Politicos yuk it up in benefit

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Why did the candidate cross the road?

The answer last night at Pittsburgh Improv comedy club in Homestead was more than a punch line. It was a sold-out get-together of elected officials and political hopefuls raising money to benefit children of Allegheny County.

Candidates' Comedy Night 2009, a fund-raiser for the county's Music Festival Fund, attracted 16 wanna-be comics, including headliner Sen. Arlen Specter, and it brought in more than $32,000.

The money was put up by 350 attendees who were more than happy to pay to see politicians take playful jabs at each other -- and themselves.

"When you're in a race, you're always sort of competing with the other person," said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who took the stage late in the evening. "It gets heated at times. And this is one night when all the candidates of both parties can get together and sort of poke fun at themselves and at each other. And it's for a good cause, to help the children."

The event, organized by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Office of Community Relations, began with a video welcome by Gov. Ed Rendell that didn't exactly get rave reviews.

But then came Mr. Specter, who did an eight-minute bit that, by several accounts, "brought down the house."

Among his lines was this one that brought some guffaws:

"I came down to breakfast the other day and I told my wife that I shaved and felt 10 years younger,'' the senator said. "She said, 'Why didn't you shave last night?' "

"He was hilarious," said event coordinator Ondrea Burton. "He brought a lot of star power to this event."

This was the second year for the event, Ms. Burton said. Last year, a number of Congressional candidates took the stage. This year, however, most of the "comedians" were on the judicial side of the ballot.

"We had a lot of judicial candidates that people don't really know as well, so we really wanted to bring some name-recognition to the event," Ms. Burton said of inviting Mr. Specter.

Independent candidates for mayor, Kevin Acklin and Franco Dok Harris, also took the mike.

"We've invited [Mayor Luke Ravenstahl] both years," Ms. Burton said. "Last year, he confirmed but then at the last minute, he canceled. This year he didn't even respond to us."

But the show must go on, and the independent mayoral candidates welcomed the spotlight.

"I'm not naturally funny, so this took a lot of work," Mr. Acklin said. "My campaign team contributed. We kept it light. ... The audience is made up of people who are politically active. They know me. I'm the guy who lost to [Chuck] McCullough [in the 2007 County Council race]. I'm the guy who lost to the guy who dropped out of the race."

"It's a great opportunity to show the lighter side of campaigning," Mr. Harris said. "A lot of people who during the week fight against each other. This gives us a chance to show that we all still love this state and this city. A little humor, be ourselves and let it go.

"I'm doing about five minutes, unless the big hook comes out and drags me off-stage."

It didn't. As Mr. Onorato said, the crowd appreciated the good humor. "You can almost see the relief in the room from all the people just finally getting a chance to relax for an evening," he said. "It's funny, you see all the candidates in a different light from how you usually see them. And it's a lot of fun."

Other participants included candidates for Supreme Court: Judge Joan Orie Melvin and Jack A. Panella; candidates for Superior Court: Judge Robert J. Colville, Judge Anne E. Lazarus, Judge Judy Olson, Kevin McCarthy, Sallie Mundy and Templeton Smith; and candidates for Commonwealth Court: Kevin Brobson, Linda S. Judson, Patricia A. McCullough and Barbara Behrend Ernsberger.

A video of the event will be available at a later date.

Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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