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One-Man Stand

Just in time for the election, a new dose of local politics hits

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Pittsburgh is on the verge of bankruptcy. The state's education budget is being held hostage, and key issues that will determine the region's future -- from property-tax reform to gambling -- are held in limbo. Not the most encouraging environment in which to start a new business.

Unless you're in the business of reporting political intrigue, in which case this might be what Jeffrey Jones calls "the perfect time for us." Jones has just started The Western Pennsylvania Public Record, a bi-weekly newsletter whose first issue came out Oct. 15. His goal is to focus "on getting behind the scenes, the politics behind the politics" in Western Pennsylvania.

The 24-page inaugural issue of the newsletter was "a one-man operation, and you're talking to him," says a somewhat harried Jones, the paper's managing editor, from his Brownsville Road office. A journalist who has covered government for suburban weeklies for the past several years, Jones writes almost all the Record's stories, lays them out and sells the ads. Typos and other glitches are inevitable, and while Jones plans to hire a sales staff and some writers, so far, at least, "I don't have the full-fledged support you do at City Paper. "

Future issues will profile the political aspirations of, say, lumber magnate and Washington County political powerhouse Joe Hardy, but will also focus on what Jones calls the "special characters in politics" -- colorful committeepeople and ward chairs who don't otherwise attract much attention.

The Public Record is a sister publication of a similar journal, the Philadelphia Public Record, and was established, appropriately enough, by a local politician with deep roots: retired state Rep. Ralph Kaiser, a South Hills Democrat.

Kaiser's son, Chris, is listed as the paper's publisher, but Jones says that while they helped get the paper established, "They don't have anything to do with the [day-to-day] operation." The elder Kaiser, says Jones, was a regular reader of the Philly paper, and its publisher "asked him if he would be interested in setting up one here. He had no experience, but he knew of my years in the business from covering the South Hills."

Despite the Kaiser connection, Jones is seeking to make the Record bipartisan. Its front page, for example, includes dueling Q&A's with Allegheny County Executive candidates Jim Roddey and Dan Onorato, as well as an account of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's recent visit to the area. Elsewhere is an interview with Republican strategist Mary Matalin. And if the advertising is any indication, Republicans seem willing to give the paper a shot -- Roddey, Pittsburgh's Republican Committee and Republican Recorder of Deeds candidate Becky Barrett-Toomey are all advertisers.

Jones has more copy than he has the ads to pay for, but predicts that will change soon. "I've got a mailing list of 10,000 people, and I'm going for people of affluence and influence," he says. His paper, after all, is "being mailed to every ward person and committeeperson from Joe Blow living on a dead-end street in Elizabeth straight up to Ed Rendell."

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