To: Charles McCollester, Battle of Homestead Foundation
C.C.:
Michelle Tyron Wardle-Eggers, executive director, McKeesport Heritage Center
Robert T. Messner, esquire
Bethany Budd Bauer, director of community development, City of McKeesport
Dennis K.E. Pittman, administrator, City of McKeesport
James Haughey, Executive Director, McKeesport Housing Corp.
Angelia Christina, McKeesport Housing Corp.

Dear Dr. McCollester:

I had a sleepless night on Sunday and had 450 miles of driving to think about things.

I am delighted that the Battle of Homestead Foundation took the initiative to apply for a historical marker commemorating the Nixon-Kennedy Debate!

I do wish that the Foundation had collaborated with the City of McKeesport or the McKeesport Heritage Center — or even informed the Center of its intentions! — but we do not have a monopoly on McKeesport’s history. This marker is a wonderful thing for McKeesport, and the Battle of Homestead Foundation should be congratulated.

HOWEVER: I am very, very unhappy at Mary Ann Huk’s involvement in any celebration.

I cannot begin to register my anger strongly enough, and I am prepared to voice my anger with Mayor McLaughlin, McKeesport City Council and the media.

I have nothing personal against Ms Huk, but it’s an injustice for her to receive any credit as a “preservationist.” Indeed, if the Penn-McKee Hotel is demolished, she and her “preservation society” will deserve much of the blame!

Ms Huk has helped discredit the cause of historic preservation in the City of McKeesport and her involvement in any public ceremony would
— in the eyes of those of us who care about this city — not do credit to the Battle of Homestead Foundation.

With all due respect, I would like to speak with you this week, before the planning for any public announcement goes any further. I am not seeking any public role for myself, but I do want to make sure the record is straight.

Please let me know when you have a convenient time in your schedule.

Very truly yours,
Jason Togyer
Member, Board of Directors
McKeesport Heritage Center

From: Charles McCollester
To: Jason Togyer
Date: Nov. 9, 2011
Cc: (long list of email addresses deleted)

Dear Jason:

I would be happy to meet with you. I first met Maryann Huk I believe during a meeting I organized under a U.S. EPA Brownfields grant that I wrote for the cities of Duquesne, McKeesport, and Clairton for the West-to-West Coalition and IUP’s Labor Center. We had a public forum at the Palisades (Cheryl Sears was my helper on the Mckeesport public education efforts). We met again in conjunction with the dedication of the Queen Aliquippa historical marker that I wrote in cooperation with Laverne McConnell and Ruth Weyman at their request (I partnered with them in that instance). Indeed, last spring, Maryann alerted me to the Queen Aliquippa marker’s’s vandalism and helped me get in touch with a very helpful Mckeesport Public Works department (under Mayor Brewster) who repaired the damage to the pole and reset the marker. Maryann spoke forcefully about various preservation projects she cared about. Initially, I was most interested in the Roundhouse that I would explore when I was at the 1905 building after Maglev meetings. It was in a conversation with her almost two years ago that I first learned about the 1947 Kennedy-Nixon debate. She possessed a tiny article written before the debate announcing it in the Daily News. I was fascinated since I knew the local history in some detail around the impact of Taft-Hartley on labor in the Electric Valley and the bitter local struggle around communism in the 1940s and 50s. (Also, at age 17, I was president of a Youth for Kennedy effort in Rochester NY and followed the campaign and read their personal histories intently). (Third-party’s name redacted) had always been a prime source of information about the history of McKeesport in the 1940s, but he was unaware of the debate as well. Last spring (Name redacted) and I got to tour the Penn McKee at Maryann’s invitation. The more I researched the debate, the more interesting the story became.

To be clear, the marker is commemorating the debate (not the Penn-McKee) and my interest is in educating around the issues involved in the most anti-labor legislation of the 20th century whose shadows we can discern recently in Wisconsin and Ohio. I have always been clear with Maryann that the marker is about the debate and that the Penn McKee’s fate is separate. I told her that if the hotel were torn down, the marker could be moved to city hall near the Kennedy 1960 Campaign statue. In fact in the press release that I drafted with the input of President Leo Gerard and the Communications department of the USW that went out today I believe, while I mention that there are ongoing preservation efforts concerning the Penn McKee, Maryann did not want her or her group mentioned in the press release. It is only because I keep (Name redacted) appraised of efforts around the marker (he wrote a brilliant 3 page endorsement of my proposal) that I first heard of all this controversy, although I have at times felt uneasy about some interactions that I have witnessed.

What the Battle of Homestead Foundation, the Pennsylvania Labor History Society and the USW wants is a marker dedication program that might include a talk by Chris Matthews on the Kennedy-Nixon personal relationship along with a roundtable or symposium on the impact of the Taft-Hartley legislation then and now. Ideally we’d like this in April or May with the marker dedication program at the Palisades. I’d love to see a discussion of the possibilities for development around the hotel to be a part of such an event, but only if such a discussion can be useful to progress on the effort. Hopefully however everyone can unite around the commemoration of the debate and benefit from education and discussion about the ongoing effects of the legislation.

Charles McCollester

Note: No meeting ever happened. After a further exchange of emails, I called Mr. McCollester and asked if we could meet on a neutral ground. Instead, he told me that he had not read my emails; wasn’t interested in the other side of the story; felt I was “rude”; and had no intention of meeting with me.

It should be noted that several things in Mr. McCollester’s email are imprecise, putting it kindly; to put it less charitably, they are disingenuous.

The McKeesport Preservation Society was, indeed, mentioned in the press release sent by the USW; and despite Mr. McCollester’s assertion that “I have always been clear with Maryann that the marker is about the debate and that the Penn McKee’s fate is separate,” the third sentence of the release says, “This designation caps a campaign by the McKeesport Preservation Society working to preserve the Penn-McKee Hotel.”

It seems clear that this historical marker is about polishing the McKeesport Preservation Society’s reputation; and about raising money for Mr. McCollester’s foundation.

Also: My complaints are with McKeesport Preservation Society, not the Battle of Homestead Foundation. But I am sorry that Mr. McCollester inserted himself into this dispute, and then acted in a high-handed and condescending manner when he was informed of the controversy.

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