Former Rep. Frank Mascara (D), 81, died of liver cancer Sunday in Monongahela, Pa.
Mascara, of Charleroi, Pa., represented the state's 20th district for four terms before redistricting pushed him into a primary race against the late Rep. John Murtha. Murtha defeated Mascara, who then retired from politics.
The child of Italian immigrants, Mascara was born in Belle Vernon, Pa., on Jan. 19, 1930. He served in the Army from 1946 to 1947, and he later attended California University of Pennsylvania.
During his college years, he showed diligence and a zest for life, said Lou Lignelli, who worked for Mascara for more than 20 years, first in Washington County and later as Mascara's district director when he served in Congress.
Lignelli's father was a bartender at the Twin Coaches Supper Club in Rostraver Township. He used to tell his son, then in high school, about a young man who would play drums for performers such as Frank Sinatra and the Temptations. In the downtime between performances, the man would study for tests.
"My father would say: 'This guy is so smart. You should be more like him,'" Lignelli said.
That man was Mascara, Lignelli's future boss.
After graduating from Cal U in 1972, Mascara started his own finance business. He also dove into the political arena, first serving as the Washington County controller from 1974 to 1980.
He left his accounting business to work as a public servant full time when he became the chairman of the Washington County Board of Commissioners in 1980.
As chairman, Mascara was known for pushing for developments that he believed would help the county. His legacy is Southpointe, a 550-acre area purchased from the state for business development. At first, the project stalled and became known as "Frank's Folly," said Pam Snyder, who served as his deputy district director throughout all of his Congressional terms.
The development has since become a booming area, filled with homes, businesses and even a golf course.
"He got the last laugh," said Snyder, now a commissioner in Pennsylvania's Greene County. "It was a huge success, and it continues to grow."
Mascara ran for Congress in 1994. He became one of the few Democrats elected that year, when the Republicans took the majority in the House.
During his time in Congress, Mascara voted consistently with Democrats, often angling to bring federal money home for his district.
And despite his success, friends said he remained humble.
"I think he had a hard time grasping that he was in the United States Congress," Snyder said. "He used to say, 'How did this happen to a poor boy like me? Only in America could I have grown up to be a Congressman.'"
As soon as the workweek in D.C. was over, he was on his way back to Pennsylvania and his wife, Dolores.
After the 2000 Census, redistricting eliminated Mascara's district. His house was on one side of the street, in what is now Republican Rep. Tim Murphy's district, while he parked his car on the other side of the street, in Murtha's district.
"Southwestern Pennsylvania has lost a true statesman, gentleman and friend," Snyder said.
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