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O'Connor bides his time on Pittsburgh City Council

| Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor discusses development in Squirrel Hill on August 30, 2012 in front of the Manor Theatre on Murray Avenue. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor discusses development in Squirrel Hill on August 30, 2012 in front of the Eat n' Park on Murray Avenue. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor chats with a constituent in Squirrel Hill on August 30, 2012 at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenues. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor discusses the redevelopment of this parklet next to the post office in Squirrel Hill on August 30, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Corey O'Connor admits to keeping a low profile on Pittsburgh City Council since taking office eight months ago, but he says that's about to change.

“I'm getting more confident, and I'll be a little more vocal now,” O'Connor, 28, of Swiss­helm Park said during a stroll along Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. “I always sort of take the mindset where if you've got something important to say, then say it. If an issue hits me, I'm going to say something about it.”

The youngest council member and son of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor said he spent his first days in office learning the job and quietly working to improve his District 5 neighborhoods spanning from Squirrel Hill across the Monongahela River to Lincoln Place.

O'Connor said he loves the job so far, especially helping people, and he doesn't mind the schedule.

On Monday he'll march in the city's Labor Day parade, then drive to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention. O'Connor is on the convention's platform committee, which hashes out political talking points the party will feature during the convention.

“I think he's doing very much the same as his father did when he came on council,” said Pete Wagner, a longtime Democratic ward chairman in Beechview and the brother of state Auditor General Jack Wagner. “He'll develop his own area of expertise, and I'm sure he'll become more and more forceful as time goes on and he gets his feet on the ground.”

Many predicted when O'Connor ran for election last year, his first campaign, that he was destined for the mayor's office. His father, a longtime District 5 councilman who died in 2006 after serving as mayor for only eight months, was well-liked and well-known.

But O'Connor said he's neither ready nor willing to consider a mayoral challenge this early in his career. One of his biggest challenges is the pressure of living up to his father's legacy.

“I can't compete,” he said. “I'm just going to do the best that I can do and use everything he taught me in making my final decision. I anticipated the pressure going into this, and I'm not afraid of a challenge.”

Observers say O'Connor is taking the right approach. He's been instrumental on a few key issues, including legislation that offered city residents free home assessments to use for Allegheny County property reassessment appeals, while watching and getting to know his council colleagues.

“It's always tough when you come in as a freshman councilman to find your way around and learn the city,” Controller Michael Lamb said. “It will be interesting to see as we get into the fall and some of the more controversial issues that come up.”

One such topic will be the run-up to next year's mayoral election. Lamb and Councilman Bill Peduto are likely candidates to oppose Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the Democratic primary, and state Auditor General Jack Wagner has been mentioned as a possible contender. Candidates will expect council members to chose sides.

“(O'Connor's) going to have to be very politically astute whenever he decides which side he's going to take,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “If he chooses the mayor, he can risk losing support in his own neighborhood and lose support from Peduto. He can't afford to alienate the solid base there in his district.”

O'Connor isn't looking forward to the experience.

“That's going to be tough,” he said with a laugh. “I just hope that when we get to next year and they're doing things for political purposes, that they don't forget the reason we're here is for the people of Pittsburgh and the city.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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