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Upper St. Clair man finds 'catharsis' in writing letters to publications

Packed into a T car with commuters bound for the South Hills, Oren M. Spiegler typically scans a newspaper on the way home from his Downtown office job.

Fellow passengers might assume that Spiegler -- cheerfully jotting notes as the light-rail vehicle zooms toward stops at Castle Shannon, Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park -- is passing time with a crossword puzzle or maybe just doodling.

Hardly.

Chances are good that Spiegler, 51, of Upper St. Clair is pondering his next missive to the masses. An administrator in a state government job by day, Spiegler's passion is writing letters to newspaper and magazine editors.

The topics of his fervent writing range from government boondoggles to tragedies in the national spotlight. It's not a hobby, he says. It's a calling.

"I feel compelled to write," he said. "Part of it is for me to have a kind of catharsis in expressing my views to get out my feelings. I also like to feel that I have some influence with people. It is my hope that people will look at what I've written and say, 'It makes a lot of sense,' and perhaps they are looking at the situation in a different way."

A letter he fired out this week bid adieu to retiring state Sen. Vincent Fumo, a powerful Democrat who faces 139 charges of public corruption filed by a U.S. attorney in Philadelphia.

"Fumo was one of the 'good ol' boys' of the General Assembly, a man who used his three decades in office to accumulate extraordinary wealth and power, power which he arrogantly used as a weapon when it suited him," Spiegler wrote.

He added that Fumo had voted for "the infamous July 2005 middle-of-the-night" legislative pay raise, one of Spiegler's favorite topics. Generally, he focuses on what he calls government excesses, corruption, overspending and incompetence.

After seeing his first letter to the editor published in the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press when he was 17, Spiegler estimates he's written more than 3,000 letters to editors over the years. He writes about 170 a year, with appearances in the Tribune-Review, New York Times, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Report, among other journals.

A registered Republican with Libertarian leanings, Spiegler drafts his letters on his home computer and sends them out via e-mail.

"That is a tremendous boon for the letter writer," he said of e-mail. "The downside is that it makes for so much competition for the letter writer, because publications are overwhelmed with letters today."

His wife, Colleen, 37, considers her husband's letter writing "an absolutely wonderful outlet for his writing skills and his fantastic opinions."

"We tend to agree on issues," she said. "When I disagree with an opinion he has, I let him know. He's not in favor of tattoos. I disagreed with him on that."

Spiegler admits he used a few spare minutes while on his honeymoon six years ago to e-mail a letter to an editor from a hotel guest computer at the Trade Winds in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla.

Colleen Spiegler said she didn't know about that, but it doesn't surprise her.

"He thinks and types them very quickly," she said.

Oren Spiegler grew up in Squirrel Hill and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from Robert Morris University. He's worked for the state for 23 years. He and his wife have three dogs and share a love for travel.

"I read voraciously and generally scour the newspapers. It's very hard for me to miss anything," he said. "I spend a small amount of time at the computer, given how much I write. This is something that can be done easily within 60 to 90 minutes of the day, sometimes less."

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