Seven years after his death, people who knew Milton L. Lebowitz best couldn’t help but wonder on Friday, April 30, if he came back for a ceremony in his honor.
The late mayor of White Oak Borough, known for his love of community as well as his offbeat sense of humor, seemed to make his presence felt to more than 150 people who gathered at White Oak Regional Park to dedicate a bridge in his memory.
First, the tarp covering a sign designating the span as the Milton L. Lebowitz Memorial Bridge came free displaying the name before the actual unveiling.
Next, two cars nearly collided at the intersection of the park entrance and Jack’s Run Road — in full view of the crowd. At least one speaker said those vehicles would have struck one another on the old span, which the mayor worked hard to replace.
Finally, as the mayor’s old friend, White Oak Police Chief Joe Hoffman spoke, a gust of wind slammed a portrait of Lebowitz — set up on an easel behind the speaker’s podium — to the pavement.
“He would have loved that part of the program,” Hoffman said of the late mayor without missing a beat.
Whether Lebowitz was there in spirit or not, the speakers — including lawmakers, judges, friends, family and representatives of the White Oak Jewish community — agreed that the bridge dedication was a fitting tribute to the man who served as mayor from 1998 until his death in 2003.
“As far as White Oak goes, he was the best P.R. man we had,” said District Judge Tom Miller.
“The 18-foot bridge over Jack’s Run, which carries about 2,000 vehicles a day, replaced a span that Allegheny County Councilman Bill Macey referred to as a “death trap.” Lebowitz lobbied state officials for its replacement and even called the governor to enlist his support.
“It was a narrow bridge and one car was able to cross at a time,” Hoffman later said of the first bridge. “There were several accidents. That was a problem.”
The new bridge was finally built in 2008.
“The mayor is with us,” said state Sen. Sean Logan, whom Lebowitz supported in his campaign for the upper House. “He has to be smiling.”
Lebowitz backed Logan in his first campaign for the Senate at a time when it was politically difficult to do so, Logan said. But he kept his word to the then-Monroeville mayor to support him when he decided to seek higher office.
“Nowadays, they just don’t make men like the mayor — word like a rock,” Logan said.
Lebowitz was a bridge builder in a human sense as well as the physical, according to his granddaughter, Jenna Domber.
“He acted as if he were surrounded by royalty, and that’s how he treated everyone,” Domber said. “He treated [everyone] like [they] were the most important people in the word.”
“When I think of Milton Lebowitz and the kind of person he was,” former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht said, “I think of an old Yiddish vernacular. He was a mensch.”
Judge David Wecht, State Rep. David Levdansky and White Oak Borough Manager Jack Petro also spoke at the dedication. Temple B’nai Israel Rabbi Paul Tuchman led the invocation.
Like other speakers, former State Treasurer Barbara Hafer, who remembered how Lebowitz supported her, even when she was a Republican, couldn’t shake the feeling that the mayor was at the ceremony.
“He’s here flying around,” Hafer said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)