WHAT ARE the faithful going to give up for Lent in our corner of the world? Not snow -- that's everywhere. Not politics -- the political news reached blizzard proportions last week. After the death of U.S. Rep. John Murtha, the veteran Democrat from Johnstown, would-be members of Congress started lining up. They include some big names on the Democratic side -- former state Auditor General and Treasurer Barbara Hafer (but only if Mr. Murtha's widow, Joyce, doesn't run), Westmoreland County Commissioner Tom Ceraso and former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel. The Democrats better pick wisely or the 12th Congressional District could return a Massachusetts-style surprise. In the last election, Mr. Murtha won after being uncharacteristically abandoned by much of the electorate. Army veteran Bill Russell, who gave Mr. Murtha that tougher-than-expected race, is returning as one of two Republican hopefuls.
IN THE 4TH Congressional District, controversy is another thing that residents won't be able to give up for Lent, because former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan will bring some of it with her. Fresh from making ex-Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht's life a misery (at least until she gave up her ill-fated quest to prosecute him on corruption charges), Ms. Buchanan made the unsurprising announcement last week that she would be a Republican candidate in the May 18 primary, joining at least two others. The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire, who gives the impression that he's not too concerned about a campaign and will focus on serving his district. But he's another who should be worried. To the disappointment of liberal supporters, he has styled himself as a conservative "blue dog." We shall now see how this dog hunts.
ALL THIS POLITICS has the potential to raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels -- not a good thing in Allegheny County, which ranks 49th among the state's counties in terms of deaths and sickness. This finding comes from a new national report released last week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It was the first attempt to rank the overall health of every county in the United States. Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania came out as the healthiest in the state. And the unhealthiest? Philadelphia County. Maybe people should give up Philadelphia for Lent.