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End of an era

Rob Amen
| Sunday, April 27, 2003

Two names are on the Democratic ballot for mayor of Arnold.

In the past four decades, there literally have been more solar eclipses than opposed Democratic mayoral races in this city.

The reason: William DeMao.

Alan Milito, who turns 40 in June, never has known another Arnold mayor than DeMao.

Not many have, or at least can remember another mayor.

DeMao has been an icon of sorts for the city and, for the first time in 40 years, mayoral candidates' election signs are popping up across Arnold. Residents actually find themselves voting in a seriously contested mayoral race.

It's a changing of the guard, an end of an era -- and Milito and John Campbell -- both Democrats -- are vying for the right to fill the shoes of the 91-year-old political legend.

"I can only walk beside his shoes," Campbell said with a laugh.

Milito said he senses an anxiousness among residents when talking about DeMao's departure from office.

"It's, 'What are we going to do without Mr. DeMao as mayor?' " Milito said. "It's kind of strange. There's only two or three guys that ran against him in the (40) years. Of course, they lost. If he was to run this time, I would not have run. That is automatic."

DeMao became mayor in 1964 -- a time when the business district was vibrant. He kept the city's economy that way for years. He gained popularity among residents -- and became what was an obvious choice for mayor -- by remaining visible in the community. He served as alderman (justice of the peace) for 11 years before that, holding both jobs for a year.

DeMao said he is the longest-serving mayor in any first-, second- or third-class city in the state.

"In Willie's case, you get to a point where you are the persona that is the mayor," said Tom Ceraso, a Westmoreland County commissioner and New Kensington resident. "Arnold has always done a good job of having its own individual image. Willie was always out there advocating for Arnold. Over time, it just got to be Willie the mayor, and Willie DeMao became intertwined where no one would challenge him.

"People associate the city with Willie."

To the best of DeMao's knowledge, he said he was only opposed, at most, three times during his 40-year stint.

"He certainly stands out as an example for young people who tend not to be interested in public policy in their community let alone think about running for public office," said Rosemary Trump, chairwoman of the Westmoreland County Democratic Committee. "This is truly a role model who should stand out not only for the community of Arnold but others.

"There aren't too many people willing to go through that kind of punishment."

DeMao's reward, in part, came when officials renamed City Hall after him.

Milito and Campbell, a 48-year-old councilman and director of accounts and finance, are the only two candidates in the May 20 primary.

Both said they understand the importance of this election, of replacing DeMao, of calming any residents' fears of change.

"I would like to see Arnold give back to the citizens," Milito said. "My platform is bring pride back to the city. Give Arnold back to the city. That's what I want to do."

Campbell said he believes residents are looking for their mayor to revitalize the economy and market the city.

"Economics are a big thing here," Campbell said. "You got to have some type of industry.

"Things have changed in the last 40 years."

The one thing that seemed would last forever -- that Willie DeMao would be Arnold mayor -- also is coming to an end.

"I thought it was time," he said, "for someone else to come in."

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