way to the Super Bowl.

And who is expected to be there with him to cheer on the Black-and-Gold• Why, none other than Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum .

Bush momentarily lost consciousness recently when he choked on a pretzel while watching a football game. One local wag wondered jokingly whether Santorum has brushed up on his Heimlich maneuver, and if the new rule at the White House is that the president is no longer permitted to watch sporting events in the company of only his dogs.

In any event, hope the president and the senator have fun watching the Steelers beat up the Patriots. Just chew those snacks carefully, fellas.

WARNING SIGNAL . Some Democrats in southwestern Pennsylvania want Auditor General Bob Casey Jr. to know that he risks losing their support if he doesn't pick state Sen. Allen Kukovich as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Last weekend, the Democratic State Committee endorsed Casey for governor over rival Ed Rendell , but Casey asked the committee to wait before endorsing a running mate.

Some members of the Southwest Democratic Caucus, which also endorsed Casey earlier this month, are peeved that Casey refused to embrace Kukovich for the ticket. They felt if an endorsement vote was held at the statewide gathering, Kukovich would have won.

Some members of the Westmoreland County Democratic Committee called the Casey campaign to voice their complaints.

For his part, Kukovich said he's not upset about the non-endorsement and will continue his campaign. Kukovich said some people in the Casey camp may have wanted time to see who would be the best fit for their candidate.

Both Kukovich and former state Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll sought the endorsement at the state committee gathering, but party chair Sen. Christine Tartaglione of Philadelphia quickly adjourned the session.

Ken Burkley , chairman of the Westmoreland County Democratic Committee and a state committeeman, said Kukovich would have won the endorsement because he has broad support among labor and state lawmakers. He also said the Northeast Caucus supports Kukovich, as do Democrats in the Southeast.

Burkley said the Bucks County Committee, which has 11 votes, split them 7 to 4 for Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia, but unanimously supported Kukovich.

NO HARD FEELINGS . Convicted gambler Thomas "Sonny" Ciancutti of Penn Hills has a great sense of humor.

Before pleading guilty to gambling charges in Fayette County last week, he was talking playoff football with state cops. He wasn't talking about the betting lines, of course — just the strengths and weaknesses of various playoff teams.

After his sentencing, he shook hands with several troopers and started to leave the courthouse. Then he stopped, turned back to the troopers, and said:

"See you guys at the track."

JOB OPENING . Rob Ritson , aide to Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Balya , says he's not in line to become the new Hempfield Township manager but admits "the idea intrigues me."

Township supervisors created the position earlier this month but haven't yet advertised for applicants.

"People have been throwing my name about," he said. "I've been dealing with it for the past month. I'm flattered."

Ritson said he's "looking to move on" and may apply if the township solicits applicants.

BALL IN THEIR COURT . Negotiators for Local 585 of the Service Employees International Union may be having more problems dealing with each other than with the county in their quest for a new contract.

A representative from the union's international office has entered the talks, reportedly because relations between chief negotiator Amy Niehouse and Jackie Houser , a local representative, have deteriorated.

The commissioners have noticed that Houser has been dealing directly with Commissioner Tom Ceraso and Chuck Dominick , the county's personnel boss.

DOUBLE PLAY . Pirates officials say that owner Kevin McClatchy intends to keep his Shadyside residence in addition to his recently purchased Ligonier Township estate.

McClatchy intends to use the home in Westmoreland County as a "second residence," according to Pirates officials. The home, horse stable and swimming pool on 37.5 acres were purchased by the Pirates boss for $520,000.

LAZARUS MISTAKE RISES AGAIN . At the risk of overstating the obvious, Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey and Pittsburgh City Controller Tom Flaherty harbor a profound dislike for each other.

Flaherty has missed no opportunity to bash Roddey over the recent county assessment controversy. The controller, who also chairs the city Democratic Committee, also didn't hesitate to bash Roddey when interviewed recently on the future of the local Democratic party.

Republicans lull some Democrats to sleep with that simplistic talk about bipartisanship and "vote the person, not the party," Flaherty said. "When was the last time Jim Roddey did that• Jim Roddey votes his interests, and they are rock-ribbed, blue-blood, pro-business Republican."

When later informed Flaherty had attacked him as preaching bipartisanship while towing a strict Republican Party line, Roddey retorted: "That's probably about as accurate as his numbers with Lazarus."

Roddey was raising from the dead the controller's embarrassing and inaccurate August 2000 claim that taxpayers had paid for all but $800,000 toward the $36 million downtown Pittsburgh Lazarus department store. An independent auditing committee subsequently found the retailer actually paid $22.1 million — a tad more than the $800,000 Flaherty claimed.

GOOD DAYS FOR DOYLE . Reports of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's imminent political demise were greatly exaggerated.

The Swissvale Democrat was thought to be toast just a few months ago, when most political pundits thought he would fall victim to reapportionment. Sure enough, Doyle was redistricted into the territory of longtime 14th District Democratic Rep. William Coyne . But Coyne is retiring and the three likeliest Democratic challengers for the seat — county Controller Dan Onorato , Register of Wills David Wecht and state Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill — apparently have decided against challenging him.

Having been given up for dead by most political observers, Doyle now appears a virtual lock for the 14th District seat.

THAT TRELLO FELLOW QUITS . Another western Pennsylvania legislator is walking away from a job where the duties are few and the benefits are lucrative.

Democratic state Rep. Fred Trello of Coraopolis announced last week he would not seek re-election in the 45th House District. Trello, 72, who first joined the House in 1974, joins Democratic state Sen. Leonard Bodack of Lawrenceville and Democratic state Rep. Tom Michlovic of North Braddock in impending retirement. Bodack represents the 38th Senatorial District and Michlovic the 35th House District.

This workhorse trio is expected to introduce nearly as much legislation in retirement as they did while serving in Harrisburg.

IS MAGGI THE MAN? U.S. Rep. Frank Mascara may fight his congressional battle in May, but if State Sen. Tim Murphy tries to make the leap from Harrisburg to Washington, D.C., he may have a fight on his hands in November.

Word around the campfire is that Mascara, a Charleroi Democrat, will take on U.S. Rep. John Murtha in the spring for the 12th Congressional District seat. Such scuttlebutt has fueled talk that Washington County Sheriff Larry Maggi , taking a page from the Jim Traficant playbook, is mulling a run for Congress in the newly drawn 18th District. That's the one Republicans proudly and Democrats derisively refer to as "The Murphy District."

Maggi, a Buffalo Township Democrat, won his second term as sheriff last year. Before rising to that post, Maggi was a state trooper for 24 years. His name also has surfaced as a possible candidate for county commissioner in 2003.

- Compiled by Tribune-Review staff

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