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Bracketology, conclave-style

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Religious News Service
Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry
Mark Critz
Eric Schmadel
Mark Critz

Now THIS is what we call March Madness.

In an extremely rare convergence of events, a new pope will be elected around the same time as the annual NCAA men's basketball tournament. What better way to mark the occasion than filling out the Religious News Service's “Sweet Sistine” brackets?

The news service is a nonprofit agency run out of the University of Missouri. It's providing a familiar way for millions to handicap whom the Roman Catholic cardinals will choose to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down on Thursday, citing age and health concerns.

The brackets group by geographic regions 16 candidates who might be able to figuratively cut down the net once the white smoke emerges from the Vatican. Whispers is not inclined toward betting, but if we were, we would pick Italy's Angelo Scola to take the whole thing; he's one cardinal who's got game.

The news service might not like this description, but we find these brackets devilishly clever.

SAY-WHATISTAN, MR. SECRETARY? If he wants to be taken seriously as secretary of State, John Kerry needs to brush up on his geography.

On his first overseas excursion since being named to succeed Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. senator of Massachusetts publicly praised diplomats working on behalf of the United States in Kyrzakhstan. The problem? No diplomats, U.S. or otherwise, work in Kyrzakhstan — because no such nation exists.

National Review promptly suggested that Kerry, the husband of Pittsburgh's recently abdicated ketchup queen, Teresa Heinz, confused America's major ally in the war on terrorism, Kyrgyzstan, with its northern neighbor, Kazakhstan.

How could such a mistake have occurred? Kerry himself seemed to offer an explanation while speaking to a group of German students on Tuesday.

“In America,” he said, “you have a right to be stupid.”

Evidently, that right can be exercised even in a foreign land.

CRITZ-ROTHFUS REDUX? Democrat Mark Critz is mulling an attempted comeback.

The former congressman from Johnstown, who narrowly lost his re-election bid in November to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, is seriously considering running for the seat again in 2014, according to the Washington, D.C., newspaper The Hill.

“I have no doubt that Mark wants to do it,” a source told The Hill. “He actually came to love the job (in Congress).”

The Hill noted that Critz, who just took a job in Johnstown with the government affairs and advocacy group EIS Solutions, likely would give Democrats their best chance to take back the seat. Critz lost to Rothfus by only 4 percentage points in a district that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried by 17 points.

A NOT READY FOR DRIVE TIME PLAYER. He isn't playing the classic hits of the '80s and '90s, but Mt. Lebanon businessman and frequent failed political aspirant Raja has his own radio show.

Raja, best known for his unsuccessful bids for Allegheny County chief executive and the state Senate, is the host of the weekend program “Your American Story.” It airs Sundays at 1:30 p.m. on 104.7 WPGB-FM. That's the conservative talk station featuring Quinn and Rose,Glenn Beck,Rush Limbaugh andSean Hannity.

We haven't heard the show yet, but it's described as a mix of lively entrepreneur profiles, commentary and the host discussing his experiences as a local businessman.

No word on whether Raja is getting his foot in the door with this weekend show in hopes of one day becoming the station's morning traffic reporter.

FIREWORKS AHEAD? An interesting battle is shaping up in the usually dull race for the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office, where a Bacha — first Leo Bacha and now his son, Ken Bacha — has reigned for 3 12 decades.

F. Christopher O'Leath, a former deputy coroner, is going to challenge his erstwhile boss, Ken, a Democrat.

O'Leath alleged in a federal lawsuit that he was unjustly fired in March 2010 for failing to do political work on county time for Bacha, a charge that Bacha claimed was not true. The lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon last June.

O'Leath, now employed by New Kensington Ambulance, worked as a deputy coroner for Bacha between 2000 and 2010.

STRANGE QUESTION FOR HIM. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., a Pittsburgh native and former Pittsburgh bishop, traveled to Rome last week to help choose the next pope — and recently received a little celebrity treatment.

Wuerl, who has gotten mounds of news coverage and obliged numerous interview requests regarding his important vote in the College of Cardinals, was recognized on the street by a representative of celebrity-obsessed website TMZ.

And what did TMZ ask Wuerl? A question about the pending divorce between reality television star Kim Kardashian and her estranged husband, NBA player Kris Humphries.

Despite a few awkward moments, Wuerl tastefully deflected the question and moved on.

— compiled by Tribune-Review staff

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