South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

South Pittsburgh says good-bye to Bob O'Connor


September 12, 2006

Mayor Bob O'Connor stands in front of a Knoxville house he ordered demolished immediately to prevent the home from continuing to be a safety hazard.

The large hand-written sign in the front window of Judy Hackel's home expressed the sentiments of the entire City.

“We Will Miss You Bob O'Connor.”

Mayor Bob O'Connor passed away September 1 after a two-month battle with cancer. Although he was only in office as Pittsburgh Mayor for eight months, Mr. O'Connor had a large impact on everybody living in the City and beyond.

“My daughter made that sign in our window,” said Mrs. Hackel, the president of the Allentown Civic Association.

A sampling of comments from various leaders in the South Pittsburgh neighborhoods revealed a strong sentiment for a mayor who was the quintessential “Pittsburgh guy.”

During his relatively short term in office, Mayor O'Connor was often seen in the southern part of the city.

Mr. O'Connor was a man who fully understood that despite having world-class universities and hospitals, three major league sports franchises and trendy entertainment hot spots that attract people from well beyond Pittsburgh's borders, the city is only as strong as the vitality of its 94 neighborhoods.

“I would say that basically sums it up about him,” said Ethan Raup, the executive director of the Mount Washington Community Development Corp.

Mayor O'Connor visited Mount Washington many times during his tenure as mayor as well as his 12 years on City Council, according to Mr. Raup who felt the mayor's enthusiasm for the city.

“I think the people in the neighborhoods were definitely optimistic and responsive to his enthusiasm for the city,” Mr. Raup said. “And I think we'll still keep pushing forward. He gave us a shot of optimism that I think will carry through. He was up here quite a bit working with us. He was very responsive to our needs and concerns. He was actively involved in our Grandview Restoration project while he was on council and he followed up on it once he became the mayor.”

A week before he was hospitalized for cancerous lymphoma of the brain, Mayor O'Connor participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first of four newly-renovated observation decks on Grandview Ave.

During his tenure, Mr. O'Connor also spoke to community groups in Carrick, Beechview, the South Side and other places in the southern part of town. The late mayor walked the streets of Knoxville and Beltzhoover, inspecting dilapidated buildings that he immediately had torn down.

“I know he did worry about the neighborhoods,” Mrs. Hackel said.

The new mayor is 26-year-old Luke Ravenstahl, who grew up on the North Side of town.

Local community leaders are hoping Mr. Ravensthal will carry on Bob O'Connor's campaign to “Redd Up” the neighborhoods. This goal has been vital to the city which has suffered in recent years due to a budget crisis.

“I hope in the weeks to come that the Hilltop neighborhoods [Allentown, Beltzhoover, Knoxville] can contact [Mr. Ravensthal] and that he can meet with us to hear our concerns,” Mrs. Hackel said. “I think all of my neighbors were starting to feel Bob's positive energy. He made me feel good that I lived in the City of Pittsburgh.”

JoAnn Herman, coordinator and founder of the 29th Ward/Carrick Block Watch, felt a special bond with the late mayor.

“He was a good friend since Day One,” Ms. Herman said. “He was like a ‘Good Neighbor Sam' so I called him ‘Good Neighbor Bob.' He was just like that movie with Jimmy Stewart It's a Wonderful Life.

“I think Luke Ravensthal is going to try to continue that legacy. [Mr. O'Connor] did so much for the block watch. Anything you wanted from Bob, he was there. I don't know anybody in this whole world who doesn't love him. Words come very hard in describing what a wonderful man he really was.”

Lucy Frankwitt, president of the Upper Knoxville Block Watch, said Mr. O'Connor regularly attended her organization's functions.

“In all those years he was a public figure, he would also come to our celebrations [marking the anniversary of the block watch] and that made a big difference to us,” Mrs. Frankwitt said. “I'm sure the new mayor is going to try and do his best to do everything Mayor O'Connor was doing. We're hoping to have him come to a meeting and we're hoping to have him attend our 25th anniversary celebration next year. I'll bet he'll be as much like Mayor O'Connor as he can, but doing it in his own way.

“Mayor O'Connor was here in our neighborhood in the spring, tearing down some of the abandoned houses. He was directing them and telling [the work crews] what to do and I'm sure he would have been back. He was a boost to the neighborhoods and we really need help right now. He was a good mayor and a personable man, but he really didn't get to be the mayor as long as everybody would have liked him to be.”

Rick Belloli, executive director of the Local South Side Development Company, said Bob O'Connor's strong leadership will be missed, but he remains optimistic about the future.

“Bob O'Connor was definitely a strong advocate of the neighborhoods,” Belloli said. “He went on several walk-and-talk tours and we were always asked to be there to raise any questions or issues with the mayor. He was very pro-active in that regard.

“He was also very interested in the SouthSide Works. On more than one occasion he let us know that if we needed his help regarding American Eagle [moving into a Works office building for its planned national headquarters], he was prepared to do so. His voice and concern about the neighborhoods was recognized and appreciated.”

Life-long city resident Bruce Kraus, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, admired and respected Mr. O'Connor.

Mayor O'Connor wasn't just about tearing down abandoned buildings in the neighborhoods. Here he tours one of the new homes being built in the Beltzhoover/Climax corridor.

“We shared the same vision about how important it is to have a clean city,” Mr. Kraus said. “Bob's ‘Redd Up' campaign was in complete alignment with the chamber's vision for the city. You know clean cities are safe cities which bring in more residents and businesses which creates a broader tax-base.

“He was very people-oriented and neighborhood-oriented and I respected him tremendously for that. He understood the people are the city. The neighborhoods are the city. They are our life's blood.

“I don't know a lot about Luke Ravenstahl, but I find him to be very sincere. And I like the idea of somebody that young is coming in. He may very well have some fresh ideas he'd like to share. And as far as continuing Bob's legacy, I think everybody shares that vision.”


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