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Former Pittsburgh Councilwoman, Clean Air Activist Dies

Michelle Madoff-Scheske,  former Pittsburgh councilwoman and co-founder of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), died of leukemia on Saturday at Banner Health Hospice in Peoria, Ariz. She was 85.

Born in Toronto, Madoff moved to the United States in 1952 and settled in Squirrel Hill in 1961.

Disgusted by Pittsburgh’s poor air quality in the 1960s and '70s, she organized a group of neighbors in 1969 and created GASP.

Walter Goldburg, a personal friend and original GASP board member, said he was hesitant about joining the newly formed organization.

“She asked me to be on the board,” he said. “I think I declined because I was already working through the Federation of American Scientists, but I said, ‘I will certainly help you,’ and that’s how I got to know Michelle. I’ve known her since before there was a GASP.”

The environmental group put together “The Dirty Dozen,” a list of lawmakers who profited from the city’s dirty industry at the cost of clean air, to bring attention to Pittsburgh’s pollution problems.

Goldburg said Madoff’s aggressive attitude allowed the group to be so successful and influential.

“She got me to call up legislators,” he said, “people who were running for office to push air pollution control. I testified for GASP many, many times.”

It was that same vigorous and energetic attitude that led Madoff to run for City Council.

She ran unsuccessfully in 1973 and lost the Allegheny Council Commissioner race in 1975 before filling the unexpired term of Richard Caliguiri in 1978 to become the fourth councilwoman in Pittsburgh’s history.

Madoff often sparred verbally with former council president Eugene DePasquale. In one of their famous encounters, Madoff waited under Kaufmann’s clock after DePasquale said he would kiss her rear end underneath the Pittsburgh landmark if one of her proposals passed.

Her council career ended in 1993 with a loss to Alan Hertzberg.

Shortly after, she moved to South Carolina and then Las Vegas, where she married Fred Scheske. The two lived in a retirement facility in Peoria, Ariz.

Madoff is also survived by her daughter Karenlin Madoff and stepchildren Daniel and Catherine Scheske.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."