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Barber's voter poll a close shave

| Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004

Joe Ruberto's place in Millvale is an old-style barber shop, where patrons don't mind waiting a while for their turn in the chair.

It's a pleasant place to pass the time in spirited conversation and debate, whether you're talking gardening, food or -- more than anything else this fall -- presidential politics.

And even if Joe has a straight razor pressed to a patron's throat, that patron needn't worry if his political opinions differ from the barber's. Democrats and Republicans get the same first-rate haircut.

"People come in here because they feel at home here," Ruberto said. "They feel free to talk both ways."

The large, store-front window at Joe's Haircutting Shop offers a wide view of North Avenue, and lately, it also offers a glimpse into the political opinions of the area's residents.

Votes cast in Joe's ballot box in September and October have been counted, and George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry.

It's not exactly a scientific poll, but Ruberto expects the real vote in November to reflect the 544 votes cast in his ballot box -- 52.9 percent for Bush, and 47.1 percent for Kerry.

"It's gonna be tight. Probably it's gonna be like that, but I'm not gonna be happy," said Ruberto, who voted for Bush in 2000 but is disgusted by the war in Iraq and the president's snubbing of European allies.

Ruberto, 65, emigrated from Italy as a teenager and started cutting hair in Millvale almost 50 years ago -- the last 40 at his current shop.

His customers come from throughout the North Hills -- not just Millvale, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1 in voter registration.

"We've had a lot of debates, and it's pretty equal," Ruberto said. "I expected (the voting) to be close, but I expected it to be the other way around."

Ruberto is used to political dissension -- even at home.

"My wife is a Bush person. I've been threatening her that on Election Day I'm gonna tie her to the cellar post," he joked.

Ruberto said this election season is by far the most intense he has seen, and customers get riled sometimes.

"That's when I tell them to start talking about women, and it calms everybody down, because we all agree on that subject," he said.

Shaler resident Clarence Winkler, 77, a regular at Joe's for 40 years, chimed in while Ruberto's scissors snipped around his head.

"I like to listen. You get a good education," he said. "What you don't know, you can learn here."

Winkler also questions the war in Iraq and plans to vote for Kerry in November. "(Bush) got into more than what he realized. Everybody thought it was gonna be easy. I'm probably one of them, too. I didn't realize it was gonna be like this."

Whoever wins the race for president, Ruberto has learned on thing about voters this election season -- they are more interested than ever in the outcome.

"I really believe people are going to make it their business to vote this time," he said.

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