Mourners say farewell to former Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Coyne.


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So many politicians seek prominence, expect deference.

That was never Bill Coyne's way.

"He never cared for grandstanding, never sought the limelight," his nephew, Daniel V. Coyne, said.

But, on Thursday, he was the center of the attention he seldom courted as hundreds of friends and former colleagues filled St. Paul's Cathedral to pay and hear final tributes to the longtime Pittsburgh congressman.

Mr. Coyne died Sunday of complications from a fall in August. He was 77.

St. Paul's Cathedral is across the street from his home of the past few years, a short stroll from the house on Halket Street where he grew up and lived for seven decades, and is surrounded by the communities Mr. Coyne represented in the Legislature, on city council and through 22 years in Congress.

"In retirement, he moved to North Oakland after decades in South Oakland ... he was moving on up," his friend, the Rev. Peter Horton, joked in an affectionate homily that described the lawmaker's liberal political instincts as an outgrowth of his deep roots in that working-class community.

Mr. Coyne, the child of immigrants, was the nephew of the late state Sen. James Coyne, a Republican who led his party's local organization at a time when the city's politics was dominated by a GOP machine. His nephew, the sixth of seven children, would embody the ideals of the New Deal that turned Pittsburgh Democratic along with so many cities across the country.

Mr. Coyne represented the Pittsburgh area as a congressman from 1981 to 2003 and served as state representative from 1971 to 1973 and on Pittsburgh City Council from 1974 to 1980.

He was proud of his partisan stands for workers' rights and civil rights and, through his powerful perch on the House Ways and Means Committee, of his work to use the tax code as a lever to improve opportunities for the working class and for the urban communities whose manufacturers and business were buffeted by the economic changes that coincided with his tenure in office.

But, in his homily, Father Horton noted: "With dignity, dialogue and respect, he dared to cross the aisle to get things done.''

Along with a voting record that the Almanac of American Politics characterized as "one of the most liberal in the House," those things included legislation to improve the Earned Income Tax Credit and favored tax treatment for small business through industrial development bonds.

As mourners walked out of the cathedral, they saw across Fifth Avenue just one of the fruits of his behind-the-scenes work for his district, the Software Engineering Institute. At a time when the city's economy was still more associated with heavy industry than with high tech, Mr. Coyne worked with figures such as the late Sen. John Heinz and his close ally, the late Rep. John P. Murtha, in lobbying for the federal dollars to secure the innovative center.

After the service, a group of his former colleagues -- Rep. Mike Doyle, Rep. Tim Murphy and former Rep. Ron Klink -- stood on the rain-drenched steps of the cathedral. Others among the many public figures there included state Sen. Jay Costa, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner and city Controller Michael Lamb.

During a remembrance near the end of the Mass, Daniel V. Coyne, Mr. Coyne's nephew, quoted from a 1986 profile of the congressman in the former Pittsburgh Press, in which Rep. Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, the legendary House Speaker, said of his fellow Irishman:

"You can get a lot done for your constituents if you have the respect and admiration of your colleagues, and Bill Coyne is one of the best liked guys down here."

Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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