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Allegheny County commissioners honored with portraits placed in courthouse hallway

| Monday, June 8, 2015, 11:00 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Former County Commissioner Robert N. Peirce (1976-1979) gives a smile of approval as he takes in his newly unveiled portrait at the Allegheny County Courthouse Monday June 8, 2015. Portraits of commissioners dating back to the 1930's now grace the first floor hall.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Portraits of former County Commissioners Bob Cranmer (left), Larry Dunn, and Mike Dawida now hang at the Allegheny County Courthouse Monday June 8, 2015. Portraits of commissioners dating back to the 1930's now grace the first floor hall.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Portraits of former Allegheny County Commissioners John S. Herron (left), John J. Kane, and George Rankin after being unveiled at the Allegheny County Courthouse Monday June 8, 2015. Portraits of commissioners dating back to the 1930's, including these from 1936, now grace the first floor hall.

Framed photographs on the wall inside the Allegheny County Courthouse show the men — and one woman — who helped build Pittsburgh's stadiums, fought the federal government to keep steel mills open and in one case, helped elect an American president.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and members of county council Monday unveiled photographs of former county commissioners dating to the mid-1930s.

“Behind each picture there's a story, maybe many stories,” Fitzgerald said.

The county spent $14,000 from its capital budget to print, mat, frame and hang 13 sets of three 11-by-14-inch photographs showing members of the Board of Commissioners from 1936 to 1999. The photographs hang in the first-floor hallway of the Downtown courthouse that houses offices of the county executive, controller and treasurer.

Pixel River in Mt. Lebanon printed the photographs. Concept Art Gallery in Regent Square matted and framed them. County employees hung them. The photographs and metal frames are behind glass designed to protect them from fading, said Chuck Biddle, a framer at Concept Art Gallery. He said the gallery kept costs to a minimum but designed frames to last.

County Manager William D. McKain said the framed photographs were a good value that would be on permanent display at the courthouse.

“I kind of grew up with these people,” said John Kane, grandson of John J. Kane, a Democratic commissioner from 1936 to 1959. He said his grandfather and then-U.S. Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri, a friend of the Kane family, would play poker and drink Old Grand-Dad bourbon when Truman passed through Allegheny County. Later, his grandfather would visit with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and suggest Truman be the next vice president.

“We used to call Truman Uncle Harry,” he said.

Commissioners governed Allegheny County since 1788. Seven former commissioners survive. Three — Republicans Robert Peirce and Larry Dunn and Democrat Mike Dawida — attended a ceremony Monday to unveil the photographs. In 1998, county residents voted to switch from the commissioners to a county executive and 15-member council. The new government was seated in 2000.

“When it's efficient, there's nothing better than the county commissioner system, but when they're fighting, it's the worst,” said Dawida, a member of the final Board of Commissioners.

Jim Roddey, the first county executive and the only Republican to hold the post, said there is no comparison between the two systems. Council gave county residents greater representation and streamlined day-to-day decisions made by the county executive, he said.

“We've accomplished more since we switched over than in the last 30 years under the commissioners,” Roddey said.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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