Saturday, September 02, 2006


It's not uncommon, while campaigning, to hear individuals express the opinion that all politicians are "crooks." In fact, that's sometimes the more charitable term you hear used to describe elected officials. Perhaps the bad reputation is deserved -- we do have some people in public positions who over time care more about being elected and re-elected than they do about serving their constituents.

But we also have many good people in public life.

It's been reassuring in the last few days to hear positive things said about Mayor Bob O'Connor, who Friday night died of cancer -- after less than nine months of holding the position he sought in three elections. It's reassuring to hear citizens praise a man who was certainly a "politician" -- a term I doubt Mayor O'Connor was afraid to embrace.

While some have given the word "politician" a negative connotation, there should be no shame in being active in politics and seeking elective office. This is, after all, what makes our democratic republic work -- tireless candidates in contested elections in which the issues of the day are brought forward.

It's especially good, I think, to hear people speak of Mayor O'Connor's genuinely friendly nature and his willingness to shake any hand. If this sense of optimism, kindness and camaraderie can lead anyone to be described as the "Quintessential Pittsburgher," perhaps it is the late mayor.

In the days ahead, I suspect we will hear many "the day I met Bob O'Connor" stories. Here's mine:

I had the opportunity to meet Bob O'Connor twice in the past year -- at the 2006 Mel Blount Youth Home Dinner when he was seated at the table next to ours; and in a random encounter last October in Squirrel Hill.

In October 2005, I was working on the campaign of Roger Wise for Allegheny County Judge. That particular day, I was either dropping off or picking up some promotional items at the headquarters of Bob O'Connor's GOP opponent for Pittsburgh mayor, Joe Weinroth. Returning to my car parked down the street the Weinroth HQ, I saw a casually-dressed Bob O'Connor walking down the street with some others. I greeted him and handed him one of Roger's bright yellow "Wise for Judge" jar openers (just a plastic gripper, really). He greeted me with a smile and accepted the jar opener, agreeing with the appeal of the items to voters.

"People love these," he said, wishing me good luck and continuing on his way.

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