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Pittsburghers honoring Masloff's memory at City-County Building

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Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 11:36 a.m.
 

Rest in peace, Mayor.

That's the message scrawled in blue ink on page after page of a pair of leather-bound books set out for well-wishers in the City-County Building, Downtown, where Pittsburghers paid their respects to former Mayor Sophie Masloff on Monday.

“Great Lady. Great Mayor. Great Person.” wrote Alan Hausman, 55, of Squirrel Hill.

A lifetime civil servant and forthright, dedicated Democrat, Masloff, who died on Sunday, served on City Council and became Pittsburgh's first female mayor in 1988.

Her six-year term endeared her to a city already taken with her kind, straightforward style.

“I never saw anyone work as tirelessly as she did,” said Joe Kleppick, 28, of East McKeesport, who dropped by on his lunch break to sign the book. “I met her a few times; I was young when she served as mayor, but she had this influence that made you want to get more involved.”

Council Clerk Mary Beth Doheny filled curio cabinets outside council chambers on the fifth floor with photographs, political cartoons and magazine and newspaper stories featuring the beloved mayor.

The collection includes pictures of Masloff being sworn in as mayor and posing with former President Clinton, Steelers founder Art Rooney and boxer Muhammad Ali. Doheny said she was en route to Maryland for vacation on Sunday when she learned of Masloff's death. She returned to decorate the cabinets.

“I wanted to be sure we honored her,” she said.

Like a conductor poised at a podium, Nancy Burns of the city's parks department lifted her arms, directing public works employees in bucket trucks who were draping black-and-purple funeral bunting high above the building's Grant Street entrance.

Beside her, Jamie Shipley, 54, of the North Side laughed at the twin bouquets of white calla lilies, snapdragons, chrysanthemums and peach roses flanking Masloff's sepia-toned photo.

Burns and Shipley looked at each other. “We shouldn't tell,” they said, almost in unison.

“Sophie didn't like flowers,” said Shipley, a city parks department employee. “But the table needed something, and she wasn't here to yell at us.”

Keisha Thomas, 42, of Penn Hills, leading her teen nephew and son, pointed to the picture.

“SHE was a good mayor,” Thomas said, nudging the boys. “They weren't even alive when she was in office, but I want them to know her name. They need to know and respect their own history.”

Stormie Miramontez, 48, of Shadyside thanked Masloff for a job.

She got to know the city's matriarch at a now-closed Squirrel Hill restaurant the two frequented toward the end of Masloff's tenure in office. In one conversation, Miramontez, then in her 20s, said she was struggling to find steady work.

The mayor was honest, she said. Masloff couldn't help her personally, but she took the girl's number and promised to do what she could. The next day, Miramontez had a job offer at Poli's Restaurant, which closed in 2005.

“If she said she was going to do something, it got done,” Miramontez said.

Brian McVicker, 43, said he just wanted to pay his respects.

“It wasn't until she died that I realized how much of my life she was always a part of,” McVicker said.

John Fournier, 30, of Shadyside popped down with fellow city staffer Debbie Lestitian, 48, of Brookline.

“Everything everyone is saying about her, that she was so kind and forthright, it's all true,” said Fournier, who serves as Mayor Bill Peduto's deputy chief of staff. “I feel lucky I got the chance to know her.”

Lestitian, Peduto's chief administration officer, once led the Stadium Authority Board on which Masloff served from 2001 to 2013.

“There may have been a political side to Sophie, but you never felt like she was trying to control the message,” Lestitian said, crediting Masloff with encouraging other young women to run for office. “You could take her at her word.”

“I never met her,” said Jonathan Schmerling, 59, of Mt. Lebanon, just after signing the book. “But she was great for the city, and that's good enough for me.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com. Bob Bauder contributed to this report.

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