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West Neighborhoods
Newsmaker: Mel Weinstein / Kennedy politico worked his way up

Monday, September 30, 2002

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

During the 1999 primary election, a Kennedy woman exchanged words with township tax collector Mel Weinstein at a polling place, calling him a vulgar name.

A few days later, Bonnie Parent received a summons in the mail from Kennedy police charging her with disorderly conduct and harassment. Weinstein admitted during a hearing a couple of months later that the criminal complaint was filed at his direction.

A district justice who heard the testimony of Weinstein and others decided no law had been broken and dropped the charges.

But to Parent and others, the incident reinforced the perception that Weinstein, a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic community, was a force to be reckoned with.

That perception was underscored recently in a report commissioned by the Allegheny County Board of Elections. Based on an investigation by Republican attorney Robert W. Oswiany, it said a handwriting analysis showed that Weinstein completed 28 absentee ballots for municipal races in the 1997 general election.

Parent is among a group of Kennedy residents who have charged for several years that Weinstein was behind other election irregularities and shenanigans in township operations. The group, the Kennedy Township Committee for Community Awareness, has been stymied in attempts to review public records and forced to sue the township for access.

The FBI, at the direction of the U.S. attorney's office, began an investigation earlier this year of the voter fraud allegations.

The elections board sent its report to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., a former Kennedy solicitor, for further investigation.

Weinstein, 63, has declined to comment on the voter fraud allegations. Last week, he declined again to be interviewed when reached at his office in the basement of the Kennedy municipal building.

His son, Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, has come to his father's defense in interviews and letters.

After the weekly Suburban Gazette newspaper in McKees Rocks published the entire 29-page report, John Weinstein sent Editor Jim DiNardo a three-page letter on county letterhead and said his father was guilty only of "dedicating such an enormous portion of his life to Kennedy Township."

Like many Western Pennsylvanians, Mel Weinstein and his family live in the area where they were raised. Weinstein and his son occupy two of the five houses on Luann Drive. The other three houses are occupied by Weinstein relatives.

The oldest Weinstein son, Christopher, and a daughter, Jacqueline Evans, also live nearby.

Melvin Weinstein grew up down the hill from his current home in Kennedy, in the Pittock section of Stowe. His father, Noah, left the family when Weinstein was very young and his mother, Pearl Panizzi, raised him and his three sisters in a rundown rented apartment on Fleming Avenue.

A neighbor, Edith Spardy, said the four-unit building was dilapidated.

"I used to call it 'Skid Row,' that's how much I hated it," she said.

Spardy, who still lives in the neighborhood along the Ohio River, said she still sees Weinstein at Pittock reunions.

"He a nice man," she said.

Weinstein's mother was raised in a house about 50 feet from the apartment building. Her father -- Mel's grandfather -- lived in the house at the end of Fleming Avenue when her children were growing up.

Weinstein was still living in Pittock when he married his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline Petrelli, in 1958. Weinstein and his wife, who grew up in the Hanover Heights section of Stowe, graduated from the former Stowe High School in 1956 and were married at Mother of Sorrows Church near Jackie Weinstein's childhood home.

The couple were required to obtain their parents' signatures on the marriage license because at 19, they were under the age of consent.

After high school, Weinstein got a job at the J&L Steel mill in Aliquippa. He worked for more than three decades for the steelmaker and its successor company, LTV Steel.

As his income increased, Weinstein moved up, from Pittock to a Stowe hillside overlooking the old neighborhood and then to Kennedy. The Weinsteins lived in the Ohioview Acres public housing development before they moved to a home a few blocks from their current residence of 29 years on Luann Drive.

Weinstein entered the political arena in the early 1970s. He lined up with a group of residents opposed to the continuation of a neighborhood dump and won his first election as township commissioner in 1973.

After 20 years as a commissioner, Weinstein in 1994 assumed his current elected position as tax collector. In recognition of his tenure as a commissioner, the township made Weinstein one of the municipality's first two honorees at a banquet.

Weinstein, a eucharistic minister at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Kennedy, prides himself on being a religious man. A cross hangs from the rearview mirror of his car and he opens each township meeting with an invocation.

Kennedy has seen its share of municipal mishaps during Weinstein's 28 years as an elected official. Aside from the voter fraud allegations, police officers have been charged with arranging phony incidents and stealing $11,000 from Weinstein's predecessor in the tax collection office. Weinstein had a well-publicized series of run-ins in the 1980s with former Police Chief Sam Karpa, who was suspended, fired and reinstated over Weinstein's objections.

Kennedy politics are rough sometimes, too. Once, someone threw a powerful M-100 firecracker -- equal to a quarter-stick of dynamite -- through the front window of an unsuccessful school board candidate's home as he sat just beyond the window with his wife and young child.

Weinstein has seen many familiar faces in Kennedy politics and municipal government, as well as county government.

His son-in-law, Jubal Evans, is a former township commissioner. A cousin, Mark Panizzi, is a current commissioner, and another relative is a dispatcher. Other relatives are involved in Kennedy's Democratic party organization. Beside his son, John, serving as county treasurer, Weinstein's daughter-in-law, Kim Weinstein, is secretary for U.S. District Judge David Cercone, and a niece works for Common Pleas Judge Robert Gallo.

Mike Bucsko can be reached at mbucsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1732.

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