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Wecht & Chong share jabs

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, May 6, 2010

Talk about generating a lot of buzz.

Stoner icon Tommy Chong headlined a Democratic fundraiser Wednesday night in the South Side that attracted more than 100 people, from those active in party politics to fans who came solely to see the performer who starred in the marijuana-themed "Cheech & Chong" comedies in the 1970s and '80s.

Nationally renowned forensic pathologist and former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril H. Wecht emceed.

Although the event was billed as a comedy show, Chong and Wecht took plenty of shots at former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who is seeking the Republican nomination in the 4th Congressional District in the May 18 primary. Buchanan led controversial cases against both men while she served as the U.S. attorney based in Pittsburgh.

"We have a lot in common," Wecht said.

A case against Wecht claiming he used public resources for private work while coroner ended in a 2008 mistrial, and charges against him were later dropped. Chong pleaded guilty in 2003 to distributing 7,500 bongs and marijuana pipes through an Internet company and served nine months in prison.

Prior to taking the stage, Chong joked that he came to Pittsburgh "to back up Mary Beth Buchanan. I figured the best way I could hurt her is to help her. I wanted to throw my whole doper image right behind her."

Turning serious, Chong said his prosecution and time in prison "turned me into an activist. It opened my eyes to all of the injustices out there. If it wasn't for Mary Beth, I'd just be sitting at home looking for a job."

Buchanan, of McCandless, criticized local Democrats for their choice of a headliner.

"It's disappointing that the Democratic Party and (U.S. Rep.) Jason Altmire, in particular, are raising money with the assistance of a convicted felon (Chong), particularly one who marketed illegal products to children," Buchanan said.

Those at last night's event dismissed her comments.

"It's not right that the state spent millions of dollars and put him in prison over a bunch of glass," said Mike Tremontin, 34, of Pittsburgh's fledgling NORML chapter, an organization dedicating to reforming marijuana laws. The group gave Chong one of its T-shirts, which he wore during his performance.

Heather and Richard Rattner of Shadyside and their teenage sons, Nate and Jonah, attended the event together. They all said they were fans of his movies and stand-up comedy.

Heather Rattner said she "thought it would be a good experience to come to a political event like this. These guys (her 17- and 16-year-old sons) will be voting soon."

Pittsburgh police responded to Mellon Square after a Chong news conference there yesterday afternoon when someone spotted an unattended bookbag. Shortly after police arrived and evacuated the area, the owner returned to claim the bag, said police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

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