Friday, May 3, 2013

Mailing the Voter's Guide--A Team Effort

While much of the club's effort each year focuses on the fundraiser and endorsement weekend, our candidate selections can only have an impact if people know about them. That's where the mailing comes in; the final step in our recipe for electing progressive Democratic public officials:

1) Engage with candidates and vote for those
who best reflect the club's values
2) Review ballots and tally results
3) Print the club's endorsements in a voter's guide and mail to
thousands of registered Democrats in the 14th Ward
In preparation for the May 21 primary, the club will do its 2013 Voter's Guide mailing on Saturday, May 11. A number of endorsed candidates have already pledged to send volunteers to help process approximately 9,000 pieces of our signature colored paper. You know, the yellow slate card that so many 14th Warders carry to the polls with them.

Total cost of the mailing--printing and postage--runs about $3,000 - $4,000, depending on the number mailed and postage rates, which seem to creep up every year. It is by far the club's biggest expense. The club also does a much smaller newsletter mailing or two each year to members only.

In 2010 the club departed from its traditional do-it-yourself mailing party, instead engaging a professional mailing house to handle the task. As luck would have it, the move bombed. For whatever reason, the mail house (which will remain unnamed) accidentally used the wrong mailing list and the club's voter's guide was sent to the 20th District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Don Walko's old seat. State Rep. Jim Ferlo reported to the club that his office was getting calls from constituents about receiving our mailing,  the Post-Gazette's Tim McNulty got it on the North Side, and reports also came in from Bloomfield, Aspinwall and Brighton Heights.

Fortunately, all the contested offices that year were state and federal (the club endorsed Joe Sestak for Senate and Joe Hoeffel for Governor), as opposed to more local races where the club's endorsement can have a major impact, so perhaps not much harm was done by the errant mailing. However, some concerns were raised that a candidate for state Democratic committee who just missed the cut might have gained a few votes if the slate card had made it to the 14th Ward.

Thus proving the old adage: If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Itkin, Clark Redux

Due to a flurry of interest by some club board members in the recent Ivan and Joyce Itkin and Jeanne Clark posts, I thought I'd provide a few more visuals from the archives. The black and white photo below shows Itkin speaking at a 1970 rally for Milton Shapp for governor. (Itkin used the photo, and specified its historical context, in the club's 20th anniversary fundraiser program.) Also, to update the earlier post, Itkin also quit the club, along with three former club presidents, when his wife Joyce failed to get the club's endorsement in her run for clerk of courts.

Is that a young Cyril Wecht seated at speaker Ivan Itkin's far left?
If you can identify any pictured  politicos, please let me know.
Club board member Sally Morton reported that her daughter, Susan, was a friend of Jeanne Clark's stepson and attended an event at which Jeanne was photographed with singer Judy Collins. Sally said that her daughter remembers that Barbara Solin, a Squirrel Hill resident, was also there.

That's current club president Kathie Smith in the lower left corner, Jeanne Clark is seated to Judy Collins' right, and former club president Celeste Behrend is directly behind Clark. Again, any assistance with identifying folks in the photo will be much appreciated. [Click on photo for larger image.]
A brief news item at this link indicates that the Clark/Collins "swankenda"(!)--a fundraiser for Clark's 1988 state senate run--was held at Chatham College professor Frank Lackner's house.

Club board member Barbara Daly Danko noted that, by coincidence, the night before the Clark post went up she and former board member Claire Staples were walking home together from a Chatham (now University) event featuring former Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME). According to Barbara's email:

"We walked to Chatham from Denniston via the cut through off Shady and walked past a house on Shady which Claire pointed out and said Judy Collins was at an event for Jeanne there a long time ago ... to which Krysia Kubiak (who was walking back with us) replied, 'There should be a historic marker on that house!'"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When "Nobody's Boy" was Somebody's Boy

That's better ... Flaherty went rogue in 1969
and the club got on the bandwagon.
Before Pete Flaherty was “Nobody’s Boy” he was somebody’s boy, and the 14th Ward Democratic Club didn’t like it.

The year was 1965 and the future two-term Pittsburgh mayor was running for city council. Flaherty, a political novice, had been handpicked by party bosses to fill a seat being vacated by a man named Gallagher. In those days ethnic loyalties ran deep (even before St. Patrick’s “Day” was extended to a week in the city), and they often determined which candidates filled certain council seats.

The club backed all of the Democratic Party’s endorsed council candidates that year, except Flaherty.
As club board member Nat Hershey diplomatically told the press, "It was felt that [Flaherty’s] chief virtues were represented by party reliability and ethnic continuity."
In the end, Flaherty won the council seat but received the lowest vote total among party endorsed candidates in the 14th Ward.
Squirrel Hill was the epicenter of local political activity on April 26, 1965, with the club and both the 14th Ward Democratic and Republican committees meeting that night. [Click on image for larger version.]

In keeping with its mission, the club enthusiastically backed Flaherty a few years later when he dubbed himself “Nobody’s Boy” and ran for mayor as a party outsider.

Special Squirrel Hill Remembrance: One of the articles above notes that the 14th Ward Democratic Committee would be meeting at Bubbles and Sherman's Restaurant, 5841 Forbes Avenue. Here's a link to a picture of the classic eatery (maybe somebody can get Brady Stewart to donate it to this page?)

Jack Wagner

By and large, the club has shown little love for Jack Wagner, one of the top two contenders among four Democrats in this year's Pittsburgh mayoral primary race.

Wagner, from Beechview, began his political career in 1983 with a city council bid.  In a crowded field of 24 candidates (city council members were still selected citywide at this point, rather than by district), the club passed on Wagner and endorsed Jim Ferlo (who briefly challenged Wagner in this year's mayor's race), Jonathan Robison, Helen V. Hull, Michelle Madoff and Jim O'Malley. Despite the snub, Wagner went on to win a seat and served on council for 10 years.

Jack Wagner's Wikipedia photo
The club's archives contains a copy of an 8.5x11, 16-page Voters' Guide for 1983, replete with three and a half pages of advertising, produced by Shadyside's 7th Ward Democratic Committee. The guide includes detailed bios and policy positions for all of the council candidates. Wagner's "principal objective" statement reads: "[To] devote my effort on council to make this legislative body more responsive to the true needs of the residents of Pittsburgh." Feels that Council should provide a greater "check & balance" to the mayor's office."

He is listed as supporting eight separate initiatives like selecting council by district and freezing tax assessments until a house is sold, but regarding a "lesbian/gay civil rights ordinance", Wagner declared, "no position".

Conversely, another council candidate from the southern neighborhoods, Brookline resident and Pittsburgh's famous flamboyant traffic cop, Vic Cianca, supported the lesbian/gay ordinance but opposed a by-district council.

Fast forward to 2010 and Wagner's bid for governor. At a gubernatorial forum hosted by the club at Wightman School, in Squirrel Hill, Wagner said that he "believes marriage is between a man and a woman" but supports the anti-discrimination Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. He also asserted that he tolerates abortion but was evasive when asked if he would veto bills further restricting reproductive rights. The club endorsed his opponent and staunch progressive, Joe Hoeffel.

Returning to the chronology, the club did a turnabout in 1987, endorsing Wagner in his city council re-election campaign, along with Ferlo, O'Malley, Madoff and Otis Lyons, Jr. In its brief Voter's Guide rationale, the club explained: "As a sitting City Councilman he has displayed a professional, competent approach to city problems, voting independently. (He does his homework.)"

The club reverted to form however the next time it considered Wagner, rejecting him in the 1993 mayoral primary with a strong endorsement of Tom Murphy.

The club's archives are occasionally spotty, so it's unclear who the club endorsed when Wagner won State Senate races in 1994, 1998 and 2002. However, the club resoundingly backed Alan Kukovich over Wagner and a crowded field in a race for Lieutenant Governor in 2002. Kukovich finished third in the primary, behind Wagner and the eventual winner, Catherine Baker Knoll.

Wagner's long string of political campaigns continued in 2004 with a stab at Auditor General, but the club was having none of it, opting for "No Endorsement" even though Wagner was running unopposed. Wagner won anyway and in 2008 the club relented, backing him for re-election as Auditor General.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jeanne Clark

No other candidate in this year's local races has a deeper history with the club than Jeanne Clark. While the club archives are organized chronologically, with a file folder for each year, Clark's 1988 run for state senate warranted two files labeled with her name and packed with campaign literature and paraphernalia.

Clark ran that year against the three-term incumbent, James Romanelli, and State Representative Mike Dawida. According to the article below, Clark handily won the club's endorsement, getting 33 of 50 votes cast. (The club's membership has fluctuated over time. The number of potential club voting members this year hovers around 400.)

Club President Celeste Behrend headed Clark's campaign committee--which probably explains the Clark-centric archive folders--but she told the Post-Gazette that she didn't try to sway other club members because that would have been "taking unfair advantage of my position as president."

(In a January 1988 letter, printed on official state senate stationery, Romanelli asked Behrend both for her support and to speak to her "personally about my candidacy for a Board position with the Club." Apparently, Romanelli figured if board membership was good enough for State Representative Ivan Itkin, it would work for him too.)

Despite the club supporting Clark and the party backing Romanelli, Dawida won the race.

Similar to the Itkin/Coyne struggle chronicled in the previous post, Clark's experience 25 years ago may illustrate that in larger contests like state and county races, the club's endorsement can have a limited impact, likely due to the 14th Ward's smaller percentage of overall votes. However, in more localized races--city council, district justice and, perhaps, county council and citywide elections--the club's endorsement can tip the balance. In fact, about five year's ago a scientific experiment measuring the endorsement's impact found that it gave a candidate a six percent boost in votes received in the 14th Ward. (A CMU decision sciences professor, who was on the board at the time, conducted the test.)

In stark contrast to the club's interest surrounding Clark's statewide run, the 1989 archive file covering her 8th District city council bid contains only a few items, including a blank club endorsement ballot listing five candidates--Clark, Dan Cohen, Carol DePasquale-Hertz, Leon W. Howard, and Jonathan Robison. Cohen got the club's endorsement and won the primary, with Robison finishing a distant second and Clark third.

This coming Sunday, the club will meet to endorse candidates for Pittsburgh mayor and for mayoral hopeful Bill Peduto's 8th District council seat. Three candidates are vying to replace him: Dan Gilman, Peduto's chief of staff; 14th Ward party chair and club board member Sam Hens-Greco; and 7th Ward party chair ... Jeanne Clark.

Along with the interest generated by three such prominent and qualified candidates, the 8th District race adds another chapter to the club's history of contentious endorsements. In a letter circulated to club members this week, the board reported that one candidate appears to have taken "extraordinary means" to win the club's endorsement. (To ensure neutrality until the end of the endorsement meeting, the board has remained circumspect in identifying the candidate.) According to the letter:

"On February 20 the Club received a check from a city council candidate’s campaign account, most of which was directed to be used as dues payments for 30 memberships. Completed membership applications for each new member accompanied the check....

Concerns about the club’s endorsement have surfaced in previous elections, perhaps most notably in a 1999 county council race between two board members in which one candidate was believed to have “packed” the Club with supporters days before the endorsement."

Click on the image below for the full text of the letter.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Itkin Vs. Coyne - The Contentious 1995 Club Endorsement, or "Three Coynes and a' Countin'" (apologies to Sammy Cahn)

With the club's endorsement meeting less than a week away, and a controversy bubbling around a candidate paying dues for new club members, I thought I'd detail a fractious club endorsement that occurred 18 years ago in a race for Allegheny County Clerk of Courts involving Joyce Lee Itkin, Jim Ellenbogen, Dennis Coyne, and the incumbent, Carol Coyne (no relation to Dennis).

Joyce, and particularly her husband, Ivan Itkin, were very active party and club members (see a photo of Joyce chairing a club fundraiser around 1984). Joyce ran for city council in 1991, prior to the clerk of courts contest. Ivan was the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania governor in 1998 and served in the state house from 1973 to 1998. (See his Wikipedia page.)

Not even a nuclear scientist could beat the party machine. [click on image for larger version]
According to the articles above, Itkin ran unsuccessfully for the state senate with the club's endorsement in 1968. In 1970, as club president, he led an effort to unseat the 14th Ward chair by running club-backed candidates for ward committee slots. (The attempted coup was precipitated by Mayor Pete Flaherty losing the ward by one vote to the Republican mayoral candidate that year, even though the ward's Democrats had a 2-1 voter registration edge.)

Fast forward to 1995. The Associated Press provided some context for the club's disputed clerk of courts endorsement, reporting that 14th Ward chair and club board member Eric Marchbein accused Dennis Coyne, a truck driver with no political experience, of being a "spoiler" in the race--placed on the ballot to create name confusion with the incumbent Coyne.

"Marchbein said he was reconsidering his support for Joyce Lee Itkin, a clerk of courts candidate, because he suspects an Itkin supporter was behind Dennis Coyne's recruitment," according to the AP.

(For further context, William J. "Bill" Coyne was the congressman at the time for the state's 14th Congressional District, which included the 14th Ward. No relation to Carol or Dennis, I'm told.)

An Allegheny County political power couple.
In the club's initial endorsement ballot count, Coyne beat Itkin by three votes. But the matter was far from settled. Itkin supporters charged that three club members were prevented from voting, in contravention of common practice, if not the club's bylaws. At issue was whether the members had paid their dues up to two years prior to the meeting. If not, they had to have paid at least 30 days prior to the meeting to be eligible to vote. While the rule was on the books, it was rarely enforced; members often paid their dues on endorsement day and were permitted to vote.

Two of Itkin's supporters who were denied the vote subsequently produced canceled checks proving that they had paid their dues within two years. Another Itkin supporter submitted a signed and notarized affidavit saying that she had paid her dues in cash within the two-year period but had not received a receipt.

The club archives contain numerous letters from Itkin supporters, including one from three past club presidents resigning their club memberships, as well as a statement from then-club president John Burke and lengthy post-endorsement board meeting minutes that included plans for revising the by-laws.

Despite protestations from Itkin supporters that the vote was actually tied and that the outcome should be nullified, Burke sent a letter to members affirming that two Itkin supporters were improperly prevented from voting and were permitted to vote, but that their votes did not alter the outcome. While the club's slate card was printed and distributed with Coyne listed as the endorsed candidate, Itkin, who had the party's backing, went on to win the primary. Four years later she lost a re-election bid to George Matta, with Carol Coyne finishing third.

According to the June 11, 1995 board meeting minutes, Kathie Smith, the club's current president, "said she was concerned about the attempt to undermine the voters guide that was done at the expense of the other Club endorsed candidates. Endorsed candidates count on the integrity of the voters guide and its impact and it is inconsistent with Club policy to try to minimize it."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cyril Wecht Quits the Club - 1977

As noted in the previous post, 1977 was a barn-burner year in Pittsburgh politics. Pete Flaherty left the mayor's office early in the year to join the Carter Administration in Washington. He was succeeded by council president Richard Caligiuri, who got the job by agreeing to sit out the May primary. In the primary, the club endorsed Frank Lucchino, but Tom Foerster won the party endorsement. In the November general election, Caligiuri ran as an Independent and beat Foerster.

Dr. Wecht's diagnosis: " ... political machines distress (the club) almost to the point of an acute psychotic breakdown ..." [Click on image for a larger version.]

According to the club's archives, Cyril Wecht had a number of bones to pick with the club through the years. In 1977, he went ballistic over the club's endorsement of Lucchino.

As reported in the Post-Gazette article above, Wecht told a meeting of Foerster supporters at the Penn Shady Hotel in East Liberty that, "The extremely well-oiled, steamroller push by the Lucchino forces says more than a thousand words about the hypocrisy, intellectual inconsistency and moral dishonesty of the club."

Wecht told the club to rescind its endorsement of him as coroner and to exclude his name in primary election literature. As the slate card above shows, the club did not honor his request. A Pittsburgh Press article from the same week reported that Wecht withdrew as a club member.

And just to illustrate the deep roots of Pittsburgh Democratic politics and loyalties, note that Sophie Masloff, a club-endorsed city council candidate in 1977, announced her support this week for Jack Wagner for mayor. (Wagner made his first run for Pittsburgh City Council in 1981.) The club also endorsed Bill Coyne for council in 1977. Reliable sources report that Coyne is backing Jeanne Clark in this year's 8th District city council race. (Jeanne first ran for council in 1989.)

1977 was 36 years ago; just to put a fine point on it. I was 14 years old that spring, riding my bike around Brentwood, listening to 13Q and "Bohemian Rhapsody"on my red Radio Shack handle bar radio. I got my AARP card in the mail this week. I threw it away.

Stay tuned for more on Jeanne, Cyril and Pete Flaherty in future posts.

Molly Yard Quits the Club - 1977

Molly Yard, an assistant to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (!) and the eighth president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), is widely recognized as the club's founder.

According to her Wikipedia page (, she moved to Pittsburgh in 1953, worked on David L. Lawrence's gubernatorial campaign in 1958, led the Western Pennsylvania presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and George McGovern in 1972, and led an unsuccessful campaign to get NAACP President Byrd Brown the Democratic nomination to Congress.

In 1964 she made an unsuccessful run for the state legislature as a candidate from the 14th Ward. The club formed around her campaign.

Less well-known is that Yard apparently stepped down as president and quit the club in 1977 when she lost a race for ward chair following that year's tumultuous mayoral election. 

In a letter to club members announcing her resignation, Yard addressed an ongoing philosophical debate about the club's mission:
Molly Yard's club resignation letter, 1977.
Note the spilled coffee stains.
(Click on letter for larger version.)
“Some [club members] view it as a completely “independent” club with no real ties or responsibility to the Democratic Party, whereas I view the Club as made up of Democrats who want to influence the development of the Party in the 14th Ward and in Allegheny County, as well as influence the selection of candidates by the Party for public office.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Yard joined NOW's national staff the year after writing the letter, so she might have taken the occasion to make a dramatic exit. Still, it's good reading and raises an issues that remain relevant for the club today.
Molly Yard's New York Times obituary (2005) is at this link

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Brief History of Club Fundraisers

It's that time of year again. The club will host its third annual Progressive Visions video contest and fundraiser, Saturday, April 20, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room. The club finances itself almost exclusively through the fundraiser and membership dues.

The club's first fundraiser was held in August 1964, at Molly Yard’s house. Upwards of 400 tickets were sold, and some people were turned away. As a storm brewed on party day, some of the proceeds were eaten up in a last minute tent rental. Of course, it didn’t rain.

That event kicked off a long string of barbeques at what was then called the Schenley Park Athletic Pavilion (now Vietnam Veterans Pavilion). For $2.50 attendees got beer, hot dogs and stump speeches. In 1973 the price went up a buck.

Planning the sixth annual "Swanky Ball" (L to R): Nan Matthews; Beatrice Goldszer (Bicky!); Joyce Lee Itkin; and Barbara Fenton. [Click on picture for larger image.]
Another popular club function was the Swanky Ball, which was just the opposite of swanky. It was initially held at the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, later moving to the YMCA in Oakland. The price for the early balls was $7.50 for dancing and refreshments (booze was extra).

One year the club threw a “Stay at Home” fundraiser. (Stay home and send money!) It was reportedly a welcome break for some committee people who tired of the candidate fundraiser merry-go-round.

Another one-time fling was called the Tidal Basin Affair--in honor of U.S. Rep. Wilbur Mills’ famous watery frolic with stripper Fanne Foxe--and was held at a club member’s swimming pool.

Club fundraiser special guests have ranged from Donald Fraser, a liberal congressman from Minnesota who accepted an invitation to a 1965 barbeque, to political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz, and The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi. 

(Excerpted from "Founding of the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club", a talk delivered by club board member Nat Hershey at the February 13, 2006 meeting of the Squirrel Hill Historical Society.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Fond Farewell to Nat Melamed

Sad news. Nat Melamed, a club founding member, died over the weekend. He was still serving on the club's board just a few years ago. His obituary is here and below. A fairly quick skim through the club's archives shows that Nat was a very active board member, serving as Vice-Chairman in 1968 and Treasurer in 1975, for example. He also chaired the club's fundraiser in 1977, which was held at the Irene Kaufmann Settlement (now the Jewish Community Center), at Forbes and Murray Avenues. There's even a brief letter, typed on onion skin in 1966, from Nat to Robert Wholey, owner of Wholey's Fish Market in the Strip District, thanking him for his "assistance" and extending four complimentary tickets, presumably for a club fundraiser.

Dorothy and Nat Melamed - 2005 (I've contacted "Blacktie Pittsburgh" to purchase the photo.)
At a board meeting last night, club President Kathie Smith reminisced about a vacation that she spent at Nat and his wife Dorothy's home in Spain. Nat had donated a week's stay at the exotic locale for a fundraising auction for Just Harvest.


Age 89 of Squirrel Hill, passed away peacefully on Saturday, March 9, 2013. He is survived by his beloved wife, Dorothy; and his sons, David, Peter, and Paul, whom he loved very much. He was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1923 and emigrated to New York City in 1929. He attended Townsend Harris High School, City College of New York, and Brooklyn Polytechnic. After college, he worked on the Manhattan Project and later worked as a scientist at the Westinghouse research labs in Churchill, PA. He was a long standing board member of the PA chapter of the ACLU, a past president of the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, and a founding member of the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club. He loved cooking, folk dancing, and travel. A celebration of his life will be announced. Private memorial. Arrangements by THE RAPP FUNERAL HOME, 412-241-5415. Contributions may be made to the ACLU or the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society.
Send condolences at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Newsletters - 1965

Barbeque Fundraiser - 1966

Barbeque Fundraiser - 1965

The Club Presents "Death of a Salesman" - 1965

The classy invite below reads: "The 14th Ward Democratic Club requests the pleasure of your company at a benefit performance of the American Conservatory Theater Production of Mr. Arthur Miller's "Death of as Salesman" ... (click on the image to read more)"

According to Wikipedia: "American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) is a large non-profit theater company in San Francisco, California that offers both classical and contemporary theater productions. A.C.T. was founded in 1965 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Carnegie Mellon University by theatre and opera director William Ball. By invitation from San Francisco philanthropists and officials, Ball relocated the company to San Francisco."

Under Ball's Wikipedia entry is says that he "had a falling out with ACT's financial benefactors in Pittsburgh and took the company on the road."

I wonder if the club's event, which was scheduled for late October, actually went off. There are no other records in the archives about it, and the only thing listed at the history page on A.C.T.'s website for 1965 is this: "The first performance of Tartuffe at the Pittsburgh Playhouse inaugurates A.C.T. as a new resident theater company in Pittsburgh under the direction of William Ball."Actually, maybe it did happen. Actor David Margulies lists the production among his stage appearances on his website. He's been in a ton of movies and TV shows, including two Ghostbusters and 8 Sopranos

And Lynne Connor wrote a history of Pittsburgh theater that says that the play featured Richard Dysart. He's been in a bunch of movies too, like Being There, and The Day of the Locust.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All the Way with LBJ

This campaign freebie was intended to be worn as a fake breast pocket handkerchief--"Manufactured and sold by Hav-A-Hanky, Route 30, Irwin, PA".

Note the candidate at the bottom of the slate card - Club co-founder Molly Yard Garrett, for Representative in the General Assembly, 5th District. Not to mention two other women, endorsed for U.S. Senate and state Auditor General.

Running for State Rep in the Swingin' 60s

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In the Beginning ...

Pittsburgh Press reports on launch of 14th Ward Club - 1964
Nat Hershey leads Democratic voter registration drive - 1964