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North Hills

Dad accuses McCandless councilman of profane tirade against his kids

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, 6:00 p.m.
McCandless Councilman Steve Mertz
McCandless Councilman Steve Mertz

A McCandless councilman admits that he directed a profanity-laced insult at three school-age children who were volunteering for a candidate at the polls on Election Day, but contends it was the kids who drew first blood by insulting him.

The incident came to light during the Dec. 18 town council meeting when Don Mueller of Montgomery Road said his two sons, age 16 and 15, and their 13-year-old sister, were volunteering at the polls at Hosack Elementary School for Councilman Ralph LeDonne's re-election bid when Councilman Steven Mertz “accosted” the teens.

Mertz was at the polls handing out literature and encouraging residents to vote for Carolyn Schweiger, who went on to defeat LeDonne for the Sixth Ward seat.

Mueller said the incident began “innocently enough” when Mertz asked his daughter if LeDonne was her grandfather.

“My daughter replied that none of us are his grandchildren, but he's like a grandfather to us,” said Mueller.

He claims Mertz replied: “That explains why you are supporting a sexist, racist bigot for town council.”

Mueller said Mertz, who is in his first term as the Third Ward representative, called the children “stupid” and said: “I can't believe your idiotic, degraded family could be so stupid to vote for such a bigot. It's (expletive) like you who are ruining our town.”

Mueller declined to repeat what he described as “the more profoundly expletive language” Mertz allegedly uttered while speaking to his children but said it included the “F” word.

Mueller's son, Josef Mueller, 16, said Mertz angrily used the F-word “many, many times.”

“He was very intimidating,” Josef Mueller said. “He's a very scary guy whose behavior was threatening. He got particularly angry when we started challenging him on the things he said.”

The teen said while abortion was briefly discussed during their conversation with Mertz, the topics of immigration from predominantly Muslim countries and gay rights “never came up.”

In a telephone interview following the meeting, Mertz acknowledged that he described LeDonne as “sexist, racist and bigoted” and that as he was walking away from the children he said: “What the (expletive) is wrong with you?”

Mertz said he stands by the comment he made about LeDonne.

“I've heard Mr. LeDonne make sexist and bigoted comments during (private) council executive sessions,” Mertz said. “He's a different person behind closed doors than when he is in public.”

Mertz said it was the children who escalated the exchange by calling him “stupid and idiotic.”

“One of the kids said: ‘We wouldn't believe anything you say because you're an atheist,'” Mertz said, adding that he does not identify as an atheist.

The councilman said he was angered by comments the children made including: “All Muslims should be banned from the U.S., and gay people should be stoned.”

“Some of the things the kids said were like something you'd hear from members of the Westboro Baptist Church,” Mertz said. “It was not innocent at all. What I said to them was in response to the racist, homophobic nonsense coming out of their mouths.”

Westboro Baptist is a Kansas-based church known for its harsh anti-gay rhetoric and picketing at military funerals. Church members believe that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, and say the death of soldiers and natural disasters are the result of “God's wrath.”

The incident was referred to the McCandless police, which recused itself from investigating to avoid any conflicts of interest, according to authorities.

The exchange between the children and Mertz was, however, investigated by Allegheny County Police and the district attorney's office, but no charges have been filed, according to a spokesman for the DA.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or

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