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GOP’s Battle Uphill in Pittsburgh

November 1, 1997

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Republican mayoral candidate Harry Frost Jr. likes to quote Vince Lombardi’s chestnut: ``Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.″

Good loser or bad, Frost’s odds of unseating the incumbent Democrat were never high here, where eight of 10 voters are registered Democrat. The odds have only gotten worse after the Republican chairman of Allegheny County publicly flailed Frost, urging him to quit the race after he confessed to various financial problems.

Frost’s troubles are only the latest misadventure for local Republicans, illustrating how ineffective the GOP has been since the last Republican mayor, John Garland, retired from office in 1936.

Part of the GOP’s weakness in Pittsburgh is due to the ability of Democrats to seize and maintain allegiances forged in the New Deal of the 1930s. And Republicans face difficulties recruiting good candidates when they face a five-to-one disadvantage, according to some estimates.

Frost, 62, a retired engineer-turned-consultant, says he ran for mayor at the request of David Hamstead, the Republican chairman of Allegheny County, and city Republican chairman John Clark after volunteering on other GOP campaigns.

``I don’t know if that kind of thing impressed them, or if they were desperate for a candidate _ probably a little of both,″ said Frost, whose self-deprecation comes off as good humor.

There was nothing funny this summer when Frost told reporters about his financial troubles at an event to introduce Republican candidates for city offices.

Frost admitted that his condo was about to be repossessed and that he faced allegations about missed payrolls and failed tax payments.

Party leaders became ill at the sight of their top candidate verging on a financial meltdown while claiming to have a prescription for Pittsburgh’s looming deficit.

``He’s politically naive and doesn’t understand: If you can’t manage your own affairs, how you can be a credible candidate to manage the city of Pittsburgh?″ Hamstead said.

Frost attempted to strike a positive note, saying his resolve to pay creditors rather than declare bankruptcy illustrated his integrity.

``The fact that I still owe money is not really a gauge or a measure that I can’t run a company or a city,″ Frost said recently.

Mayor Tom Murphy, the incumbent, has remained aloof from the Republicans’ backbiting. The strongest shot he has taken has been to ask how Frost can run for mayor when he’s lost his condo and no longer even lives in the city.

When it come to fundraising, there’s no contest. Murphy has spent nearly $800,000 since January on his re-election effort while Frost has managed to raise only 1/1777th of that amount _ or $450.

Murphy may have spent much of his money, about $600,000, defeating a primary challenger but he continues to spend despite the lack of competition.

Frost, on the other hand, has spent only $20 since July _ the bank’s monthly service charge, according to his campaign reports.

The race has become somewhat of a joke in Pittsburgh. ``What he’s doing is hurting me, I want him gone,″ Hamstead, the Republican chairman, said.

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