If there's one thing we've learned in 2004, it's this: You can make any fool prediction you want, and as long as it sounds good, no one will blame you if you're wrong. Promise you'll find chemical weapons in Iraq, insist our troops there will be welcomed as liberators, pledge that job creation will set a record pace ... what difference does it make if you turn out to be wrong?
Here's what difference: a few million more votes than you got before you said all that nonsense.
This year's predictions issue was inspired by two things: First, the techniques that brought our president to victory in November; and second, the fact that we've been too afraid to read a newspaper since he won. If basing your outlook on groundless suppositions and imaginary threats is good enough for the 52 percent of the American electorate, it's good enough for us.
And here's what we see coming in 2005.
With the Steelers still in Super Bowl contention, Pittsburgh is rocked by a shocking disclosure about rookie sensation Ben Roethlisberger. While most fans have assumed that the quarterback points to the sky after each touchdown to give glory to God, the truth proves more disturbing. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Roethlisberger acknowledges that he actually worships the Goodyear blimp.
Inspired by a contemplated merger between Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the beleaguered Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, other local nonprofits looking into joining forces include the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the ubiquitous Attack Theatre. Some question the value of a $4 billion health giant merging with a three-member dance troupe, but as UPMC President Jeffrey Romoff says, "We figure they can at least help out around the office."
Prothonotary Michael Lamb confirms rumors that he is running for mayor. "The city's financial oversight board is making all the city's financial decisions, reducing the position of mayor to a glorified paper-pusher," Lamb says. "As a county row officer, I know I have the experience the job demands."
A final hand-count of November's absentee ballots reveals surprising data in the presidential race: Democrat John Kerry squeaked by Republican incumbent George W. Bush, but both men were trounced by write-in candidate Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who claimed 67 percent of the vote. A spokesman for the Allegheny County elections office said Roethlisberger's margin would have been even higher if the office hadn't rejected ballots that were only marked "#7" and "that new guy on the Steelers."
In what's widely viewed as payback for the city's role in painting Pennsylvania blue, a White House leak indicates that President Bush will see to it that Pittsburgh's municipal payroll is slashed, its recreational centers closed, its public-transit funding decimated, and control of its budget turned over to state Republican lawmakers. City residents breathe easier: They were afraid things were going to get bad.
Though not a single game of hockey has been played this season due to a contract dispute between the players and the NHL, Mario Lemieux still manages to injure his back, putting him out of the line-up for four to six weeks.
After more than a decade of "doing it for the kids," lefty punk-rock role models Anti-Flag sign a million-dollar recording contract with Interscope, which sends the band on a six-month world tour with labelmates U2. Halfway into its Pittsburgh-area appearance (at Burgettstown's Post-Gazette Pavilion), front man Justin Sane announces the band's recently inked deal to release a 20-gigabyte Anti-Flag iPod (retail price: $399.95), complete with the group's entire back catalog and a polished-aluminum case emblazoned with upside-down American flag motif. In early spring, the chorus from "Kill the Rich" shows up in a Cadillac Escalade commercial.
WPXI-TV investigative reporter Becky Thompson provides yet another invaluable report for bacteria-conscious viewers: Having exhausted the disease-bearing potential of everything from water bottles to toothbrushes, she issues a damning exposé on the health risks posed by ... TV-news microphones.
"Microphones like these are shoved in the faces of politicians every day," she says. "No one knows where these people have been, and -- shockingly -- many reporters don't even bother to wash their hands before interviews." In addition to footage of Thompson firing questions as she chases other reporters down the street, the segment also includes a lab analysis of a typical WPXI microphone. Among the findings: The microphone contains trace amounts of perspiration, lipstick, spittle containing the rabies virus -- and tissue from a human spleen.
Myron Cope announces plans to release an album of American standards: "I sound better than ever!"
With no prospect in sight for an end to its contract dispute, the NHL calls off the entire 2004-5 season. The Penguins finish tied for first place -- their best showing in years.
It's another setback for locally based drug-maker Bayer, which has recently seen products including Aleve and Baycol come under fire because of fears about harmful side effects. According to a study by the FDA, the company's flashing electric sign on Mount Washington is responsible for an increased likelihood of hypertension, neurological disorders, and what agency officials will only call "certain sexual symptoms."
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust today announced plans to add Chez Kimberly to its roster of Downtown venues, explaining that the strip club furthered the organization's goal of supporting locally based performance. A Trust member, who refused to be identified, also admitted that "an evening there is probably more entertaining than some of those other shows we bring to town. Cheaper, too"
The Carnegie International, Pittsburgh's premiere exhibit of contemporary art, closes its doors. Pittsburghers are crushed by a sense that their very existence has suddenly been rendered meaningless.
WPXI admits today that there is no Storm Team 11, and that they don't have all that much-hyped technology. "The graphics guy came up with some cool-looking stuff from an old video game, and our predictions are based on somone just keeping an eye out the window." The spokesman hastens to add: "We're up on a hill, so we get a pretty good view of the sky."
Frustrated by the state's failure to provide adequate funding for mass transit, the Port Authority announces even more draconian cuts. From now on, the city's two inclines will only travel down Mount Washington, saving the cost of dragging the cars against the force of gravity. Also, riders in wheelchairs will simply be towed from tethers attached to the buses, eliminating the need for handicapped-accessible hydraulic lifts on vehicles.
Pittsburgh officially runs out of old mill sites to turn into shopping malls. "It's not that retailers aren't still interested in coming here," says Urban Redevelopment Authority chief Jerry Detorre. "It's just that we need a few more region-sustaining industries to die so we can make room. Ask back in a month or two about a lightly used former international airport."
Everyone who saw the Franz West sculptures at Seventh and Penn, Downtown, and said, "My kid can do better than that" is proven wrong when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust commissions local grade-schoolers to fashion replacements for the abstract welded-aluminum installation. Unfortunately, the kids' untrained efforts to mimic classical sculptures, with their phallic protuberances and papier-mÃ¢ché aesthetic, wind up looking distressingly like the Austrian artist's work; an enraged West flies in from Vienna to explain he really wasn't trying his hardest.
A non-binding referendum urging the city to restore funding for rodent control makes it onto the ballot of this year's primary. The measure loses by a two-to-one margin, which surprises pundits until the awful truth emerges: Somehow, the rats have been registering to vote.
Results in the mayor's race, meanwhile, are anxiously awaited by candidates including City Councilor Bill Peduto, who has run on a platform of open government, prudent fiscal conservatism, and public responsiveness. He wins anyway.
The Board of Elections certifies that a countywide referendum to reduce the number of elected row offices from 10 to two has passed. Immediately after this announcement, a New Pittsburgh descends from Heaven, with walls of jasper, streets of gold and foundation stones of agate, emerald, pearl and amethyst. A thousand-year reign of peace ensues.
Gambling conglomerate Harrah's announces plans to build a slots parlor in a surprising location: within the walls of the now-vacant Western Penitentiary. "The existing building produces just the right atmosphere of sunless despair and a crushing sense of hopelessness," a spokesman tells reporters. "We think it's going to be a very profitable location for us." Neighbors are reassured that the thick concrete walls will muffle the ringing of slot machines ... and the awful moans of soul-devouring anguish.
City development officials were scratching their heads at reports that in the entire month previous, not one Downtown business had closed its doors. "At this rate, I'll never get to redevelop the urban core," Mayor Tom Murphy frets. Nevertheless, the remaining Golden Triangle businesses make plans to celebrate with a cozy dinner for two.
Pittsburgh is stunned when the region is struck by an earthquake that registers 6.2 on the Richter scale and causes much of Mount Washington to slide into the Mon. Embattled local leaders turn to the one man they know can help raise money to deal with the crisis: rocker Bruce Springsteen.
This time, though, Springsteen declines to help. "I've been carrying your sorry-ass town for -- what? -- 20 years now," he tells reporters. "Mill-closings, floods -- it's always something with you people. Just move already!"
Just in time for the Fourth of July holiday, Heinz unveils yet another novelty-colored ketchup line. Having exhausted the visible spectrum some years ago, the firm announces its new ketchup will be ultraviolet. A popular selling point is that, if you spill ketchup on your shirt, no one will notice the stain. Nevertheless, UV ketchup is pulled from the shelves when customers begin contracting sunburn on the inside of their mouths.
The Tribune-Review decides the money and space it has saved using "Democrat" instead of "Democratic" has been a boon to its profit margin, and decides to extend the practice to other group labels. Gov. Ed Rendell, described as a "Jew politician" in a Trib editorial, loses a defamation suit when the Trib argues that they were really only quoting old issues of Der Sturmer.
Citing a diminishing market and company-wide depression, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company unveiled what it termed a "straightforward advertising pitch" timed to follow last year's unsuccessful "Save Our City" slogan. Market analysts were split on the risky new "Pittsburgh: Just Get Drunk" campaign, but speculated that the brewery "could see sales increase."
Still cash-strapped, the city of Pittsburgh throws up its collective hands and issues each resident a kit called "Be Your Own City Government!" complete with two pounds of rock salt, an inflatable wading pool and the power to levy and collect taxes in one's own domicile. Three months later, the experiment ends as some 300,000 city residents simultaneously file for bankruptcy and, in order to be steered back to solvency, are appointed personal financial overseers from Cleveland.
Developers hoping to reuse the Downtown Lord & Taylor department store -- redevelopment plans call for converting it into a bank -- make an unpleasant discovery. When the store was shuttered last year, the employees were locked inside. Since then, the clerks have gone feral, and developed wide, pale eyes to compensate for the lack of light. Worse, they are incapable of returning to retail work: Any time a customer expresses interest in purchasing an item, the employees merely stroke it and murmur, "It must not haves myyyyy precccccioussssss."
New questions are raised about Sen. Rick Santorum's domestic life, adding to a mystery that began last fall with controversy over whether his primary residence was in Penn Hills, as he has claimed, or in a much larger home in northern Virginia. The controversy is revisited when police discover the Santorum family living at a third address: a burned-out 1978 Crown Victoria parked behind a bar in Hattiesburg, Maryland.
Moreover, reporters discover that, while Santorum has long claimed to have six children, four of them are actually cardboard cutouts with which Santorum poses for Christmas-card photos sent to constituents. He also claims them as tax deductions.
Mired in the midst of another 90-loss season, the Pirates are rocked by an alleged doping scandal. A reputed supplier of illicit pharmaceuticals comes forward; public reaction is confused until the informant blurts out, "Oh, they wanted performance-enhancing drugs!"
Responding to those who contend the city's five-member financial oversight board is not diverse, Gov. Ed Rendell announces the board will be expanded by one member: US Steel CEO Tom Usher. When critics complain that Usher is, like all the other board members, a white male, he has an explanation ready.
"I've got some Cherokee blood from my mother's side," he contends. He adds that his ancestry also includes women on both sides of the family.
Three monkeys that escaped from UPMC's research labs were caught trying to board a Downtown-bound 71C. The PAT driver alerted authorities after the monkeys produced less than half of the $7.50 fare required, and then refused to exit the bus.
The battle over installing paid advertising on city-owned ballfields comes to a head, with Councilor Jim Motznik insisting it's fiscally necessary and preservation groups decrying the permanent defacement of the public spaces. But a proposed compromise -- city residents will continue to have free access to the parks provided that while recreating they wear sandwich boards advertising local businesses -- falls apart when no one can agree whether the rule should apply to dogs, too.
Paul O'Neill, former Treasury Secretary and one-time head of Alcoa, announces he will run for mayor on the November ballot as an independent. "I just feel voters are calling for a new day," he announced. "It's about time a humorless, silver-haired Irishman ran this city."
The Pittsburgh Symphony's unusual decision to employ not one but three conductors is vindicated when in the first week of the new season Artistic Adviser Sir Andrew Davis goes down with a hamstring injury. Principal Guest Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, though still on the mend from rotator-cuff surgery in the off-season, tells Post-Gazette classical music writer Andrew Druckenbrod he's ready to perform, but board chairman Richard Simmons goes with Endowed Guest Conductor Chair Marek Janowski, a fan favorite.
The Pittsburgh Catholic reports a surprising development from the Vatican. Among the top contenders to replace Pope John Paul II is none other than Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl. According to highly placed sources in the College of Cardinals, the pope and Wuerl share a conservative theology and close reading of Scripture. Plus, one archbishop confides to the newspaper, "They're both Black Sabbath fans from way back."
To save money, Pittsburgh City Council votes to take the rest of the year off. While admitting the council would still receive salaries and benefits, council President Gene Ricciardi reminded reporters that, while furloughed, they'd use less office supplies.
Would-be gambling magnate Charles Betters abandons plans to bring a racetrack and casino to a densely forested hillside in the neighborhood of Hays. Environmentalists, who have long contended the site should be left untouched by the hand of man, exult in their victory. In a press statement, activists announce: "We're grateful to know this land will be used as God intended: a place where teen-agers can get stoned and have casual sex in their natural habitat."
The Mon-Fayette Expressway is not yet under construction, but transportation officials, worried that building another new highway in a region with stagnant population growth won't actually help anything, announce a plan to assure high traffic on the road: They'll simply stop repairing other local roads.
"We were just bluffing," says US Airways CEO Bruce Lakefield. "You can all come back to work." Rescinding service cuts, rehiring laid-off workers and restoring slashed salaries, the airline reveals that its second dip into bankruptcy was just an insecure corporation's way of getting some attention. "All the other airlines were losing money, and we didn't like being left out," Lakefield admits sheepishly. "Really, it's all OK."
On Election Day, independent mayoral candidate Paul O'Neill is trounced at the polls. While the former Treasury Secretary had money and high-profile CEOs supporting him, Democratic nominee Bill Peduto steamrolled him by calling attention to O'Neill's troubled tenure in the Bush administration. "Don Rumsfeld still has a job, for God's sake," Peduto has pointed out in stump speeches. "How big a moron do you have to be to actually get fired by George Bush?"
In other results, election officials make a startling announcement: No one remembered to vote for county council.
After nearly a year of speculation, Steelers Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann makes it official: He will run for governor on the Republican ticket in 2006. Insiders credit Swann's decision to internal polling that showed Swann doing well with nostalgic Steelers fans and two key groups of swing voters: Black Republicans and rural conservatives who really like ballet.
Joe Grushecky wins the $35 million Powerball and buys every Pittsburgh resident a CD of Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town. "I know I wore out my 8-track years ago," explains Grushecky.
Encouraged by the successful reopening of the century-old Wabash Tunnel, Port Authority chief Paul Skoutelas announces plans to resurrect other 100-year-old transit solutions. Soon, horse-drawn carriages return to Downtown streets, and workers are digging a canal across the Golden Triangle. Complications ensue when no one can figure out how to get barge mules to hand out transfers.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's afternoon tabloid, the Trib PM, rocks the local journalistic community with a thoughtful and provocative 5,000-word story about veterans of the Iraq War. The piece is hailed for its sensitive treatment of a controversial issue, and for rendering its subjects with dignity and grace. The story's front-page headline: "DROOLING BUXOM FARM-GIRL LUST."
After closing its doors for good in December 2004, The World nightclub re-opens a year later as the city's premiere venue for obscure, neo-Dadaist Swiss gamelan bands and beat-juggling klezmer deejays. The proprietor? Local concert-booking wunderkind Manny Theiner, whose first event is a weekend-long festival featuring nothing but a Titanium iBook and a digital delay pedal.
Outgoing Mayor Tom Murphy's retirement plans suffer a setback. Though he hoped to return to the Peace Corps and continue the work he did as a young man, the mayor finds his reputation precedes him. "That's all right," tribal leaders of an isolated village high in the Peruvian Andes tell him, gently helping him back across an open sewer while their emaciated children look on. "We're fine, really. No mas, no mas."
Santorum Tries to Prove State Residency
Senator, wife, children, pets surprise Gobblers' Knob crowd with appearance in hole, prediction of six more weeks of wintry relations with Dems
No More Campus Confusion
The University of Pittsburgh buys Carnegie Mellon University
Slots Bid Awarded
Perpetual rib cookoff anchors winning city gambling-parlor proposal
Cyril Wecht To Run Again, Despite Row Office Reduction
Will make dissection, angry-letter-writing part of controller's duties, he vows
Bush Nominates Specter for Supreme Court
Will not block self from taking post, Senator pledges, unless asked
Steelers Opener Delayed
Roethlisberger misses kickoff time due to "repeatedly and humbly crediting teammates" instead of lifting glass during multiple takes of beer commercial shoot, says irked producer
City Schools Hire Murphy as Superintendent
Mayor quits job early to bring public contention and strife back to city