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Politics

Murphy letter fuels fracas

| Thursday, April 19, 2001

City Council President and mayoral candidate Bob O'Connor accused Mayor Tom Murphy on Wednesday night of using his position to steer business to certain contractors.

'Absolutely not,' Murphy said when asked about the accusations. 'My interest was simply to encourage contractors to choose subcontractors that use union labor.'

O'Connor made the charges after the two participated in a candidates forum held by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance at the Andy Warhol Museum.

After the forum, O'Connor released copies of a March 2 letter Murphy sent to unidentified contractors. The copies had the name of the recipient blocked out, and it was unclear how many city contractors received the letter.

The letter included a list of 10 plumbing contractors provided by Leo Bigley, business manager of Local 27 of the Plumbers Union. All of the contractors were willing to bid residential work in the city, Murphy said in the letter.

'I encourage you to give their kind offer your serious consideration,' Murphy wrote.

Murphy and O'Connor representatives disagreed on the significance of the letter. With the primary less than a month away, one political analyst said he expects similar tactics in the coming weeks as the two front-running candidates try to clinch the race.

'It's a tossup right now. There's about 25 percent of the vote that's undecided, and I think both sides are trying to close the race,' political analyst William J. Green said. 'I think they're both trying to win the undecided vote, and this is O'Connor's way of piling it on the mayor.'

'The implication is if you want to do business in the city, you'll do business with these companies,' O'Connor said. 'We've been letting these things slide and now they're starting to build up.'

Green said much of the uproar comes over the fact that Murphy's letter was written on city - and not campaign - stationery.

'That might be raising a real small ethical technicality,' Green said. 'There's a fine line between campaign support and whether or not this is unethical. It's certainly not unusual and there's nothing wrong for a mayor to have favorite vendors.'

O'Connor and Murphy, along with the four other Democratic mayoral candidates in the May 15 primary, spoke at the forum and answered questions from the local arts community. Each candidate appeared on stage separately at the event attended by about 60 people.

The other candidates attending the forum were Clyde Vandall, Leroy L. Hodge, Earl V. Jones Sr. and Joshua Pollock.

In an interview after his 20-minute presentation, O'Connor painted Murphy as a mayor prone to using unethical campaign tactics and favoring certain businesses. While Murphy downplayed the significance of the letter, O'Connor harped on it as being part of a pattern of abuse.

'It's like me sending a letter to everyone and telling them to use my barber, or else,' O'Connor said. 'How fair is that to the other barbers in town?'

Dave Copeland can be reached at dcopeland@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7922.

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