I suppose, before I start this particular entry, I should mention that I am, wholeheartedly, a nerd. And furthermore, I am a nerd with a tendency to fall down the rabbit-hole of the Internet, often following my curiosity, instead of completing whatever task it was that I went online to deal with in the first place. That is how I found myself reading a 1977 Pittsburgh Press article on Richard Caliguiri and his likely new role as City Council President, rather than signing up for the Richard S. Caliguiri Great Race 10K—it was a quick enough jump from the race website, to a Google search on the man (whose statue I’ve passed many times entering the City-County Building), to his Wikipedia page, to the sources from his Wikipedia, where this article was referenced. In any case.
In 1977, Pittsburgh City Council President Louis Mason resigned, after months of illness, with Warner’s Press article noting that he had only attended one council meeting since May of the previous year. His resignation would leave his seat open, for a term running until the end of 1979, as well as his position as City Council President, which would run through the end of the year.
Though the headline focuses on Caliguiri, the focus of the article is what will happen next for the soon-to-be open Council seat. There is an almost oddly detailed outline of procedure here, describing the process for the choice of the new Councilmember. Committees for each party will select nominees, who will then be voted upon in a special election on the ballot in May. Given the dominance of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh, both then and now, whoever the Democrats select will likely (and, in retrospect, did) be the new Councilmember.
Again, this article is interesting in retrospect. It is more significant than the author realizes that Caliguiri will be City Council President beginning March 14th, 1977, because it means that when then-Mayor Pete Flaherty is tapped to be U. S. Deputy Attorney General under President Jimmy Carter less than a month later, it is Caliguiri who takes over the mayorship. Caliguiri, of course, was mayor until his death in 1988—while he would win a special election later in 1977 to confirm his new role, his election to the Council President seat and subsequent appointment would begin his lengthy career as Pitstburgh mayor. In an offhand remark, Warner mentions that Sophie Masloff was elected they year before in the same type of special election that will select Mason’s replacement: Masloff would, upon Caliguiri’s death in office in 1988, become the first (and at this point only) woman to be Pittsburgh mayor.
There are, too, the quaint and offensive archaisms that are a part of reading anything more than about ten years old. Mason, as it turns out, was the only black member of Council at the time. This is a fair enough thing to mentioned. However, Mayor Pete Flaherty “said that he thought the seat should be filled by a black.” Which, I’ll be honest, is a phrase I don’t quite know how to talk about. At most I have this to say: of course, that is not a phrase that would be either printed in a newspaper or said by a politician (except, of course, Donald Trump, an exception I anticipate making many, many times over the next several years).
There is an aphorism, of somewhat debated origins, that “journalism is the first draft of history.” Perhaps that is true; newspapers record history as it’s happening. Except that it doesn’t quite: it records everything with the idea that some of it, eventually, will be important enough to be called history. It is the source of history, if nothing else.