2016 Election | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 4:03 PM

click to enlarge How did progressive Josh Shapiro win the Pennsylvania attorney general race in a GOP-dominated election?
Image courtesy of campaign
Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro
This Election Day, Pennsylvania turned red for the first time since 1988. President-elect Donald Trump won the state by 49,000 votes and Senator Pat Toomey won re-election by 92,000 votes. Toomey and Trump differed on trade, but both candidates pushed an anti-immigrant, pro-police campaign. It seemed a clear statement that Pennsylvanians, particularly in rural counties, want the Republican party in charge of their future.

So how in the world did Democrat Josh Shapiro, arguably running on the most progressive principles of any Pennsylvania candidate, win the state’s attorney-general election?

John Hanley, a political-science professor at Duquesne University, believes that most Pennsylvanians weren’t very aware of the candidates for non-national seats like state attorney general, and thus stuck more to their partisan allegiances.

“When you look at this set of election results, take the top of the ballot and separate from the rest,” says Hanley. “Most people don't know who these people are, so most people rely on the standard partisan bias.”

So having almost one million more Democrats registered in Pennsylvania than Republicans helped Shapiro and fellow Democrats Eugene DePasquale (state auditor general) and Joseph Torsella (state treasurer) secure victories by surprisingly similar margins, says Hanley.

But G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., thinks it was a concentrated effort by the Philadelphia suburbs that secured Shapiro his victory.

“The [Democrats] won all three statewide row-office elections, largely because of more ticket-splitting in the Philly 'burbs,” wrote Madonna in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper. “Shapiro ran many TV commercials there which certainly helped him. [And those commercials] did not focus on a liberal agenda.”

Shapiro on his campaign website championed progressive policies like LGBT rights, prosecuting frackers who pollute, and standing up to Wall Street, but his commercials mostly concentrated on the state’s opioid epidemic and support from the police. And when it came down to it, Madonna says, Shapiro might just have been a better campaigner than his opponent, Republican John Rafferty.

“The Republicans did very little by comparison,” wrote Madonna. “Shapiro was more aggressive campaigning, going all over the state.”

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2016 at 3:47 PM

click to enlarge Consolation prize: Allegheny County turns bluer among historic GOP victory in Pennsylvania
Image courtesy of www.alleghenycounty.us
Allegheny County Seal
Allegheny County did its part for the Democrats. In last week's presidential election, Southwestern Pennsylvania's largest county increased its Democratic turnout from 2012 by 11,000 voters and shrunk its Republican turnout by 5,000.

But, Philadelphia helped to screw them over. The state’s largest county decreased its 2012 Democratic turnout by 26,000 and increased its Republican turnout by 9,000. Our 16,000 Democratic voter net gain was easily wiped out by Philly’s 35,000 net loss.

Philadelphia even contrasted its own suburbs. Its suburban counties (Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester), had a net gain of 54,000 Democratic voters compared to the 2012 election.

But Philly can’t take all the blame for Pennsylvania turning red for the first time since 1988, since even if the City of Brotherly Love matched its 2012 Democratic voting levels, the state still would have come up 30,000 votes short of a Hillary Clinton victory.

And while Allegheny County increased their Dem voters, (an impressive feat considering the county population has stayed the same since 2012), the progressives in the Steel City had little impact in convincing its surrounding counties that Democratic causes are in their best interest.

Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland became radically more Republican in the 2016 election, helping President-elect Donald Trump gain the edge he needed to secure Pennsylvania. Those three counties gave a 38,000 net voting edge to Republicans compared to 2012. The Pittsburgh progressives are growing, but they might just be making their bubble more impenetrable, not expanding it to circumvent the Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Nov 3, 2016 at 4:36 PM

click to enlarge U.S. Senator Pat Toomey attacked by left and right in final week before election
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Sen. Pat Toomey
It’s been a bad week for U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator from Lehigh County went on a Philadelphia television news show and defended some of his stances, like how he believes Roe V. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal, was the wrong choice, but was mostly confronted with repeated requests from the show’s hosts, asking him if he was going to vote for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“I will give you credit for serious persistence,” said Toomey on Fox 29 Philadelphia.

Toomey dodged hosts' questions 10 times on whether he will vote for Trump. He was so Trump-averse that he even dodge a question about whether Trump should release his tax returns. (Just like Toomey has yet to say whether he endorses the real estate mogul, Trump has yet to release his tax returns.)

Toomey said on the show that voters care more about his stance on security and economic issues than whether he endorses Trump. “I don’t think they care nearly as much as you guys do,” said Toomey to the hosts.

And on top of the all the Trump questions, Toomey has been getting for the past two months, and the consistent TV attack ads about his Wall Street background, Toomey has a new attacker.

On Nov. 3, the National Association for Gun Rights harshly criticized Toomey for his past effort to pass background check legislation in 2013 (the bill came up short and failed to clear the Senate). While Toomey has been avoiding any semblance of an allegiance toward Trump, the NAGR is actually more worried about the possibilities a Toomey-Clinton alliance would have towards gun rights.

“The prospects of a new Clinton-Toomey gun control deal next year are too big for gun rights supporters to ignore,” said NAGR President Dudley Brown in a press release. “That’s why we’re encouraging our members to urge Toomey to abandon his anti-gun positions right now. It simply cannot wait.”

All of this and six polls released this week show Toomey trailing his Democratic opponent Katie McGinty, including a Franklin and Marshall College poll that has McGinty up by 12 points. At a Nov. 3 press conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Braddock mayor and McGinty surrogate John Fetterman said Toomey is withering away this week.

“The polls show there is a wave of good judgement among Pennsylvanians right now,” said Fetterman at the press conference. “Pennsylvania voters are coming home and deciding whose side the they are on.”

Representatives from Sen. Toomey's campaign did not respond to request for comment by press time.

Stay tuned, Toomey said on Fox 29 Philadelphia that he will “probably” decide on whether he will vote for Trump before election day. Until then, check out Toomey’s interview on Fox 29 Philadelphia below.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 2:14 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania LGBT-rights leaders wary of Trump presidency's potential impact on state
Image courtesy of Human Rights Campaign
Last week, an employee at one of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s golf courses filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired because he is gay. Eleazar Andres says in the lawsuit that shortly after he revealed he was gay to his co-workers at Trump’s Pine Hill golf course in New Jersey, several of his co-workers threw rocks and golf balls and yelled gay slurs at him. Andres filed a police report, and said in the lawsuit that he was fired shortly after.

Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus (D-South Side), the city’s first openly gay politician, spoke out last week against the alleged misdeed, calling for more protection for LGBT people.

"In too many places in our country, you can get married on a Sunday and fired on a Monday. No one should suffer harassment because of who they are or who they love — not from Donald Trump or anyone else,” said Kraus in a press release. “This is just another example of the discrimination that LGBT Americans still face far too often.”

Levana Layendecker, of statewide LGBT-advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, says stories like the lawsuit point to the Republican candidate’s inconsistent record on LGBT equality. In April, Trump said transgender people could use whatever bathroom they felt most comfortable in, but a month later said the decision should be left up to state legislators.

But Layendecker says Trump’s choice as a running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, set in stone that the Republican ticket is anti-LGBT.

“Mike Pence is absolutely the most anti-LGBT governor in country,” says Layendecker. “If that is any indication of what we are looking forward to in Trump’s America, then we are worried.”

Pence has supported “religious freedom” laws that LGBT groups say would increase discrimination and has opposed laws that prohibit LGBT discrimination in the workplace. Layendecker also worries that Trump’s calls to Pennsylvanians to monitor the polls, will only increase voter intimidation, that many in the LGBT community already feel.

“Voter intimidation is very real in the LGBT community,” says Layendecker. “People in the LGBT community are targets for bullying in a real way. And the idea that someone would stand in front of the polling place and intimidate people, that is very worrisome.”

But Layendecker says this has only re-ignited Equality Pennsylvania’s push for equal rights for LGBT individuals. The group has knocked on 100,000 doors (and plans to knock on 100,000 more) to inform people of the potential trouble of the Trump-Pence ticket, and also to talk about its ongoing fight to pass the PA Fairness Act. The bill would provide statewide housing and workplace protections for LGBT people. (Thirty-six municipalities offer protection, including Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, but outside of those, it’s still legal to fire someone for identifying as LGBT.)

Last week, Pennsylvania’s state assembly failed again to pass the act through the legislature. For 12 years, Equality Pennsylvania has been trying to get the Fairness Act through, and this year there was some progress. The act was voted out of committee in the state Senate, but was held up after two Republican Senators called for public hearings on the bill. Now the bill will have to start the process over again come the new year.

Gov. Wolf has pledged to sign the bill if it comes to his desk, and polling completed by Equality Pennsylvania shows that 75 percent of Pennsylvanians support the bill. Layendecker says it’s just a matter of educating everyone, so the whole state can advocate for LGBT rights.

“So much progress has been made on LGBT rights, we have to go back and remind people that those protections don’t exist here,” says Layendecker. “People can’t believe that it hasn't already happened.”

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 12:57 PM

Odds are you are sick of all the political ads by now. Pennsylvania has broadcast the most U.S. Senate race ads of any state so far, and there will be about $12 million spent in radio and TV ads from Oct. 21 through Election Day in Pennsylvania, according to media analyst Kantar Media.

But get ready for some more, and this time it’s for a race you probably haven’t heard of. Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District race is pitting incumbent Republican Keith Rothfus against Democratic challenger Erin McClelland. The 12th District encompasses parts of six Western Pennsylvania counties and slices through most of northern Allegheny County.

Rothfus’ new ad, which is his second of the 2016 campaign, is overwhelmingly positive. “Some say our best days are behind us, don’t believe it. Western Pennsylvania built this country and we can rebuild it,” said Rothfus in his ad. This theme runs in stark contrast to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s message of a country choked by violent crime and hindered by rigged systems. Ironically, Rothfus supports Trump and even stumped for him at a rally in Ambridge this month.

Rothfus' ad is also pretty vague, but he says he will “cut red red tape, fix our broken tax code and reform our health-care system.” This is basically U.S. House Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” plan, which proposes privatizing part of Medicare, which the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice says it will cut taxes for the top 1 percent of American earners. 

McClelland’s ad proposes changes. She says she is “running for Congress, because Wall Street and the big banks have been calling the shots in Washington for far too long.” Her changes seem to be straight out of the progressive handbook: stop unfair trade deals, lower health-care costs, reduce student debt, and protect Social Security and Medicare.

While McClelland says “enough is enough” for big-money involvement, the ad refrains from any attacks on Rothfus. However, she did not pull any punches in a campaign email announcing the ad. “Unlike Keith Rothfus, I plan to stand for the middle class, not Wall Street,” wrote McClelland, “offer real solutions for working-class families, not blame and finger-point, and give Western PA a Representative that is truly there for them, not Washington cronies and lobbyists."

Prior to the 2012 election, the 12th District was redrawn, and Rothfus has held the seat ever since. He defeated McClelland in 2014 by more than 18 percentage points. But in 2014, McClelland wasn’t able to raise enough money for any TV ads, while Rothfus raised $1.7 million. This year, both candidates are hitting the airwaves, but Rothfus still has a significant fundraising edge of more than $1 million.

For more election coverage, make sure to pick up City Paper for our biannual Election Issue, out Wed., Oct. 26. 

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 11:15 AM

On Oct. 12, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) was repeatedly asked by reporters at a campaign press conference about whether he will denounce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for Trump's recorded comments about women as heard on the 2005 Access Hollywood videotape released last Friday. On the tape, Trump brags about touching women without their consent

Toomey has condemned the comments, but has not definitively stated if he supports or denounces Trump, a position he has held since Trump secured the Republican nomination. (Toomey supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries.)

"I don't know, but I am not defending Donald Trump," said Toomey at the press conference. "I have said, I find his candidacy very problematic. I had hoped by now I would have been convinced to been an enthusiastic supporter, but I remain unpersuaded."

Toomey is the only U.S. senator running for re-election who has not decided whether or not he supports Trump. This months-long waffling has even caught the attention of  late-night comedians, including Jimmy Kimmel who satirized it on Oct. 13 (see above).

A narrator in the video, pretending to be Toomey, even gets in an argument with himself. "I am proud to support him for office. No, I'm not. Yes, I am. Am not. Am so!"

Democrat Katie McGinty, who is running against Toomey, has consistently called for Toomey to take a position on Trump. She told City Paper on Oct. 13 that Toomey needs to denounce Trump soon, because the issue is important to Pennsylvania voters, and dodging the Trump issue is a political move. 

"It seems to me that Sen. Toomey is putting his political interest ahead of his constituents," said McGinty. 

The first debate between the senate candidates takes place on Oct. 17, in Pittsburgh, on KDKA at 7 p.m. 

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 at 6:15 PM

click to enlarge Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey renews attacks on sanctuary cities
CP Photo by Ryan Deto
Pat Toomey at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh
This summer, Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) introduced a bill that would cut federal funding to cities that institute sanctuary-city policies. These policies prevent local law enforcement from communicating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or holding undocumented immigrants for extended periods without a federal warrant.

In July, Toomey’s bill failed to obtain the majority vote necessary to clear the Senate. But at an Oct. 12 campaign stop in Pittsburgh, he reiterated his support for defunding and ending sanctuary cities.

“We did not succeed that day, but I am not giving up,” said Toomey. “I am going to continue in this effort because we have to end sanctuary cities.”

Toomey held his campaign stop at Lodge 1 of the Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police, where he held a roundtable discussion with local law-enforcement leaders and Republican officials. Toomey discussed legislation he has introduced that he says is law-enforcement-friendly, including allowing local police access to military-style gear, exempting police and firefighters from pension offsets related to Social Security, and creating a rule that would weigh in favor of the death penalty for people who kill an officer serving in the line of duty.

The Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Toomey in his re-election bid, but FOP Lodge 1 PAC chairman Anthony Beatty said the group has not done any work with the senator on his sanctuary-city bill. The FOP did not issue a comment on whether it supports the bill.

Toomey called sanctuary policies “madness.”

“The fact that a person is here illegally in these sanctuary cities, confers a special legal protection that makes it impossible for the police to cooperate,” said Toomey. “This endangers all of us; the city of Philadelphia is arguably the most radical sanctuary city in America, and it’s gotta end.”

However, a 2015 study by the American Immigration Council shows that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born populations, and data from Syracuse University shows that the majority of undocumented immigrants detained have no local criminal record. When asked if he has any plans to address the millions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants, Toomey said that that is a “controversial” but “separate issue.”

“That is like saying what do we do about the flaws in our tax code," said Toomey. "It's another issue, it's important, but it's unrelated to the dangerous security issue that arise from sanctuary cities.”

Immigrant-rights advocates disagree with that notion. Sundrop Carter, of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, told City Paper last month that politicians attacking sanctuary policies are merely attacking cities that have implemented welcoming strategies for immigrants. Carter adds that deportations are occurring in every county in Pennsylvania, even those with sanctuary policies.

Additionally, as CP reported in July, advocates say sanctuary policies can protect undocumented immigrants who are charged with minor crimes from falling into the hands of immigration officers. Helen Gym, a city councilor from Philadelphia, attended the People’s Convention in July and said that sanctuary policies can actually increase trust between undocumented immigrants and local law enforcement

“We don’t want people to be afraid to call the police to report crimes like burglary, etc.,” said Gym. “It is not the responsibility of local police departments to enforce immigration laws, since they are federal laws.”

Toomey also said at the press conference that he does not support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and that creating one would be “problematic.”

Toomey is in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Katie McGinty in his bid for re-election. Real Clear Politics, which averages out poll data, has Toomey with razor-thin .04 percent lead over McGinty. 

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 12:55 PM

During a candidate's forum last week at Penn State New Kensington, Blake Gober, the communications director for Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, called the act of funding groups like Planned Parenthood "Hitleresque."
click to enlarge Video: Aide to Congressman Keith Rothfus calls funding Planned Parenthood "Hitleresque"
Photo by Charlie Deitch
Erin McClelland and Keith Rothfus during a debate at Penn State Beaver Oct. 6.

Gober was at the forum as a surrogate for Rothfus when he made the comments at the end of an answer to a question on reproductive rights.

"The idea that we will take federal money to murder innocent children is absolutely absurd, wrong and borderline Hitleresque. Period," Gober said. (Jump to the comments in the video here.) 

That led McCelland to respond: "Well, I’ve been called a lot of things but Hitler, that’s a new one."

Gober responded: "I wasn’t calling you a Hitler."

But McCelland clearly felt the comment was aimed at anyone who supports a woman's right to choose. Two days later, she brought the comment up on stage during a debate with Rothfus at Penn State Beaver in Monaca.

"Mr Rothfus, on Tuesday night at a panel I was on, you had a representative there, and we were all asked about an issue regarding a woman's reproductive rights, and your representative referred to women on my side of the issue as Hitleresque. That was the word," McClelland said, to which an audience member replied, "They are." 

Pittsburgh City Paper reached out to Gober and to Rothfus' campaign for comment this morning and have yet to receive a response. We will update this post if we hear back.

When asked for comment this morning, McClelland wrote in an email to CP: "While it is appalling that Keith Rothfus's campaign would invoke Adolf Hitler when it comes to the issue of providing women's health care such as breast and cervical cancer screenings and contraception, it is unfortunately no surprise. Mr. Rothfus voted against the Violence Against Women Act and as recently as last week, voted against Zika research funding to protect unborn babies from horrible birth defects caused when their pregnant mothers contract the virus. Keith Rothfus should be ashamed of his campaign for opposing these vital services, and he should refrain from using vitriolic rhetoric in attempts to justify his indefensible position."

In the video, Gober talks about the more than $500 million in federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives annually. When asked if Rothfus supported funding the organization, Gober replied, "No, not at all, not one penny. Period." Gober said claims that denying funding for Planned Parenthood means denying funding for women's reproductive health care is a "feminist argument" and he doesn't think it holds up.

"I'll point them to the hundreds and hundreds of clinics throughout the Commonwealth that provide services without abortion," Gober said. "That's not what this fight's about. This fight is about abortion."

Regardless of what the fight is about, it's hard not to think about Godwin's Law that says comparing anything to Hitler usually means you're losing the argument.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 6:07 PM

click to enlarge Donald Trump's last two buildings used Chinese steel; Pennsylvania AFL-CIO cry foul
CP photo by Ashley Murray
Donald Trump speaking at a aluminium processing plant in Monessen, Pa.
In April, when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump first campaigned in Pittsburgh, he promised thousands of attendees at a Downtown rally that he would bring back the steel industry. This was his first "Make America Steel Again" mention, and Trump continued to make this claim at events across the country in the following months.

Now, a new article shows that while Trump claims to be a supporter of the U.S. steel industry, he actually avoided using American-made steel for two of his last three construction projects. Instead, he opted to use Chinese-manufactured steel, according to Newsweek. Trump International Hotel Las Vegas was completed in 2008 and used Chinese steel, as did Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, which opened in 2009.  (Trump has been very critical of China and trade policies in speeches.)

And Rick Bloomingdale, president of Pennsylvania American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), said this is further prof that Trump is a "fraud." 

“Donald Trump claims to care about improving the economy for American workers, but his track record proves he’s a hypocrite," said Bloomingdale in a press release. "His use of Chinese steel falls in line with his history of producing Trump products overseas, showing little concern for working families who depend on good manufacturing jobs."

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO secretary Frank Snyder said Trump cannot be trusted to help steelworkers. 

"Trump has a proven history of choosing to fill his own pockets rather than those of American workers," said Snyder in a press release. "Working people can’t risk a Trump presidency, which would be driven by corporate greed."

We can't say we are that surprised about this latest Trump revelation, since he has a knack for making empty promises on Pennsylvania industry. Last month, City Paper pointed out Trump's claims to unleash the fracking industry were mostly bogus, since the industry has been mostly free of strict regulations for years.

Just 35 more days till the election

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 5:13 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher hangs on Donald Trump’s jet in a ‘more than memorable’ experience
Donald Trump and Post-Gazette Publisher/Editor-in-Chief John Robinson Block
Earlier this year, an online news site reported on a possible primary-election endorsement of Donald Trump by the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In that report, Philadelphia-based Billy Penn talked to sources in the P-G newsroom who were unhappy about any possible endorsement. The website wrote: “Some Post-Gazette reporters are worried about their paper’s credibility should it support the billionaire candidate who’s campaigned on a platform that includes deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, building a wall between the United States and Mexico and banning Muslims from entering the country.”

If staffers were worried then, they couldn’t have been happy to learn that John Robinson Block, the paper’s publisher and editor-in-chief, spent a little time in Toledo Wednesday hanging out on Donald Trump’s private plane and getting his picture taken with the Republican presidential nominee. The visit was even documented in the Toledo Blade, the P-G’s sister publication in Ohio.

According to the paper: “After the campaign rally, Mr. Trump met with Blade Publisher and Editor-in-Chief John Robinson Block and Blade Editorial Page Editor Keith Burris on his plane at Toledo Express Airport.”

Sources tell City Paper that the photo was posted on Block’s Facebook page under the caption: “In 39 years of full time journalism I’ve met many interesting people. This one was more than memorable.” Both men are smiling and Trump is giving a thumbs up.

Asked via email for comment about the photo, and whether it could suggest that the P-G might be slanted toward Mr. Trump, an email from the Post-Gazette’s Deb Sacco read: "Mr. Deitch, Over the course of his career, Mr. Block has been photographed with many people. Attached, is another ..."
click to enlarge Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher hangs on Donald Trump’s jet in a ‘more than memorable’ experience
Post-Gazette Publisher John Robinson Block getting a photo with Hillary Clinton, although not on a private plane
However, despite also shaking hands with Hillary Clinton, there are obvious differences between the two photos, not the least of which is that only one was taken on a private plane. Judging from the appearances of its two subjects, the Clinton photo also appears to have been taken some years ago, rather than during a hotly contested presidential campaign.

CP also contacted Michael A. Fuoco, president of The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents the paper’s union employees, to get his take about the photo.

“I don’t feel the guild can make a comment on the actions of the publisher and editor in chief,” Fuoco said. “But, regardless of what happens in the fall, if we do endorse for president, we will have no opinion about that. We are completely separate from that and we stay away from it.”

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