The quiet man: Pittsburgh could always count on Bill Coyne

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Congressman Bill Coyne was the best kind of liberal -- unapologetic. The Oakland native who represented Pittsburgh for two decades in the House of Representatives was low-key and self-effacing, but he did not shy away from who he was or what he believed.

At the same time, he was not brash or in your face, in the years long before the Tea Party and the dysfunction of Congress. Rep. Coyne, who died Sunday at age 77, may have been mild-mannered and short on words, but he was a dependable advocate for Pittsburgh.

The Democrat began his political career by winning election to the state House in 1970, only to be redistricted out after one two-year term. He won election to city council in 1973, where he served for seven years, then ran successfully for Congress in 1980 after the retirement of House veteran William S. Moorhead.

Bill Coyne soon tightened his own grip on the safe seat, taking office in Washington the same month as Ronald Reagan and leaving it post-9/11, midway through George W. Bush's first term. Along the way he voted predictably and reliably according to the party line. He favored abortion rights, gun control, trade protection for steel and rebuilding America's cities.

Despite having a much-coveted seat on the tax policy-writing Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Coyne is not remembered for major legislation. He did, however, push forward key measures such as earned income tax credits for the poor and industrial development bonds for urban areas.

He prided himself on constituent service, some of which was individual and some of which meant steering millions of federal dollars to his district -- for redeveloping the Hays Munitions Plant, building a new Children's Hospital, setting up the NASA Robotics Engineering Consortium and controlling floods along Saw Mill Run, among other projects.

In 2002 as he looked forward to retirement, Mr. Coyne told the Post-Gazette, "I saw, as I was growing up, what the government could do to help people. I don't think government can solve everyone's problems, but it can certainly help." He called for a national health insurance program, backed President Bill Clinton's deficit reduction package and condemned President Bush's tax cuts for reviving the red ink.

Bill Coyne was not an outspoken member of Pennsylvania's delegation, nor was he the architect of landmark initiatives. But his heart and his priorities were with the working class, with Pittsburghers struggling to get by. Quiet man or not, if only Congress had more like him today.

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