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Young artists paint murals in Washington

Downtown Washington walls will see a splash of color this week as three young artists will be painting murals.

The three murals on North Main Street are the start of a project by the Dreamers Company to brighten the downtown. Todd Ashmore, one of the board members, said the Washington nonprofit is interested in creating a downtown renaissance.

“Art needs to be a piece of it,” Ashmore said. “It just seems like art brings color, it brings vibrancy, it brings life. We located a few young artists that were interested in donating their time, and none of them have done murals before.”

Two of the murals will take over the south-facing wall of Mark Kennison’s building on North Main Street. One will be painted by Kristen Miller, a photographer and artist from Charlottesville, Va., who moved to Pittsburgh in 2004. The other will be done by 22-year-old Allie Menhart, who lived in Washington for years before just recently moving to Wheeling, W.Va. She works at Painting with a Twist in Washington.

The third will be on the wall of Chad Taggert’s building that houses his accounting firm, Taggert, Mitchell & Associates, in Pine Alley. Chad is a Dreamers Company board member, and his 16-year-old daughter, Selah, a sophomore at Trinity, will be painting that mural of a lion’s head.

“I wanted something bright and colorful,” Selah said. “I like making stuff, and painting is a way for me to express myself.”

Some of the challenges of taking on a mural for the first time, Selah said, is blending the colors and getting the scale right. Menhart, too, said the scale is one of her greatest challenges with this project.

“When you start to paint things that are bigger and bigger, you have to almost be looking from 10 feet back, but you have to be a foot away,” she said. “It’s really difficult to get that perspective.”

Menhart is painting a “pop-art take” on the arms in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” None of the murals are complete yet, but Menhart’s vision is for two connecting black and white arms with neon colors in the background. She’s painted the arms before, and when she ran the idea past Kennison and Ashmore, they approved it.

During the four years she lived in Washington, Allie was involved with Life Church, the Dreamers Company and their teen outreach program Mission Washington. That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to use her talent in this mural project.

“Aaron Miller, the director of the Dreamers Company, has been a mentor to me for a large part of my life,” Menhart said. “He has instilled in me a passion for community, restoration, beautification and taking ownership of the places that we live. You want to be proud of the place that you’re from, and anything you can do to add value is just something good to do.”

Miller will be painting a re-creation of a photograph she took of girls in dresses releasing Chinese lanterns, Ashmore said. Each painting costs about $400 to $500 in supplies, like drop cloths, paints and primer, but Ashmore said the Dreamers received donation from local businesses to pay for it.

The murals are meant to be interactive, Ashmore said, so people passing by can get photos or selfies with them in the background. He expects the majority of the painting to be completed by next week.

Dreamers will host an Art in the Alley event from 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 in Pine Alley to celebrate the completion of the murals. There will be live music, hors d’oeuvres, and a chance for people to interact with the artists and “watch them finish the pieces,” Ashmore said.

The event will be capped at 50 people, and will be moved to The Presidents Pub if it rains. The cost is $40 per person, with the proceeds going toward building a fund for additional murals downtown.

“We’re hopeful this will become self-sustaining,” Ashmore said.

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Pa. marks eight consecutive days with new COVID-19 in four digits

Pennsylvania experienced its eighth consecutive day Tuesday with new COVID-19 cases in four digits.

The state Health Department said there were 1,342 new cases Tuesday, taking the statewide total to 174,646 since March.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine and others are expected to hold a briefing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the surge in cases and the steps being taken to protect the public from the virus.

“We know that congregation, especially in college and university settings, yields increased case counts,” Levine said.

As of Monday, there were about 800 virus cases at Bloomsburg, Indiana and Kutztown state universities combined, the faculty union said Tuesday. California University of Pennsylvania did not call its students back to campus this fall, switching to a remote learning model.

The virus has killed 8,384 Pennsylvanians after 16 new deaths were reported Tuesday, none of which occurred in Washington, Greene, Fayette or Allegheny counties.

Westmoreland County recorded 89 new cases in a county where the virus numbers have been surging in recent weeks.

Washington County saw 18 new cases Tuesday, taking its total to 1,556. Greene County added one new case to its total that inched to 204. Fayette County recorded 14 new cases, taking its total to 883.

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Trump, Biden zero in on swing states that are key to victory
  • Updated

JOHNSTOWN – With Election Day just three weeks away, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden concentrated Tuesday on battleground states both see as critical to clinching an Electoral College victory, tailoring their travel to best motivate voters who could cast potentially decisive ballots.

Biden went to Florida to court seniors, looking to deliver a knockout blow in a state Trump needs to win while trying to woo a group whose support for the president has slipped. And Trump visited Pennsylvania, arguably the most important state on the electoral map, unleashing fierce attacks on Biden’s fitness for office in his opponent’s backyard.

“He’s shot, folks. I hate to tell you, he’s shot,” Trump told a big rally crowd in Johnstown, saying there was extra pressure on him to win because Biden was the worst presidential candidate of all time. “Can you imagine if you lose to a guy like this? It’s unbelievable.”

In his second rally since contracting the coronavirus, Trump spoke for more than an hour to a crowd of thousands packed in tightly and mostly maskless. Like the night before in Florida, Trump seemed healthy, and his rhetoric on the pandemic – including the dubious claim that it was mostly a thing of the past – changed little despite his own illness, except for his threat to kiss audience members to prove his immunity.

Trump made a local pitch, hammering home the claim that a Democratic administration could limit fracking in areas where the economy is heavily dependent on energy, despite Biden’s proposal to only bar new leases on federal land, a fraction of U.S. fracking operations. And Trump, touting his elimination of a federal rule that would have brought more low-income housing to the suburbs, zeroed in on groups whose support he has struggled to retain, including female voters turned off by his rhetoric.

“So I ask you to do me a favor. Suburban women: Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?” Trump said. “The other thing: I don’t have that much time to be that nice. You know, I can do it, but I gotta go quickly.”

Biden spent the day in Florida, his third visit to the state in a month, looking to expand on his inroads with older voters. To Trump, “you’re expendable, you’re forgettable, you’re virtually nobody,” Biden said at a senior center in Pembroke Pines, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Fort Lauderdale.

The “only senior Donald Trump seems to care about” is himself, Biden added.

After frequently criticizing Trump for not doing enough to promote mask wearing to prevent the spread of the virus, Biden was wearing two masks, an N-95 underneath a blue surgical mask, as he deplaned in Florida. Later in the day, he switched to his normal mode of donning just one.

Introducing Biden in Pembroke Pines, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that “neither of these men will walk into the White House without the blessing of Florida seniors.”

“Much is made of the rise of the youth vote, and thank God for it,” the Florida congresswoman said. “But it’s residents 65 or older who still swing elections in the Sunshine State.”

Biden also held a drive-in rally designed to promote voter mobilization in the heavily African American community of Miramar. His swing coincided with a $500,000 donation from billionaire former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to increase Democratic turnout in Miami-Dade County.

“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president,” Biden said to supporters blaring their horns as they listened from cars. “I’ll work as hard for those who vote against me as those who vote for me.”

Back in Washington, Tuesday marked a second day of Senate hearings to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Trump and top Republicans see a swift confirmation as a chance to energize conservatives. Trump mentioned those proceedings as he left the White House, saying, “Amy was doing incredibly well.”

Biden’s campaign believes it can win the White House without Florida’s 29 electoral votes, but it wants to lock up the state to pad a margin of victory over Trump, who has questioned the legitimacy of an election where many people will cast mail-in ballots during the pandemic. Biden has vowed to win Pennsylvania, but if he falls short, his path to victory narrows substantially.

With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is anchored by Philadelphia to the east, Pittsburgh to the west. But the rest of the state is largely rural, comprised of small cities and towns where Trump ran up the score four years ago. He will need to again, in even greater numbers, as his prospects have slipped since 2016 in places like vote-rich suburban Philadelphia, where he underperformed by past Republican measures.

Trump’s rally was at the airport in Johnstown in Cambria County, a historically coal and steel area that narrowly backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. But it has trended Republican for the past three decades and, in the 2016 election, Trump scored a 37 percentage-point victory. The area is also substantially whiter and has lower median incomes and lower rates of college-degree attainment than the rest of Pennsylvania.

Biden, who was born 220 miles (350 kilometers) away in Scranton, visited Johnstown late last month. The former vice president has tried to cast himself as a champion of working-class voters while accusing Trump of focusing instead on stock market returns and Park Avenue values.

Despite the pandemic, Trump’s campaign has prioritized in-person events and aggressive door-knocking as it tries to turn out new and low-propensity voters, including more members of the white working class who may have backed Democrats in the past.

Republicans point to an aging population and a shrinking voter-registration edge for Democrats, down 20% from 2016’s election to 717,000, according to the latest Pennsylvania data.


Weissert reported from Washington; Lemire from New York; Barrow from Pembroke Pines, Fla. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.

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Labor & Industry unveils ID system to defray fraud

The ID.me system, implemented in Pennsylvania last week to dissuade unemployment compensation fraud, has gotten an early thumb’s up from Labor & Industry officials.

“We’ve tried it out for a few days, and so far, so good,” Susan Dickinson, the UC benefits policy director, said Tuesday afternoon during the department’s weekly virtual news conference.

L&I contracted with ID.me, a security vendor, to provide an additional step of identity verification in the wake of a recent surge of fraudulent claims in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The mid-September claims were filed using stolen identities.

PUA fraud was initially detected in the spring, an issue that L&I secretary Jerry Oleksiak has described as “not a Labor & Industry problem, not a Pennsylvania problem, but a national problem.”

Those benefits are for self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and others not eligible for regular unemployment compensation.

ID.me is a follow-up to anti-fraud measures that previously had been put into place. Claimants who had been receiving PUA payments do not have to verify their identities through the new system, but new PUA applicants must. They will receive directions on how to do so through a communication from ID.me.

“It’s up to the person to verify themselves,” Dickinson said.

Labor & Industry temporarily held up payments on new PUA claims while ID.me was being installed. Dickinson, however, said the department has been paying new claimants – after they have been verified.

Oleksiak reminded residents they still can apply for funds through the Lost Wages Assistance program, a $300 weekly benefit for those who are or were fully or partly unemployed because of the pandemic. The retroactive payments cover a six-week period, beginning Aug. 1 and ending the week of Sept. 5, when LWA lapsed. He said the state has paid about $1.65 billion of the $2.8 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding it received through the program.

Labor & Industry reported that it has paid slightly less than $30 billion in total benefits, including $5.5 billion in regular UC.

L&I will have its 20th weekly town hall at 1 p.m. Thursday. It is open to the public, by calling 833-380-0719 or live-streaming at https://access.live/PAlabor.

“We get a great variety of questions at these (town halls),” Dickinson said. “We hear that it helps residents a lot, and it’s a good way for us to get feedback on what we are doing.”