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City offers its best wishes to O'Connor

| Thursday, July 27, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Apurva "Appu" Shinde wanted to send a special card that would ask God to help the mayor.

So the 10-year-old Green Tree girl made her own get-well card for Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor and mailed it to his Downtown office. She put flowers on the outside and included a personal message inside, said her mother, Sunita Shinde.

"She wanted to send the card to him because she is deeply concerned for his health," her mother said Wednesday.

It is one of thousands of cards, letters and e-mails O'Connor, 61, has received since being diagnosed three weeks ago with a rare and aggressive form of cancer called primary central nervous system lymphoma.

"We've got e-mails from as far away as Israel," said Marlene D. Cassidy, the mayor's executive secretary.

All of the cards and letters will be answered with thank-you notes signed by the mayor and his wife, Judy. They are signing about 200 thank-you cards a day, Cassidy said.

The mayor insists on paying the postage, she said.

The enormous outpouring of support isn't a complete surprise, Cassidy said.

"In a way, I was prepared. Pittsburgh loves this mayor as much as he loves Pittsburgh," she said. "He's the people's mayor."

O'Connor's doctors at UPMC Shadyside hospital, where the mayor is undergoing chemotherapy treatment, have said the tumors growing in his brain and spine are shrinking. The mayor is listed in stable condition.

"He's determined to get out of the hospital and back to city hall," Cassidy said.

He is especially moved by the cards from children.

"They really touch your heart because they are so innocent," Cassidy said.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society collected signatures yesterday on banners at three city locations.

Jeanne Caliguiri, of Shadyside, widow of Richard Caliguiri, mayor from 1978 to 1988, helped collect signatures on a banner outside the Coffee Tree on Forbes Avenue, where O'Connor stops almost every morning.

"I want to be here to support Bob because I know how supportive Pittsburgh was to me," said Caliguiri, society director of development.

Richard Caliguiri died 18 years ago at 56 of amyloidosis, a metabolic disorder characterized by an irreversible build-up of proteins throughout the body.

Hundreds of signatures and messages were collected outside the coffee shop, where double skim latte is an O'Connor favorite.

"He came in with the walkers and talkers from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.," Manager Jim Headley, 29, of West Mifflin, said. "We miss him."

"The city misses you," one message read.

"I'm praying for you, Mayor Bob," said another.

Merchants along Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill said they miss seeing O'Connor.

"I used to see him up and down Murray (Avenue) all the time. Instead of using the mayor's hotline, you could just shout 'Hey, Bob,' " said Shlomo Perlman, 56, of Squirrel Hill, owner of Pinskers Books.

Perlman said O'Connor will beat his cancer because he has "the right attitude, great doctors and faith in the man above."

The merchants also point to a cleaner, safer neighborhood since O'Connor took office.

"I'm here 18 hours a day, seven days a week and things are different," said Joe Aiello, 65, of Shaler, owner of Aiello's Pizza. "City employees changed their attitudes, too."

O'Connor's congenial nature makes him more than a politician to merchants on Murray.

"We have known the mayor since he was a city councilman. He would always take the time to talk to people," said Elan Sokol, 27, of Squirrel Hill, owner of Milky Way, where O'Connor frequently stops for pizza or French fries.

Many of the synagogues in the city also are saying special prayers for O'Connor, he said.

"We miss him," Sokol said. "We can't wait to see him again."

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