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The Predictions Issue

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Cover Illustration: MARK ZINGARELLI

You know who Jayson Blair is, so of course you know it's been a humbling year for print journalists. Most of them, anyhow. Here in City Paper's state-of-the-art newsroom, we remain confident that we're smarter, more insightful and more conscientious than you are. That's why our commitment to journalism remains unwavering and why we're again bringing you a predictions issue for the upcoming year.


January:
The New Year starts with Pittsburgh in perilous financial condition, thanks in part to missteps by Tom Murphy -- including his claim that suburbanites won't help the city because they fear Pittsburghers will "rape their children and rob their homes." To help defray costs, Murphy announces more service cuts and a new revenue generator: robbing suburban homes.

In a sequel to last January's widely condemned decision to eliminate its film and video department, the Carnegie Museum of Art announces that, to save money, all formerly nude statues will now be clothed. "Doing laundry is cheaper than dusting, which is highly labor intensive," explains Carnegie Institute President Ellsworth Brown. And sculptural nudity is "not central to the museum's mission." Museum insiders add that the statues may be dressed in new outfits as fashions change.

Beset by lagging attendance, the Pittsburgh Penguins unveil a new lineup of low-cost, high-energy talent: a group of 12-year-olds culled from a youth league in Saskatoon. Coach Ed Olczyk calls the squad "the best pre-teens playing professional hockey today," but the experiment is short-lived: The Pens can't afford to pay the players' performance bonus -- a dozen donuts from the Canadian Tim Hortons chain for every hat trick -- and the team is sent back to Saskatchewan.

Ex-county executive Jim Roddey grants his first interview in retirement. "You know what I miss most?" he says. "All those 'Laurels' from the Tribune-Review editorial page. I was never entirely certain of their support. But those Laurels were mighty reassuring."

The region's efforts to forge a "new economy" suffer a setback when KDKA-TV investigative reporter Andy Sheehan makes a startling discovery: After millions of dollars invested by venture-capital firms and state development agencies, Pittsburgh's entire biotech industry consists of a guy named Earl who reports he has "some sort of weird case of athlete's foot or something. Anyway, it itches."


February:

The Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles meet in Superbowl XXXVIII. Millions of football fans tune in for the kickoff, as do the Pittsburgh Steelers -- who are still talking about how they haven't been eliminated from the playoffs. At least, not mathematically.

Punxatwaney Phil, who last summer quietly succumbed to monkey-pox virus contracted at a Get It On Groundhogz mixer in Iowa, is replaced by a groundhog-styled robot designed by CMU students. The group's spokesman admits that groundhogs rarely burst from their holes shooting flames from the mouth, but defends the feature on the new Robo-Phil: "We discussed it, and all the guys said breathing fire was totally awesome."

Its financial troubles unabated, a desperate City of Pittsburgh applies for a grant from the Sprout Fund. Though the funding organization usually makes small grants to modestly sized arts groups, director Cathy Lewis takes the city's application in stride. "It's a lot of money, $62 million," says Lewis. "But the mayor submitted some lovely charcoal etchings, so we'll give it the same consideration we would any other request."

An English teacher at Pitt awakens one morning from uneasy dreams and realizes that during the night he's been transformed into a giant cockroach. Fortunately, though, he's a heterosexual cockroach, so his wife remains eligible for benefits.

Always on the lookout for new revenue streams, Mario Lemieux dons the Big Bird costume for a Sesame Street on Ice production at Mellon Arena. The production goes well until, during one of the final numbers, the Cookie Monster drops a cookie on the ice and, seeing it, Lemieux grabs a stick, checks the Cookie Monster hard onto the boards, and makes a breakaway with Bert and Ernie in hot pursuit.


March:

Shortly after opening a coffee stand in its main Oakland branch, the Carnegie Library announces another step in becoming more "customer-friendly." Effective immediately, library patrons will have to pay a fee ranging between $10.99 and $29.99 to borrow a book. From now on, however, they will be able to keep it.

Former US Steel exec David Roderick, who led efforts to bail out the city of Pittsburgh last year, is put in charge of the city's budget by the state legislature. Roderick quickly employs the management expertise he demonstrated at US Steel: He fires union workers after telling them their jobs are safe, and uses state-provided bailout money to buy an oil company.

When it comes to light that all the columns he's written about his wife and two little girls were complete fabrications, beloved Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill resigns in shame. As it turns out, O'Neill is actually a childless Nordic drifter named Sven Sorenson who rents a room at the Y on the North Side. And the photo of the Irish-looking guy above O'Neill's column? Tony Norman.

Ongoing negotiations between county officials and US Airways hit an unexpected snag. In addition to demanding debt restructuring and tax subsidies to keep the air carrier in Pittsburgh, US Airways CEO David Siegel has a new request. He now wants a pony.

Allegheny County Clerk of Courts George Matta finally comes out about his controversial use of a racial epithet that almost ruined his re-election bid last November. "I said nigga, not nigger," says Matta at the NAACP Human Rights banquet. After being pelted with stuffed mushrooms by banquet attendees and freeing himself from NAACP president Tim Stevens' headlock, Matta grabs back the microphone to say, "Would it help if I said at the time I had just finished listening to an old Eminem tape?"


April:

Opening day for the Pirates 2004 season brings plenty of anticipation and excitement to PNC Park -- largely because it's the last day in which the Pirates are still playoff contenders.

John McIntire, the former host of the PCNC public affairs program NightTalk, makes his return to the airwaves -- as a conservative. "I finally figured out that's where the money is," says McIntire on his inaugural KDKA radio broadcast. Quickly mastering the art of far-right hypocrisy, McIntire launches into a screed against "losers collecting unemployment checks for months on end," and defends Rush Limbaugh against "liberals who kick drug addicts when they're down." He concludes the broadcast by praising the sweater worn by former nemesis Fred Honsberger. The richly patterned garment, McIntire gushes, "really has a slimming effect on you, Fred -- or have you been losing weight? Either way, you look terrific."

Alarmed by growing public demand for national health coverage, UPMC Health Plan administrators announce a "better way" to provide health care to the thousands of local uninsured citizens. "We think of it as fee-for-service, pay-as-you-go," one administrator says, "and we believe it allows the uninsured to keep their dignity. Two pints of plasma for an office visit, a kidney or skin-graft donation for any of UPMC's hundreds of state-of-the-art surgical procedures.

"Going forward," he adds happily, "we can reduce our reliance on car wrecks and those suckers with the 'organ donor' driver's licenses."

The purchase of the Gateway chain of suburban weeklies in late 2003 by Richard Mellon Scaife -- the reclusive right-wing billionaire owner of the Tribune-Review -- begins to have an effect. A series of front-page articles in the Monroeville Times Express Star gets a Gateway High School history teacher fired for mentioning the presence of Bill Clinton at his own first inauguration.

Efforts to lure film and television production to the region are stepped up with a slogan contest. Entrants are asked to help Pittsburgh compete not only with Hollywood, but also with "runaway production" to cheaper places such as Canada. Entries fielded by the Steeltown Entertainment Project include "Pittsburgh: California Without So Much of a Tan" and "In February, At Least, We're a Bit Warmer Than Toronto." The winner: "Will Film For Food. God Bless."


May:
"The City of Pittsburgh doesn't have a rodent problem," says Director of Public Works Guy Costa, refusing to confirm rumors that "teeming swarms" of rats were responsible for the previous month's First Street Station "T" derailment. He also denies that Pittsburgh Public Works trucks were transporting large numbers of rats into the affluent northern suburbs under cover of darkness. "We just don't have the available manpower," he laments.

"I dug the moat myself!" Sen. Jane Orie announces at a press conference, a beaming state a community-wide effort to completely shut off McCandless Township from the rest of the world. Standing in front of the newly excavated trench encircling the municipality, Orie says, "The folks over at the PetCo on Route 19 were most accommodating about helping us stock the moat with alligators." Orie says the plan was the most cost-effective way to keep Pittsburgh out of the suburbs' pockets, but she stresses "McCandless will always be happy to welcome city folk for a brief visit to one of our many world-class malls. And that goes double for colored people."

Talk-show host and Rush Limbaugh-wannabe Jim Quinn makes a tearful on-air confession: He, too, has an addiction -- to Flintstone Chewables.

Rebuffed on the issue in the past, Gov. Ed Rendell announces a plan to legalize gambling at last: by ramming through a bill requiring the state to base its entire revenue stream on games of chance. Thus, the income tax is replaced by a levy on penny-pitching, business taxes are supplanted by a cut of wagers on three-card monte, and state legislators are encouraged to challenge lawmakers from other states to all-night rounds of Texas Hold 'Em. In a symbolic gesture, Rendell razes the Harrisburg headquarters of the Department of Revenue and replaces it with a colorful booth full of rows of metal milk jugs, each costumed to resemble his rival in the 2002 election, Mike Fisher. Each new visitor to the capital gets a free bucket of baseballs to throw.

Three students from Downtown's new High School for the Creative and Performing Arts are caught playing hooky in Lawrenceville and charged with smuggling culture out of the Cultural District. Standing over a bale of gessoed canvases and a cache of dance paraphernalia, Cultural Trust President Kevin McMahon calls the bust "a big relief," saying, "We knew we were losing culture, we just weren't sure how." The students, first-time offenders, are released on their own recognizance, but a subsequent furor erupts when their punishment -- attending the Cultural Trust-sponsored production of Jesus Christ Superstar -- is deemed "cruel and unusual" by civil liberties advocates.

The city budget crisis prompts Republicans to repossess the Allegheny River. The most immediate impact is the renaming of hundreds of local businesses and other organizations (i.e., "Two Rivers Arts Festival"), but soon pleasure boaters are seen trudging along the muddy bed of the former Allegheny, dejectedly groaning "Vroom, vroom." Tolls are instituted for all motorized and pedestrian bridge crossings across the ex-river, and all the water is siphoned and sold to thirsty Sun Belt states to help balance the city's budget. "It's a little inconvenient," admits one suburban legislator, "but it prevents another tax on my constituents, and most cities don't get more than two rivers anyway. We saw it as Pittsburgh being just plain greedy."


June:

WPXI weather nymph Julie Bologna makes a stunning announcement: "I once killed a man -- just to watch him die," she says during the 6 p.m. broadcast. "Oh, and for the past few years, I've actually been giving you the forecast for Bozeman, Montana. Suckers!"

WPXI management releases a statement pledging to conduct "a thorough investigation." When Bologna's confession proves true, she is fired. After sweeps week, of course.

The strapped city announces a plan to re-open all public pools by making them self-supporting coin-op facilities. Two quarters buy a swimmer five minutes of pool time, 10 minutes for kids under 12. The catch is enforcement: One Citiparks staffer says that it's sometimes difficult to get close enough to kids to activate the electric cattle prod. "It does tend to make them move a little faster, though, and that's gotta be some exercise," says the employee. Demonstrating: "Look at them little fellers go."

In a cost-cutting move, the H. J. Heinz Co. abandons its sponsorship of the city's two-year-old football stadium. In an ironic turn, the stadium is renamed for one of Heinz's bitter condiment rivals. "It's not so bad," says Steelers President Dan Rooney, standing in front of newly christened Hellman's Field. "It could have been Little Debbie's."

The Right Rev. Robert Duncan, leader of the Pittsburgh Episcopalian Diocese, announces that "unless I get my way I'm going to hold my breath until I turn blue. And won't everyone be sorry then." Last year when Duncan led several Anglican churches in protest of the ordination of an openly gay bishop ... even going so far as to promise a schism. "If Jesus had wanted gay people in his church, he wouldn't have picked 12 manly men to hang around with, would he?" Duncan asks.

Duncan also schedules a number of inter-faith strategy meetings with the Taliban. "Sure, they may be worshipping false gods over there ... but they punish their homosexuals by toppling bricks walls on them," he tells parishioners.


July:
Starbucks' ongoing incursion
into the region takes a surprising turn when the Seattle-based chain buys out Cogo's, turning the hundreds of gas 'n' go convenience stores into outlets for pricey gourmet caffeinated products. Furloughed employees are told they can apply to become barristas, but some remain shocked by the sudden buy-out. Says one, "I knew we should have charged more for coffee."

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
editorial writer Colin McNickle is implicated in a scandal that some compare to the Jayson Blair fiasco. For the past year, it seems, McNickle has simply been making up words in his columns. "Colin's always had the largest thesaurus in the office," one copy editor sheepishly admits. "We just got so used to words like 'slumgullion' and 'flibbertigibbet' that we stopped checking."

McNickle can't be reached for comment, though he releases a statement decrying his critics as "snipgurtlefined paljuradooms."

Struggling Lazarus-Macy's hits a new low, logging its first complete day without even one purchase. In response, it changes its name to Lazarus-Macy's-Bloomingdale's-Rich's.

Forbes
magazine writer Davide Dukcevich, who twice in two years wrote articles panning Pittsburgh as the "worst city for singles," admits that his second article -- written after he actually visited Pittsburgh -- was a lie.

"I just didn't want anybody discovering my secret poontang stash," says Dukcevich, who rents a weekend bachelor pad in Shadyside.

Remembering how U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Bradford Woods) pushed in 2001 for abandoned-baby drop-off centers, state Sen. Jane Orie announces her own contribution to the project: drive-thru baby pick-up by adopting families. "Sadly, not all the babies will be claimed," she acknowledged when questioned at a press conference at a state Republican Committee meeting. "Those remaining will be donated to the City of Pittsburgh to increase its population." Noting that it's often hardest to find adoptive parents for minority children, she adds, "The truth is, a lot of those kids would have a hard time feeling like they belonged in the suburbs anyway."

University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Jeff Long announces
with Pitt basketball head coach Jamie Dixon that in the coming season, the team's first 30 opponents will be from the WPIAL Class A high school league. Says Dixon, "It's the only way we can be totally confident we'll be undefeated going into March Madness."


August:

The Downtown Lord & Taylor closes ahead of schedule, prompting widespread anxiety about the loss of yet another landmark business in the Golden Triangle. "My family and I have shopped here for weeks," one aggrieved shopper groans. "Some of these clerks are practically family members themselves. Soon there'll be nothing left to make Pittsburgh unique."

There's some consolation for mourning shoppers: Rick Sebak plans to include Lord & Taylor in his next nostalgic documentary film: Things That Left So Quickly We Barely Knew They Were Here At All.

Countering the worrisome recent study about the high incidence of Pittsburgh women who smoke while pregnant, the Minneapolis-based Rollerblade, Inc., releases a study that Pittsburgh also has the highest national incidence of pregnant women in-line skating. Unfortunately, many do so on the Eliza Furnace Trail between the Parkway and Second Avenue, meaning they're inhaling more carcinogens than they would if they were smoking.

The Steelers head into the regular season with a refurbished front line, enhanced by a key off-season acquisition: right tackle and former WPXI anchor Gina Redmond. "She just stiff-arms whoever we stack up against her on defense," says an optimistic Bill Cowher. "And now that we've got her weight about where it needs to be, she's a definite starter."

With no 2004 appropriation from the state Legislature, funding for the Port Authority eventually runs out and bus service is eliminated altogether. Instead, suburban commuters are asked to pick up a few city residents each day "on their way in to work."

Suddenly, many claim that their GMC Yukons and Lincoln Navigators are two-seaters. Also, state Sen. Jane Orie demands that the drivers' mileage be deducted from their $10 annual occupation tax.

Controversy envelops the East End's Penn Avenue corridor after a Laundromat opens there; a spokesman for the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative alleges that the establishment constitutes a nonconforming use because no art is made there. An ugly standoff is averted with the help of Lint Lady Cheryl Capezutti, who in a single afternoon fashions no fewer than 14 figurine-sized multi-hued puppets out of what's left in the dryer traps. The puppets themselves, however, cannot find affordable living space in the district, and are shortly spotted looking at apartments in East Liberty.

At his trial, former boxing champion Paul Spadafora pleads innocent to charges of shooting his girlfriend outside a McKees Rocks convenience store. "I was defending myself against attempted robbery," Spadafora says. "The guy wanted my Hummer but two of the tires were flat. So he tried to steal my girlfriend next. I was just making sure it wasn't worth his while."


September:
Concerned about the image of Pittsburgh Public Schools' leadership following years of criticism, Superintendent John Thompson tries a new tack: back-to-school makeovers for the board, according to his own fashion savvy. "I feel like a new woman!" exclaims Jean Fink, promising to make pocket-hankies part of every outfit. "Cuff links! I can't believe I never thought of them myself," adds Randall Taylor. Even pragmatist Skip McCrea is pleased: "I always suspected that my moustache could do more for me," he says, "but I didn't know how. Now I can see: handlebars!"

Continuing his feverish efforts to win Pennsylvania in the 2004 election, George Bush visits Pittsburgh yet again. As he has on previous visits, he praises the city as "Knowledge Town," but surprisingly, the applause line gets a muted response this time. As one attendee later reflects, "Having Bush refer to your city as 'Knowledge Town' is like having Bill Clinton call it 'Chastityville.'"

Tired of what he calls the city's attempts to "put the cart before the horse" with expensive Downtown development plans that rely on hard-to-lure retailers, local architect Rob Pfaffman unveils his plan to "put the horse before the cart." Pfaffman's scheme -- to turn the Fifth-Forbes Corridor into a working Amish community so lunching office workers can see the land tilled by hand and have a slice of shoofly pie -- sails through the planning commission. But it derails when Amish families prove unswayed by generous tax subsidies. Undeterred, Pfaffman re-engineers the plan to attract another group that eschews modern conventions for quaint, antiquated methods: the county Democratic Party.

Local "Kucinich for President" supporters continue to organize monthly gatherings through meetup.com, even though their candidate failed to win the Democratic nomination -- or indeed a single primary, caucus, straw poll or junior high mock election. After meeting once a month in local restaurants, local supporters of the former Cleveland mayor believe they are ready to make a big push for their candidate. "Plus, we're hoping to get married," says the couple.


October:

At this year's annual meeting of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, attendees finally discover why attracting young people has been so important to the civic group. Halfway into the program, Executive Director Howard Miller steps to the Carnegie Music Hall podium, dressed in robes resplendent with feathers and beads. He then prays to the Aztec god Hutzilpochtli for a "good harvest of tech jobs in the coming season." Then, as attendees watch in horror, he sacrifices 100 virgins -- all CMU grads -- and tosses their still-beating hearts onto the stage.

In an Oktoberfest gesture of goodwill, Iron City makers Pittsburgh Brewing Inc. offer to pay their past-due water bills in beer. A grateful water authority accepts. Still, City Controller Tom Flaherty demands an audit when the beer is delivered; strangely, he reports afterward, several cases seem to have gone missing. So has one of his trusted lieutenants.

County executive Dan Onorato presents his first budget to County Council, a spending plan that includes cuts in human services, row-office spending, and large layoffs -- all to pay for a small cut in property taxes. "This might as well be a Republican budget from last year," exclaims a bemused Rich Fitzgerald (D-Squirrel Hill).

"Funny you should mention that, councilor," says Onorato. He begins tugging at his right cheek which -- horribly -- pulls away, taken his nose and forehead with it. Horrified councilors watch as Onorato turns toward them, revealing the face of ... Jim Roddey!

Protesters end their 90-day tree-sitting vigil on the wooded lot in Hays -- land slated for strip-mining and a casino -- after being offered a large plastic cup of soda and a larger plastic cup of nickels.

His support in Pennsylvania still lagging, George Bush unveils an "October surprise." Pledging to "bring democracy to a region that has never known it," Bush invades Pittsburgh days before the election. Troops encounter only sporadic resistance, largely because the police force has been laid off. An interim government made up of handpicked appointees is flown in to run the city -- which was "pretty much our plan anyway," one Republican state legislator acknowledges. Mayor Tom Murphy eludes capture, but US Army Rangers quickly cordon off a swath of Butler County farmland, where the mayor is said to be hiding among his people.

Tired of fighting the "Worst Town for Singles" label, the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP) starts a movement to make Pittsburgh "The Worst Town for Married People and Their Children" instead. So far, they haven't gotten farther than creating the slogans: "Pittsburgh: Your In-Laws Are Probably Still in Town," "Pittsburgh: To Die For -- and In," and one slogan they hope children in particular will take to heart: "Pittsburgh: This is What You'll Grow Up to Be."


November:

Citing the city's troubled financial state, Mayor Murphy announces a new scaled-back Light Up Night. The press is invited into a corner office on the fifth floor of the City-County Building to watch as Executive Secretary Tom Cox turns on a desk lamp set on the windowsill. Below on Grant Street, two smart-alecks and one drunk cheer, while a commuter waiting for the bus flicks his lighter on in support.

Reconstruction of Fort Pitt
in Point State Park is on schedule, according to city councilors currently hiding within its wood and earthen confines. "We'll make our stand from here," shouted one unidentified councilor, swiveling an iron cannon in the approximate direction of Harrisburg. An official of the state legislature, attempting to deliver a letter reminding city officials that the tip of the city is called Point State Park for a reason, was poked with a stick, taxed for the privilege and sent on his way.

Vice President Dick Cheney returns to the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier to go pheasant hunting for the third consecutive year. Cheney is foiled, however, when he finds no pheasants, which have secretly formed a shadow bird preserve in Ohio.

The first day of deer hunting season dawns crisp, clear and with just enough snow to make tracking easy. But two Venango County deer hunters happen upon a scene of unspeakable horror: U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) caught up in the throes of passion with a doe.

Santorum and his mate bound off into the woods before the hunters can react, though they later swear to Game Commission officials that Santorum called out, "It's all the gays' fault!" just before disappearing.


December:

Former Pittsburgh Regional Alliance director of talent attraction Tereneh Mosley merges the city's greater-black and greater-Jewish communities for a pre-Kwanzaa, pre-Chanukah celebration called "The Kwanzukah Kickoff." Sponsored by He'Brew the Chosen Beer and held in the palatial grand ballroom of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the celebration attracts more than 1,000 guests -- most of whom are neither black nor Jewish. According to Abe Naperstak, who co-chairs the Kwanzukah celebration with Mosley, "The growth of the region depends upon people accepting the copulation of the black and Jewish communities." The evening's highlight is Post-Gazette fashion editor LaMont Jones' yarmulke and kufi fashion show, during which the He'Brew Lite girls sport the latest in Jewish and Kwanz-ish headwear, with little else to show beneath.

"We want to convey to people that these headpieces can be worn in style -- and that contrary to popular opinion they are not in either culture called beanies," says Jones.

Financially strapped Public Works Director Guy Costa orders only one week's worth of road salt, which arrives on the first day of Chanukah and lasts, inexplicably, for eight weeks. The symbolism isn't lost in the county's targeted-to-be-cut row offices, where workers paint office doorframes with lamb's blood.

In the latest sign that all is not well inside the mind of Tom Murphy, the mayor refuses to permit the holiday season crèche to be installed in the courtyard of the USX Tower. According to a mayoral statement, "The Three Wise Men are just more commuters who come to the city with gold and frankincense but contribute nothing to the tax rolls. When the Virgin Mary needs an ambulance, our paramedics don't ask whether she's a city resident or not -- shouldn't she help pay for that service?"

Later, Murphy is seen clinging to the bronze statue of late mayor Richard Caligiuri on the steps of the City-County Building. "Dick," he moans, "why won't they listen? Why can't they see?" He is gently led back inside by mayoral spokesman Craig Kwiecinski.


-- By Al Hoff, Ted Hoover, Justin Hopper, Marty Levine, Julie Mickens, Brentin Mock, Andy Newman, Bill O'Driscoll and Chris Potter

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