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Aspinwall used as backdrop for Roddey ads

Tawnya Panizzi
| Thursday, July 31, 2003

ASPINWALL: The tree-lined shopping district along Brilliant Avenue looked more like a Hollywood production lot on Friday, with film crews and bright lights crowding around the typically quiet corner.

Tractor trailers spilled forth white backdrops and roving movie cameras that captured the essence of life in the quaint town. But crews weren't filming scenes for the next Tinseltown blockbuster. They were creating television campaign spots for Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, the Republican incumbent who faces a challenge from Democratic county Controller Dan Onorato on Nov. 4.

The job as head of county government pays $90,000 a year. The county executive, created with the voter's approval of a home rule government, presides over most of the county's 7,000 employees, its administrative offices and a $650 million budget.

With full-blown campaign season just around the Labor Day corner, Roddey is already gearing up for the hotly contested race with the production of his first TV spot, to be aired in September.

Vying for the county's top job is an expensive prospect, with costs to produce a 30-second television ad ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, according to Aspinwall resident and production guru Barbara Ley.

"That is for a commercial in this market," said Ley, a resident of Emerson Avenue. "That is not specific to the Roddey ad."

Ley declined to say what Roddey spent on the commercials shot Friday.

Roddey, the crux of whose campaign will focus on row-office reform, has already raised $1.4 million, according to campaign finance reports released in June. Onorato, a proponent of economic development, has raised $1.2 million. Both sides expect to raise $2.5 million to help them earn votes in November's General Election.

Filming in Aspinwall is aimed at bolstering support from residents of similar towns along the Allegheny River, densely populated with middle-class, Democratic voters -- areas of high priority for Roddey since Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1, according to county voter registration.

"It's a typical, nice community," said Roddey, 70, of Squirrel Hill, who has 40 years experience in business. Roddey said the location choice isn't left to him, but that he is pleased with the Lower Valley spot because it speaks to the average county voter.

In Aspinwall, where homes mix seamlessly with mom-and-pop retailers, the average family income is $58,750, according to the US Census. The usually quiet town, just seven miles from the city lines, was selected because of its middle-America feel, according to John Brabender, chief strategic and creative officer for the Brabender-Cox advertising firm, retained by the Roddey campaign.

"It is very representative of Allegheny County," said Brabender, on hand to supervise the shoot. "You see a lot of revitalization here that is a trend throughout the county."

The local energy and Lower Valley-vibe aside, the location choice was more a matter of parochialism. Overeasy Film, the production company in charge of the TV spots, is run by Ley and her husband, Ron Dylewski.

"We were looking for a beautiful small-town sidewalk and figured why not show off Aspinwall," said Ley, who added that the crew was comprised of local freelancers.

"It wasn't a hard decision," Ley laughed. "We're prejudiced."

In between the two segments, shot at J&W Variety and on the outdoor patio of Luma Restaurant, Ley directed the crew, which filled the street with lights and cameras, stopping traffic along Brilliant Avenue. In between takes, she ordered Roddey to change his clothes and supervised as local make-up artist Cheryl Haas touched up Roddey's face.

O'Hara resident and freelance photographer Jack Wolf was hired to document the four-hour assignment. Shots captured by the still photographer will be used in Roddey's print campaign material.

While a small crowd gathered to watch, Roddey got a surprise from local businessman Joe Mazzie, who bestowed on him a token from the past. The pair had served together in the Marine Corps.

Mazzie gave Roddey a French Fortige, a woven belt given by the French Government to the 6th Marines who participated in the Battle of Belleau Wood.

"We've talked about it before. (Roddey) doesn't have his anymore and I had two," said Mazzie, who reclined in a storefront chair to view the morning's work. "I meant to send it to him, but I never did. I think he's happy to have it."

Luma Restaurant owner Greg Ackerman said people who live outside the Lower Valley likely won't recognize the commercial location. But, he said, it provided some kicks for people walking along the business district Friday, and, it gives a boost to Aspinwall.

"There's no recognition of Luma in the commercial," Ackerman said. "The producers are good customers. We just did it as a favor to them and for Aspinwall."

Still, the luster of the production set didn't lure everyone to the scene. Twelve-year-old Amanda Hartle was making her way to J&W Variety when she was stalled on the sidewalk for taping.

"We just want to get into J&W," she said, holding hands with two toddlers. "They want to get ice cream."

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