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Roddey needs an about-face campaign

| Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003

Jim Roddey must find some raw meat for starving voters to sink their teeth into.

The incumbent Allegheny County chief executive needs to serve up an issue that the public can devour, one that says to undecided voters that he is something other than Onorato Lite.

County Controller Dan Onorato, a North Side Democrat, is challenging Roddey, a Squirrel Hill Republican, in the general election.

Roddey is positioning himself as a "good government" administrator. Onorato is doing the same packaging. Both can claim truth-in-advertising on that issue. Both are starting to attack each other's squeaky-clean records.

The voters might agree with some of the accusations. But it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances, or dumb luck, for either to be mortally wounded by their track records, even though Onorato voted for many of the failed economic schemes of Mayor Tom Murphy.

If Roddey is to overcome the massive Democratic voter-registration majority in the county -- and the negative publicity he unfairly received during the reassessment controversies -- he must offer a compelling reason to vote for him, and not just reasons not to vote for his opponent.

During a moment of clarity after seeing their attack ads, I could not name an issue clearly differentiating the Roddey administration from an Onorato one. Apparently, I am not the only one.

Several people walking along the Allegheny River behind PNC Park who described themselves as registered voters in the county also could not picture a difference in the administrations when asked whether they could think of one.

"I am not the most informed," said Patti Webb, who works in the insurance business. "No, I can't."

"I'm really not sure," said John Stroh, director of programming for Fox Sports Pittsburgh. "I plead ignorance."

"I have no idea," said Steve Kirk, who works in the transcribing field.

"I do not know," said computer programmer Jim Hutchinson.

Michele May, who works at a Downtown bank, said that Onorato is more likely to have a tax-and-spend philosophy. Still, May said she isn't sure what, if any, change there would be.

"I do not have an opinion at this time," said accountant Rich Votilla.

"I have no idea," said paralegal Elaine Miller. "I have not been following anything."

Hardly good bumper-sticker material for either candidate.

Roddey, a former officer in the Marines, might be fighting the last war.

The "good government candidate" strategy he used four years ago against his opponent, Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, barely worked against the poster boy for the old Democratic city machine. Onorato is no Wecht when it comes to alienating people.

If Roddey is to avoid becoming a one-term county chief executive, he must serve an answer to the little old lady in that classic Wendy's commercial who asked: "Where's the beef?"

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