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Newsmaker: Jim Genco heading move to unseat Murphy

Monday, August 25, 2003

By Bill Toland, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When he stepped into the voting booth two years ago -- and six years ago and 10 years ago -- Jim Genco pulled the lever for Tom Murphy.

He campaigned for Murphy.

Jim Genco, of Lawrenceville, is leading the effort to impeach Mayor Tom Murphy. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

Newsmaker: James Anthony Genco

Date of birth: March 8, 1955

Place of birth: Pittsburgh

In the news: Genco is the Lawrenceville man who began circulating petitions calling for Mayor Tom Murphy's impeachment two weeks ago. Already, he and a handful of volunteers have collected more than 800 signatures.

Quote: "You know what, Tom? You failed us as taxpayers and as homeowners. You could save this city a lot of embarrassment nationally if you just stepped down."

Education: He attended Arsenal School in Lawrenceville and quit his junior year.

Family: Genco has been married for 30 years. He and his wife, Sandra, have two adult sons, James and Tony.

He invited the guy into his home.

Funny how a couple hundred layoffs and one massive budget crisis can strain the relationship between a man and his mayor.

These days, there is little that would please Genco more than to see Murphy removed from office.

Genco, a lifelong Lawrenceville resident, has been circulating petitions calling for Murphy's impeachment. So far, he's collected more than 800 signatures, many of them during the frequent protests outside the City-County Building, Downtown.

He hopes to have 3,000 signatures by the time he's done. He started distributing the petitions the same week Murphy announced his plans to layoff 731 city workers.

"Everybody wants to sign it," he said. "I have people coming up to me and saying, 'I voted for him, [but] give me the damn petition.'"

Grounds for impeachment under the city charter are broad -- mental incapacity, incompetence, neglect of duty, mismanagement or corruption.

The charter allows as few as 20 city voters to petition Common Pleas Court to start the process, but one legal scholar said he believes the procedure set forth in the charter is invalid -- that the state constitution takes precedence.

According to the charter, if citizens petition the court for impeachment, a judge reviews the complaints to determine if they are reasonable. If so, the judge must appoint a citizen investigating committee to make a written report. If the committee finds the complaints well-founded, City Council would sit as an impeachment jury.

If council convicted the mayor, the judge would declare the office vacant, and City Council President Gene Ricciardi would become mayor.

Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University Law School professor who teaches state constitutional law, said Genco's impeachment bid is likely to be tossed out of Common Pleas Court.

He said both case law and the state constitution suggest that impeachment must begin in the Legislature.

Article 6, Section 4 of the constitution says the House of Representatives reserves "sole power of impeachment" over local elected officials.

For Genco to get the House to begin impeachment proceedings, he'd have to find a state representative willing to bring the issue to the House floor. If the House decided to bring charges, the state Senate would try the case, with a two-thirds vote required for conviction.

The state Legislature doesn't impeach public officials very often. Pennsylvania's only impeachment since the early 1800s came in 1994, when state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen was impeached on seven counts of misbehavior in office and convicted on one of those counts.

Despite the unlikelihood of success, Genco says his effort is not a political stunt.

Unlike in California, where the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is being financed by a wealthy Republican, this impeachment is being organized by a member of Murphy's own political party. Genco and his family are all registered Democrats.

Genco said he takes no pleasure in pursuing Murphy's ouster, but feels as if he has no choice. At a Lawrenceville Block Watch meeting six weeks ago, Genco told Murphy that if the mayor didn't start cleaning up the town, Genco would start cleaning house.

"He was good in his time, but he's changed," Genco said, adding that he still thinks he made the right call by voting for Murphy over his Republican challenger, James Carmine, and his Democratic primary opponent, Bob O'Connor, two years ago. "He used to be a listener. He went from being people-oriented to being corporation-oriented."

In picking a fight with Murphy, Genco said he is fighting for his neighborhood, which he characterized as having deteriorated in recent years, and being overrun by weeds, crime and rats the size of lap dogs.

"I keep fishing the rats out of my pond," he said from the rear deck of his home, overlooking his narrow back yard.

Genco was born 48 years ago in the three-level Denny Street row house that he still calls home. His Italian family has been in Lawrenceville for four generations -- his mother owned the house before he did, as did his grandmother and great-grandmother.

His ties to the mayor's office extend beyond the Murphy administration, if only tenuously -- Ebenezer Denny, the man for whom Denny Street is named, was Pittsburgh's first mayor and once owned the plot of land on which Genco now lives.

The neighborhood, he says, much resembles the one he came into nearly a half-century ago as the last of 11 children. His neighbors are the same, his friends are the same.

After he married, at age 18, Genco began working for a canvas company on the North Side. When that company folded, he opened his own company, Genco Canvas. He worked there until 1990, stitching banners for local sports teams, replacing tent zippers and making the upholstery used in the private boxes at the demolished Three Rivers Stadium.

Genco, who stopped working in 1990 because of a heart condition, spends most of his waking hours these days leading the charge against Murphy, distributing and collecting petitions, talking on the phone, doing radio interviews. Some days, he doesn't sleep until 2 a.m.

Wearing a "Fire Mayor Murphy" T-shirt -- he had 120 of them printed for $500 -- Genco said that after four generations in Lawrenceville, he's thinking about moving out of the city.

"I walk the street, and everyone knows my name," he said. "But I'm not sure it's worth the aggravation anymore."

Bill Toland can be reached at or 412-263-1601.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Aug. 26, 2003) A petition is being circulated calling for the impeachment of Mayor Tom Murphy. A caption accompanying a photo of a petitioner in yesterday's editions referred to the effort as a recall, which is not allowed under the city charter.

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