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Allegheny County Council picks Natoli to fill Foerster's seat

Wednesday, February 09, 2000

By Jeffrey Cohan, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification (Published Feb. 10, 2000) Joe Natoli's name was barred from the ballot in last year's Allegheny County Council District 13 election because his financial disclosure statement arrived in the county manager's office one day after the March 9 deadline. The reason he was barred from the election was stated incorrectly in yesterday’s editions.

Joe Natoli, a veteran of Grant Street, was appointed yesterday to the Allegheny County Council seat left vacant by the death of Tom Foerster.

Joe Natoli is congratulated by well-wishers upon his being chosen by the Allegheny County Council last night to fill the vacancy created by the death of Tom Foerster. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette) 

Natoli, who retired in 1996 after a 45-year career in local government, was the choice of only four of the 14 council members in the first round of voting yesterday. Only after three additional rounds did Natoli muster eight votes, the minimum needed for the appointment.

The council had to pick from among 18 applicants.

"It was like a ballgame," Natoli said. "You don't know until it's over."

The appointment was a vindication for the 72-year-old Morningside resident. Last year, the county Democratic Party endorsed him instead of Foerster, who died Jan. 11. But a judge threw Natoli off the Democratic primary ballot because his financial disclosure statement arrived in the county manager's office one day after the March 9 deadline. Natoli waged a write-in campaign, but Foerster proceeded to an easy victory..

Now it is Natoli who will represent District 13 for the next 23 months.

"He beat Mr. Foerster for [the party] endorsement. I think he deserved our support," said Councilwoman Eileen Wagner, D-Scott, one of the four council members who supported Natoli in the first round of voting.

In the Gold Room of the county courthouse, where the council holds its meetings, Natoli will find himself in familiar surroundings. He attended county commissioner meetings there from 1986 to 1993 as the county's parks director.

And he will be taking the council seat originally reserved for the man who bounced him from the parks department. Foerster, then a county commissioner, teamed with fellow commissioner Pete Flaherty to demote Natoli to director of veterans services.

Natoli served three years in that job.

Prior to joining the county, he worked 35 years in the city Parks Department, starting on the bottom rung as a laborer and working his way up to assistant director.

Not surprisingly, he listed parks and veterans services as his two main areas of interest as a new councilman.

"You don't hear much about veterans anymore," he said, lamenting budget cuts in veterans services. About parks, he said, "There is some fat that has to be trimmed there."

In his off hours, Natoli coached football for 36 years, including the Morningside Bulldogs and the semiprofessional Morningside Vi-kings. He also was instrumental 50 years ago in starting a Little League program in Morningside.

Born in Bloomfield, he attended Central Catholic High School but dropped out.

"In those days, when the family needed help, you worked," he said.

Natoli will hold the District 13 seat only until the end of next year. He has vowed not to compete in next year's election, when District 13 voters will choose someone to fill the final two years of Foerster's unexpired term.

So in selecting Natoli, the council avoided giving the advantage of incumbency to any of the candidates in next year's election.

"It makes it an open seat. It kind of takes us off the hook," said Councilman Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, who voted for Stanton Heights resident Renee DeMichiei-Farrow, owner of a window-decorating business.

In the fourth round of voting, Natoli received eight votes to DeMichiei-Farrow's four. David Armstrong, an attorney, received the other two votes.

Voting for Natoli were Wagner; Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline; Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park; Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale; Jan Rea, R-McCandless; Tom Shumaker, R-Pine; Ron Francis, R-Ben Avon; and Council President John DeFazio, D-Shaler.

DeMichiei-Farrow's supporters were Fitzgerald; Mike Crossey, D-Mt. Lebanon; Dave Fawcett, R-Oakmont; and Rick Schwartz, D-Plum. Richard Olasz Sr., D-West Mifflin, and James Simms, D-Hill District, voted for Armstrong.

In the first round, before the council began paring the field, seven applicants received votes, but only Natoli had more than two. DeMichiei-Farrow, Joseph Lagana, James Burn Jr., and Richard Stahl each had two, while David Armstrong and Malcolm Hardie picked up one apiece.

Under the county's home-rule charter, council had to appoint someone from the same political party as Foerster, the last person elected to the seat.

District 13 includes Millvale, Pittsburgh's North Side neighborhoods, Downtown, the Bluff, the lower Hill, Strip District, Polish Hill, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Gar-field, and all or parts of Knoxville, South Side, Arlington Heights, Allentown and Beltzhoover.

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