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Councilwomen Pittsburgh tough

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Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

The guys at Lamar Advertising might know the billboard business, but they seem to know little about Pittsburgh women in politics and government. You have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to single out City Council President Darlene Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak over their proposed tax on billboard advertising.

These two council members, one from the North Side and the other from the South Hills, claim that billboards are not assessed their fair share of taxes like the rest of us. Other cities, including Philadelphia, have addressed this with an additional levy on billboards, and Harris and Rudiak want Pittsburgh to follow suit.

Lamar, quite naturally, wants to kill the bill, so it has placed Harris' and Rudiak's mugshots on billboards along with generalized anti-tax messages, not making it clear that it is Lamar's ox that will be gored. One version, featuring each official in her respective district, says, “Worst Economy in 50 Years ... Let's Raise Taxes.”

This unprecedented ad campaign has not only missed its mark, it has been taken in stride and may have even backfired. If anything, in today's “everybody should pay their fair share” political atmosphere, it seems to have strengthened the resolve of council members to address what they see as a tax inequity for city residents.

Rudiak, apparently enjoying the face time, feels like she “hit the big time” and seems amused by a “Spot the Rudiak” game being played by her supporters. Harris, in her no-nonsense manner, has said, “I look for money anywhere and everywhere, except from the residents. I think the residents pay enough.”

To Lamar's credit, it cannot be accused of pulling its punches because the leading sponsors are women, but singling out two women officials for negative ads can create an optics problem for companies in the public arena. And if any of the ad guys thought this blunderbuss billboard attack would give pause to Harris and Rudiak, they are unfamiliar with Pittsburgh history.

When Sophie Masloff became Pittsburgh's first woman mayor, she brooked no gender-based attempts to intimidate or curry favor. She was just plain tough when it came to balancing the budget, reducing the size of city government and even shifting a little more tax burden from young families to her older contemporaries.

Occasionally, when a prospective developer or consultant sent her flowers before a meeting, she would demand, “Would that guy send these if I was Mr. Mayor?” Her staff learned to hide these bouquets, just so the poor mopes who sent them would not get woodshedded by the mayor before they made their pitch.

As far as Sophie was concerned, she was just another Pittsburgher doing her job, like all the mayors before her. Harris and Rudiak are doing the same and should take heart from these political jabs.

If they keep standing tough, after a few more critical billboards, either one of them might become mayor.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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