National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Outgoing County Council president well-trained to handle disputes

By Charlie Ban

While serving as president of the Allegheny County, Pa. Council, Charles Martoni kept himself out of heavy discussions. He saw himself as a kind of referee, who moves things along with some skills to settle disagreements. Some skills he’s acquired after more than 40 years in elected office; some he learned in a different arena.

“When I was in the Army (he spent two years serving in Alaska), I was a boxer and I thought I had a potential to be a good one,” Martoni said. “There weren’t too many opportunities, though, the sport was on the way out. But I liked to work in the ring, and I had a chance to wrestle professionally.”

Archive photo courtesy of Charles Martoni

Charles “The Cannonball” Martoni wrestled professionally, decades before being elected to the Allegheny County Council when it was first formed.

Before he made his debut, he trained nearly every day for two months, sparring with famous wrestler Bruno Sammartino and a young man named John DeFazio, who would later join Martoni on the County Council. On the circuit, Martoni traveled across the country wrestling under a variety of nicknames, including “the Cannonball.”

It was a more realistic style of wrestling than is promoted today, he said.

“It was a show, there’s no question about that, but it was a little more realistic. Fewer gimmicks — we’d get in the ring and do some moves that would get the crowd going. It wasn’t about competing, so we wanted to put on a good show, but one the audience could enjoy.”

All the while, he worked at a U.S. Steel blast furnace making iron that would be sent down the Monongahela River and made into steel. But when the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) opened for business in 1966, Martoni decided to apply — both for a job and as a student. Working in the financial aid office and studying for an associate’s degree, he began a long association with the school that continues to this day.

A G.I. Bill recipient, Martoni was well suited to help what turned out to be scores of Vietnam War veterans who took their benefits to CCAC. The dean of students later asked him to help out in the college’s counseling department, so after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, he earned another master’s in counseling, balancing his administrative workload with teaching one or two U.S. history courses.

“I’ve taught at least one history course each term since I’ve been there,” he said. “There’s always been room for studying our history, even in a vocational curriculum.”

He later became the dean of students and earned at degree to match — a doctorate in higher education. In 2008, he was named president of the same CCAC campus where he started his higher education career.

“We’ve had a lot of opportunity to do nice things for people here,” he said of the college. “It’s a chance to change lives. It’s amazing what an education will do for a person’s career and self-regard.”

All the while, he served on his school board and municipal council, until Allegheny County’s 1998 home rule charter referendum passed, restructuring county government and forming the County Council. Martoni made the cut for the first council and has been there ever since.

He recently won a fifth term in office, but doesn’t plan to pursue the council presidency again.

“If you want to be a good president, you lose your ability to get involved in discussions and legislate,” he said. “I’d like to get back to being able to be more vocal about things, instead of staying above the fray.”