It was not easy to become a councilWOMAN in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, but nothing seemed impossible for Michelle Madoff. She always was eager to take on uneasy tasks.
Having moved to Pittsburgh in 1961 from her native Canada, Ms. Madoff was appalled by the poor quality of the city’s air, so she convened a group of Pittsburghers who shared her sentiment. That’s how GASP — the Group Against Smoke and Pollution — was born. It was wildly successful and uncompromisingly committed to its mission — to make the city’s air clean by reducing and monitoring air pollution, and by reducing the consumption of energy.
“GASP created ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ singling out lawmakers whom they deemed to be overly indulgent of heavy industry at the expense of clean air.” And basically subjected them to public shaming in various expressions of environmental activism. Even after having served on the City Council, Ms. Madoff deemed GASP as her most significant accomplishment.
Ms. Madoff ran unsuccessfully for city council several times and once for Allegheny County commissioner, finally winning the unexpired council term of Richard Caliguiri. Her career on council, from 1978 to 1993, coincided with the tenures of several other strong-willed politicians — Jim Ferlo, Sophie Masloff, Ben Woods and her most stubborn nemesis, Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale.
Only the fourth female council member in Pittsburgh’s history, she stirred quite a few controversies while on the City Council. One of the most notable incidents was her bet against Mr. DePasquale. Michelle Madoff, like many people who lived then in Pittsburgh, felt that those who live outside its boundaries but who used the city as an address or a place of work should help to pay its bills. She suggested that suburbanites voluntarily contribute $40 a year to help meet city expenses.
“Jeep, who is real enough to realize that the average suburbanite would laugh at such a suggestion, laughed a little himself, then promised Michelle that he would meet her under the Kaufmann clock and kiss her — in Michelle’s words — ‘you know what’ if she collected so much as $20,” the Post-Gazette reported in 1983. Later, Ms. Madoff denied she said that.
That meeting was to have taken place at 10 a.m. Ms. Madoff was there eight minutes early, surrounded by reporters, holding aloft some $1,500 worth of checks that, she said, were send “mostly by people I don’t know.” Jeep was a no-show.
Ms. Madoff always was outspoken. With her larger-than-life character, she never remained just a bystander. She used every opportunity to make her voice heard with diplomatic persuasion and persistence. Once, Ms. Madoff even saved a life by talking a young man out of jumping onto the Penn-Lincoln Parkway.
Madoff died Saturday in her home in Arizona. She was 85.