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Knoll proves a tough campaigner at Election Day haunts

| Wednesday, May 22, 2002

You've got to be in good shape to keep up with Catherine Baker Knoll on a campaign trail.

Ask her faithful sidekick and fellow Democrat, Michael Diven of Brookline. The former Pittsburgh councilman and current state representative in the 22nd state House district spent a lot of time on the road with Knoll as she visited every corner of the state in pursuit of the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Diven, 6 feet 5 inches tall and 290 pounds, still looks like he could play center for the East Carolina University football team. But Tuesday afternoon, as Knoll visited a polling place in the Market House on the South Side, Diven, 32, made it clear that when it came to campaigning he was no match for Knoll, 71.

"She's the hardest-working person I've ever met," Diven said, after delivering a series of sincere testimonials to the stamina, work ethic and retail politicking skills that elected the diminutive Knoll to two terms as state treasurer (1989-97).

Knoll needed all those skills yesterday, plus the help of volunteers and 74 relatives here and in Philadelphia. She faced eight men, including state Sen. Jack Wagner of Beechview, and was expected to win because she has such high name-recognition across Pennsylvania.

But being the favorite didn't stop Knoll from spending Election Day in a sprint.

Up at 6 a.m., she toured polling places from her native McKees Rocks to the Hill District and Squirrel Hill. During the morning rush, she was at a T stop Downtown, shaking a thousand hands. At noon she went to St. Mary of Mercy Church, Downtown, a nonpolitical venue, yet a place where everyone she talked to seemed to have voted for her already.

It was after Mass that the priest handed her a little slip of paper with a message that made her day.

"This is God," the printed note said. "I will be handling all your problems today. I will not need your help. So relax and have a good day!"

Knoll thought it was a good sign, an omen that victory was going to be hers. Diven said he'd been trying to tell her the same thing for six months.

"Now God tells her, and she believes it," he said, with an Irishman's laugh.

Diven, who had no primary opposition, spent most of the day with Knoll. About 5:15 p.m. they went to the polls at Shaare Torah Congregation temple in Squirrel Hill, where, like everywhere on a low-turnout day, things were slow.

Most of the poll workers recognized Knoll when she walked through the door. She was dressed in a red blazer and black pants and had a red-white-and-blue American flag scarf around her neck. Her cellular phone was in her pants pocket. And she carried plenty of last-minute ammo for voters -- a handful of brochures and "Knoll 2002" cards.

She didn't need to hand out too many cards, however. Or deliver her friendly mantra, "Hi, I'm Catherine Baker Knoll and I'm running for lieutenant governor."

Half the voters who walked in seemed either to know Knoll personally or know exactly who she is. Before she could say who she was or what she was running for, Jonathan Wander said, "I know who you are. I've seen the TV ads."

And when Kate Lederman, 23, strolled in and saw the candidate, she gave Knoll a big hug and a kiss. Lederman -- whose father, Stan, is a ward chairman and a longtime friend of Knoll's -- said she's known Knoll since she was a day old. Later, when Lederman was asked whom she voted for, she gave a big smile, looked at Knoll and said, "Who do you think?"

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