Congress trails cockroaches

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

This surely ought to bug members of Congress: They're less popular than cockroaches.

That's not all. A recent Public Policy Polling survey also revealed that people prefer the following to Congress: root canals, head lice, Genghis Khan , used-car salesmen, Brussels sprouts, colonoscopies, Donald Trump , traffic jams and the simply dreadful Canadian rock band Nickelback .

“We all know Congress is unpopular,” said Dean Debnam , president of the North Carolina-based polling firm. “But the fact that voters like it even less than cockroaches, lice and Genghis Khan really shows how far its esteem has fallen with the American public.”

Capitol Hill lawmakers can take some solace from the fact that they did outpoll gonorrhea, Fidel Castro , former U.S. Sen. John Edwards , the Kardashians ,LindsayLohan and the Ebola virus.

But really, how tough is it to be more popular than the Kardashians?

Kerry holdings pose ethics problems. That'll teach them to invest in a Canadian fertilizer farm.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and his wife, Pittsburgh pickle heiress Teresa Heinz, have numerous international investments that could pose potential conflicts of interest if Kerry is confirmed as secretary of State.

The Boston Globe reported that the potentially troublesome investments include shares in a Canadian oil company that is lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline, a stake in a Brazilian energy concern that has been accused of flouting United Nations sanctions against Iran, a significant investment in a California private equity firm that focuses on Asia, and the aforementioned fertilizer farm.

Government watchdog groups said such holdings could create conflicts for Kerry when advising the Obama administration on trade deals, diplomatic agreements or decisions that impact international economics.

A federal ethics review is under way, but public interest groups already are warning that the couple's holdings are problematic.

“There is every reason to be concerned about this,” Craig Holman , chief government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told The Globe. “The Kerrys' property is so extensive we are going to see conflicts arise with a series of issues.”

FITZ SEEKING RICHES. The timing certainly is curious.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald has been in office for just 12 months, but he's holding a big-ticket fundraiser on Jan. 29 at Downtown's Rivers Club. Tables cost $10,000, half-tables go for $5,000 and individual tickets cost $1,000.

The move has to irk Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto , Fitz's best bud. Peduto, along with city Controller Michael Lamb , is challenging Mayor Luke Ravenstahl — all Democrats. With a finite amount in political donations available, Peduto undoubtedly would have preferred that Fitz put off his little party until after the May 21 primary.

Why now? Is Fitz thinking of challenging Republican Gov. Tom Corbett , who is up for re-election next year? Is he getting a jump on his own 2015 re-election bid? Or is he merely amassing a substantial war chest so he can become Western Pennsylvania's political kingmaker?

We can't say for sure. About the only thing we can state with certainty is that the fundraiser comes with a pompous title.

It's billed as the “First Annual Inauguration Anniversary Celebration in Support of Allegheny County Chief Executiv e Rich Fitzgerald.”

No ego there.

POWER PLAY. The Cleveland Browns and FirstEnergy have entered into a stadium naming rights deal.

Formerly known simply as Cleveland Browns Stadium, FirstEnergy Stadium will bear the name of the Akron, Ohio-based parent company of West Penn Power Co., which serves Western Pennsylvania.

New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who until recently held a minority interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tony Alexander, FirstEnergy president and CEO, announced the deal. Terms were not disclosed.

SOLICITOR, YES; JUDICIAL CANDIDATE, NO. Jeannette attorney Scott Avolio has privately told reporters that since he has been named solicitor for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, he will not run for Common Pleas Court judge.

Authority board members hired Avolio to replace Ken Burkley ,who held the solicitor job for 11 years.

Avolio will earn $120,000 a year as solicitor for the authority, plus additional pay for other work on such matters as the authority‘s $140 million bond issue for capital improvements, which is expected to be completed later this year.

LAID-BACK. Semi-retirement has been good to former Fayette County Judge Ralph Warman.

He ran a no-nonsense courtroom when sitting full-time on the bench, where he often could be heard angrily chastising victims and defendants alike when they ran afoul of his rules.

Now retired and working part-time as a senior judge, Warman has taken a kinder, gentler approach that has not gone unnoticed by veteran courthouse visitors and employees. During a recent nonjury trial, Warman raised his voice only once, when an unruly defendant repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.

Warman ultimately booted the man from the courtroom as the morning session was ending, but let him return for afternoon proceedings.

Many courthouse observers remarked that had the same events taken place when Warman was still serving full-time, the defendant likely would have faced a gag order for the trial's duration or a trip to jail for contempt of court.

— compiled by Tribune-Review staff

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