Favorite grandmother: Mayor Sophie Masloff captured the city’s heart

Pittsburgh will bid goodbye today to the city’s own beloved grandmother, Sophie Masloff.

As is traditional, the funeral service at Temple Sinai in her neighborhood of Squirrel Hill will be rich with reminiscences of her career as a faithful Democratic Party official, an Allegheny County employee, city council member and, ultimately, Pittsburgh’s mayor from 1988 through 1993.

The culmination of her political and government service peaked late in her life: Mrs. Masloff was 70 when, by virtue of her position as president of city council, she became mayor following the death of Richard Caliguiri. Hers was not a caretaker administration that some had expected, and the woman who was both the city’s first female mayor and Jewish mayor surprised many by seeking, and winning, a full four-year term.

She cut the city’s hated wage tax twice, launched its “blue bag” recycling program, improved street signage and helped to secure the Allegheny Regional Asset District sales tax to fund local parks, libraries, stadiums and cultural attractions. That effort ultimately became a key feature of the agreement that led to construction of two new North Side stadiums, with PNC Park opening a decade after Mrs. Masloff had first suggested that a baseball-only venue was worth pursuing.

A list of accomplishments does not provide a full picture of the life of Mrs. Masloff, and no telling of her story would be complete without humorous tales that no doubt will be recounted today. Mrs. Masloff was the master of the one-liner, often of the malaprop variety, although she confessed later that her butchering of celebrity names was intentional.

But it was the personal qualities of Mrs. Masloff that distinguished her from her more-polished peers. She spoke her mind, she changed her mind when it was in Pittsburgh’s best interest and she was kind.

Hers was a life well and fully lived. Pittsburgh will always fondly remember its favorite grandmother, Sophie Masloff.

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