DeFazio elected Allegheny County Council president

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Allegheny County Council has handed power from one former professional wrestler to another.

John DeFazio, D-Shaler, was elected by his peers Thursday as council’s new president, charged with setting meeting agendas and appointing committee heads. He takes over for Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, who served for two years.

Both men share an unlikely history: They duked it out in the ’60s as professional wrestlers. Mr. DeFazio went by “Jumpin’ Johnny” back then; Mr. Martoni was known as “the Cannonball.”

Now, Mr. DeFazio preaches cooperation, saying the cattiness that has marked council meetings of late cannot continue.

“We have to try to find ways to work things out,” he said. “We’re not always going to agree, but we have to do it in a nice way.”

Mr. DeFazio won 11-4 against Republican Heather Heidelbaugh, of Mt. Lebanon. Two Republicans — Ed Kress, of Shaler, and Jan Rea, of McCandless — split with their party to support Mr. DeFazio. Democrat Bill Robinson, D-Hill District, scrapped his own plans to run for president and supported Ms. Heidelbaugh instead.

In a four-page written speech, Ms. Heidelbaugh said she would strive to serve as a check against Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, whom she says has strong-armed council votes.

“This body is at real risk of becoming totally irrelevant and, quite frankly, disrespected,” she wrote.

Ms. Heidelbaugh never got to read her speech, though. Even before his election, Mr. DeFazio showed his reputation as a stickler for the rules, barring the Republican from speaking in support of her own candidacy because council’s code doesn’t allow for opening statements.

Mr. Kress said he voted for Mr. DeFazio because he trusts the 73-year-old council member and saw an opportunity to extend a hand of friendship to Democrats.

“I wanted to show I’m going to work in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.

Mr. DeFazio intends to keep Michael Finnerty, D-Scott, as head of the influential budget and finance committee, despite a previous promise to give it to Mr. Robinson. Mr. Robinson clashed with his Democratic colleagues late last year and withdrew from the party caucus.

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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