Pittsburgh official goes viral by rebuking Ted Cruz – and looking like Jeff Daniels

Martin Pengelly in New York
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Nate Smallwood/AP</span>
Photograph: Nate Smallwood/AP

Rich Fitzgerald, the elected executive of Allegheny county, Pennsylvania, has achieved viral internet fame – for rebuking the Republican senator Ted Cruz but also for looking remarkably like the Emmy-winning actor Jeff Daniels.

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When Joe Biden took the US back into the Paris climate accord this week, Cruz, from Texas, repeated a familiar rightwing complaint, saying the new Democratic president was “more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh”.

Such barbs have been deflected before – not least by the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, who reacted to Trump’s Paris withdrawal in 2017 by committing the city to the accord’s ambitious climate-related goals.

Fitzgerald, a Democrat who attended Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, told local TV Cruz’s tweet was “outrageous”.

“You know,” he said, “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s a climate denier. He was a Covid denier. We believe in science round here, and why Senator Cruz thinks he could tell Pittsburgh … we’re doing just fine.”

Fitzgerald also pointed out Cruz’s role in encouraging Trump’s baseless claims that the presidential election was stolen, and his objections to electoral college results even after Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, leaving five dead. Cruz nurtures presidential ambitions of his own but now faces calls for expulsion from the Senate.

“This is a guy who was really part of the insurrection,” Fitzgerald said, “part of the denial of elections. So I don’t think this guy has any credibility. So, we’ll run what we need to do here, senator, and keep your nose out of our business.”

Fitzgerald’s words reached a huge audience but, such are the ways of the internet, perhaps more for his distinct resemblance to the star of The Newsroom and To Kill a Mockingbird than for his appropriately Aaron Sorkin-esque decision to face down a rightwing bully.

“Some days just shine down,” wrote Ryan Deto, a news editor for the Pittsburgh City Paper. “Rich Fitzgerald went viral for criticising Ted Cruz … then everyone on Twitter called him Jeff Daniels, and Daniels started to trend. #blessed.”

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Writing for the City Paper, Deto praised Fitzgerald’s “yinzer accent” and asked: “With his floppy mop of red hair and dad-like demeanour, who can fault anyone from making the comparison?”

He also recounted another “humorous celebrity story” about the county executive, revealing: “A fun fact about Fitzgerald is that he once sang on stage with John Cougar Mellencamp at the Star Lake Amphitheater, just outside of Pittsburgh.

“Jeff Daniels will never have that much yinzer cred.”

Helpfully, in April 2019 the same paper offered readers a guide to “the yinzer vocabulary”. “Yinz”, it explained, is Pittsburgh for “y’all”.