Michelle Madoff, former Pittsburgh councilwoman, dies in Arizona

Matthew Santoni
| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 8:18 p.m.

Forty years after co-founding Pittsburgh's Group Against Smog and Pollution to stop steel mills' pollution, former Pittsburgh Councilwoman Michelle Madoff stood in front of gravel trucks to protest the dust from a quarry near her new home in Peoria, Ariz.

“She literally stepped in front of a truck entering the plant and started chatting with the driver, who told her that the minute she'd step foot inside the gate, they'd shut everything down,” Fred Scheske, her husband of 12 years, said of the recent protest. “They operated mostly at night, when the air monitors weren't running ... later, she went back and did it again with a reporter from the Arizona Republic.”

A longtime environmental advocate and outspoken, colorful member of City Council for nearly 16 years, Michelle Madoff died Saturday morning in an Arizona hospice of leukemia. She was 85.

Born in Toronto in 1926, Madoff came to Pittsburgh in 1961 with her then-husband and found that pollution from industry was causing her frequent asthma attacks. Her testimony before the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1969 led her to join the volunteers founding GASP that year.

“She just was unwavering in her belief that the air should be cleaner, that citizens had a right to fight for clean air,” said Rachel Filippini, GASP's executive director. “When polluters claimed there was no technology to clean up their plants, she'd show them reports from engineers on how it could be done. When they said they couldn't afford it, she'd say, ‘Show me your profit and loss statements.' ”

Madoff was elected to council in 1978 and served four often combative terms.

“Even at times, if she had a vituperative tongue, it was always in service of moving the city forward,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, who served a term on council with Madoff. “People would cast their first, second, third votes for the Democratic party-endorsed candidates, but they'd always throw Michelle that fourth or fifth vote, because they wanted her to be there and shake things up.”

Madoff famously waited at Fifth and Smithfield at high noon when council President Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale promised to kiss her behind, under the Kaufmann's clock, if one of her proposals succeeded. Her tip to the FBI led to the arrest and conviction of former council President Ben Woods and she established a local services tax so non-residents working in the city would help pay for emergency services.

Failing to win a fifth term, Madoff moved to Las Vegas, where she met Scheske, 84, through an online dating site. They married and moved to Peoria, Ariz., where she pushed for stricter air-quality monitoring at the quarry.

Madoff is survived by her daughter, Karenlin Madoff, 52, of Los Angeles; stepson, Daniel Scheske, 48, of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and stepdaughter, Catherine Scheske Dallal, 50, of Dallas. Arrangements are pending.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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