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Just who is James Carmine'

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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2001

James Carmine is a philosopher, a man who takes to Plato like a toddler takes to Play-Doh.

Carmine chairs the philosophy department at Carlow College in Oakland. He's sort of emulating the respected philosopher Socrates at the moment, downing the electoral equivalent of hemlock by running for mayor of Pittsburgh as a Republican.

A Republican hasn't occupied the mayor's office in more than six decades. Democrats enjoy about a 5-to-1 voter registration edge in the city, and significant GOP campaign contributions traditionally and inexplicably flow to Mayor Tom Murphy, a Democrat.

Lamenting the plight of Republican candidates running for city offices, Carmine, 46, of Regent Square, last week opined that most folks didn't even know who he or other GOP candidates were.

Remarkably, no one bothered to determine if this was merely hyperbolic complaining or a philosophically sound statement. At least not until Tuesday, when I tested the accuracy of Carmine's remark using a form of deductive reasoning devised by Aristotle.

Aristotle never ran for mayor of Pittsburgh, but he was elected to the Philosophy Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He invented such intellectual innovations as the syllogism, a form of logical argument in which a conclusion is drawn from two premises.

Our initial premise, based on 60 years of precedent, is that Republican Pittsburgh mayoral candidates are doomed to obscurity. Our second premise, based on his placement on the ballot, is that Carmine is a Republican Pittsburgh mayoral candidate.

Based on the above premises, the conclusion is that Carmine's mayoral candidacy is therefore doomed to obscurity. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Ah, but unfortunately real life is not lived within the trusty confines of Aristotelian thought. It's lived on bustling thoroughfares like Carson Street on the South Side, where our syllogism was taken for a test drive.

Sitting on a bench reading a newspaper in the autumn sunshine, Casimir Pulawski, 78, of the South Side, was asked the identity of the city's Republican mayoral candidate.

"Dunno," Pulawski offered. "No idea."

Similarly stumped was Richard Norris, 49, of Westwood. "Man, I just read it in the paper, too," he said. "I know it, wait..."

Eventually, I tired of waiting and just told him. It was easier that way.

The results were the same at the Carson Street Subway, where cashier Rakif Shehab, 28, of Shadyside, said, "The Republican mayor candidate• No, I couldn't tell you."

He looked a little chagrined, so I asked him instead about the Tuesday Subway special. This one he knew. "Any foot-long sub for $3.79," he said, his face brightening.

Perhaps a change in strategy was needed. Perhaps people would recognize Carmine as the GOP mayoral candidate if I first provided his name.

Walking into Ken's News and Lottery, I identified myself to clerk Mary Poellot and asked, "Do you happen to know who James Carmine is?"

"I don't know, but maybe my boss does," Poellot said. "I can go get him if you want."

Nice of her to offer. But at that point I considered the test drive terminated, the syllogism sound and Carmine completely cooked.

A victory for Aristotle, certainly, but a defeat for anyone looking for alternatives to more than six decades of Democratic dominance in the mayor's office.

Eric Heyl is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at or (412) 320-7857.

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