Tom Hritz R.I.P: Allegheny County Morphing into New Jersey?
Since I don't write this column for money, that must mean I'm a . . . nah! However, I'm always willing to entertain unpleasant possibilities.
As a reader (and a constant critic) of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I miss their deceased columnist Tom Hritz, independent-minded, conservatively inclined, and invariably funny. At a newspaper famous for windbags (Ann McFeatters, Michael McGough, Dennis Roddy, Milan Simonich, Maureen Dowd, and the entire editorial staff), Hritz spoke briefly but carried a big stick.
Tom liked to smoke cigarettes, a habit that nowadays can put you on the Fresh Air Nazis hit-list. Somebody once asked him if he intended to take a day off from his habit and observe something called "The Great American Smokeout."
His response was that he passing on the Smokeout but was launching something he hoped would become a ccountry-wide observance. He proposed calling it, "National Mind-Your-Own-Business Day."
On another occasion, Hritz was asked how he evaluated the eight years in office of Governor Robert Casey, Sr., father of senator-elect "Bobby" Casey (Jr.) Hritz's response? "After two terms of Bob Casey, Pennsylvania is lucky that it's still a state."
Tom knew Pittsburgh and Allegheny County can be funny places. At times, for example, we have an inordinate number of judges and other elected officials either in jail or cast into outer darkness (i.e., exiled to Beaver County).
The judges have included Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen, who had problems with prescription drugs and who tried to tidy up his banking account by reportedly demanding that St. Mary of the Mount Catholic Church fork over $50,000 for his support of a zoning variance.
Then there was Judge Jaffe, who wanted $15,000 for his services in finessing some asbestos cases. Off to jail he went.
Also, we had the ever-entertaining Judge Boyle. He had problems with exposing his bare backside in various taverns, driving under the influence of alcohol, and reportedly manning the bench while tipsy.
Boyle's punishment was to endure early retirement from the bench. In keeping with Allegheny County's humane treatment of errant judges, Boyle retired with lifetime health-benefits, as well as a $9,000-per-month pension.
A little farther afield, we had Justice Gigi Sullivan of Springdale. It turned out her boyfriend -- in a classic case of the conflict between true lover and legality -- was a prominent local drug dealer, as well as Sullivan's supplier.
She was kind enough to notify him whenever the police were planning a drug raid that might be bad for his business.
As I recall Sullivan's punishment, it mostly entailed going to substance abuse sessions. I thought at the time it might make more sense to send to her classes in how to choose better boyfriends.
Some years ago, another local judge, Manning, aced some serious charges. Several screeners at Pittsburgh International Airport wanted to search his language, and he resisted.
The screeners indicated that Manning's response was: "These [n-words] are going to make me miss my plane!"
The judge vigorously denied the screeners' assertion that he had used the n-word. Leaping to his defense was a local attorney, Gary Zimmerman, who specialized in defending certain (accused) cocaine dealers, specifically those with the ability to pay whopping retainers.
When last seen, Judge Manning was doing fine, hearing cases and making learned judgements.
Recently, the sheriff of Allegheny County, "Pete" DeFazio, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that involving "macing" -- basically extoring campaign contributions from department employees. Previously, DeFazio's three top deputies had pleaded guilty to even more serious charges.
Of course, he gets to retire with his huge pension and gold-standard health benefits -- not to mention the thanks of a grateful county.
Then, there's our former Pittsburgh Mayor, Tom Murphy, who appears to have the status of an unindicted co-conspirator in a case that essentially involved bribing the firefighters' union to vote "the right way" (i.e., for Murphy) in a primary.
As for our nationally recognized coroner, Dr. Cyril Wecht, he was indicted on 95 counts charging him with being an extremely bad boy.
My favorite local crook remains former state Senator Frank Gigliotti, who specialized in taking kickbacks from various contractors. The FBI recorded one coversation in which a supporter of the senator asked, "Isn't the whole point of being an elected official to serve the public?"
Gigliotti reflected briefly and then said these immortal words: "F--- the public."
After serving time in a West Virginia facilitiy, Gigliotti got on with his life's work as a parking lot attendant.
I could go on, but my fingers are getting tired. I wish I were making some of this up, but I'm not.
I do regret that Tom Hritz, my spiritual mentor, didn't live to see most of the above. No, it wouldn't have surprised him in the least, but it certainly would have amused him.
By the way, all of the miscreants noted were/are Democrats, many of them endorsed with enthusiasm by Mr. Hritz's former employer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.