Fitzgerald's tweets incorporate text, images

A photo's worth more than 140 characters

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Rich Fitzgerald's picture is snapped just after he steps up to the podium in a banquet room at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel Downtown.

A few seconds later that photo -- along with the message that the Allegheny County executive is speaking to a group gathered for a tour of Downtown properties -- is posted to Mr. Fitzgerald's Twitter account, @ACE_Fitzgerald.

It's yet another entry in what has become an online journal of sorts, complete with photographic illustrations, of some of what goes on each day in the life of a local politician, whether that be getting a flu shot at a senior center or competing in a cook-off at a charity fundraiser.

In an interview after his speaking engagement at the Fairmont Hotel last week, Mr. Fitzgerald said his Twitter account, launched after he took office in January, is a way his office keeps people informed about county news and his public events. And often, those tweets include a photo.

"If you are doing a town hall meeting in the Mon Valley, with the backdrop of the steel mill, it reinforces what you are doing, rather than reading text," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "The visual is just one more tool to communicate."

Of course, Mr. Fitzgerald is far from the first local politician to become an avid Twitter user.

Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto tweets frequently.

So does Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.

And so does the account for the city of Pittsburgh, which tweets news about the city and updates from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Nor is Mr. Fitzgerald the first Pennsylvania politician to use the social messaging service to share photos of himself at various events.

Gov. Tom Corbett's office does it occasionally, and the Twitter accounts for elected officials including U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy and Jason Altmire frequently post photos of themselves at various events.

But Mr. Fitzgerald's Twitter account provides -- perhaps more than any other politician within Allegheny County -- a portrait of a politician's public life, in photos.

The woman behind the tweets -- and holding the iPhone at various county events -- is Amie Downs, 40, Mr. Fitzgerald's communications director.

At the Fairmont last week, as Mr. Fitzgerald strode to the podium, Ms. Downs stood in the banquet hall off to the side. Her iPhone is at the ready, and it's covered in a waterproof, crushproof case, as well as an outer cushion so it doesn't get scratched, because it often gets dropped.

"I'm really clumsy," she explained.

She snaps a photo when Mr. Fitzgerald starts speaking, tweets it, then continues tweeting lines pulled from his remarks, her fingers moving over the phone's keyboard.

She is quick.

"I try to be," she said. "It's difficult sometimes, to be that quick."

Ms. Downs doesn't like having her own picture taken. She is getting married next month and has already made clear to those who will be wielding phones and cameras that she wants a limited number of pictures taken at her wedding.

But she is the chief executive's chief tweeter, and that means most days, she is on the other side of the camera, taking pictures on her phone and then posting them to Mr. Fitzgerald's Twitter account.

"I think that, well, a picture speaks a thousand words, right," she said, explaining why so many of Mr. Fitzgerald's tweets also contain photos.

In the messages accompanying the photos, Ms. Downs said she tries to make the tweets in Mr. Fitzgerald's voice, often using his own words from his remarks.

If the tweet doesn't sound like Mr. Fitzgerald, Ms. Downs said she gets feedback saying so, usually from Mr. Fitzgerald's eight children.

And occasionally, Mr. Fitzgerald said, one of his children will mention that they saw him at some event or meeting some person. Some of them live outside of Pittsburgh, and he'll wonder how they knew.

They tell him they saw it on Twitter.


Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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