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Mt. Lebanon Republican replaces Gastgeb on County Council

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:09 p.m.
Allegheny County Councilwoman Krista Harris (right) is sworn in by Judge William Ward in the County Courthouse, Downtown, on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Harris replaces Vince Gastgeb. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Newly sworn-in Allegheny County Councilwoman Krista Harris (center) takes her seat between Councilwomen Amanda Green Hawkins (left) and Heather S. Heidelbaugh (right) at the County Courthouse, Downtown on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Harris was sworn in minutes earlier by Judge William Ward to replace Vince Gastgeb, who left council. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

A Republican committeewoman from Mt. Lebanon will fill Vince Gastgeb's former Allegheny County Council seat at least through the end of the year.

Council Republicans nominated Krista Harris, 28, to fill the District 5 seat, and council approved her 13-0 on Tuesday.

“Allegheny County is a great place to live, and I think it's my responsibility to get involved and make it a better place,” Harris said. “I'm a young mom, and I'd like to see more young families in Allegheny County. I'd like to make Allegheny County more business-friendly to attract new blood.”

She said she'd like to focus on improving parks and recreation.

Harris works for Cold Spark Media, a political advertising and public relations firm, as an account executive focusing on political fundraising.

She is the first person other than Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, to hold the District 5 seat since council was created in 2000. Gastgeb resigned last month amid questions over whether the home rule charter barred him from keeping his seat while taking a job with the county Airport Authority. Gastgeb maintained he could, but resigned anyway.

Council's three other Republicans selected Harris from among eight applicants.

“She has some political experience, and she has a good grasp for government,” said Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless. “I think she's a good candidate.”

Harris is married to Mark Harris, who was political strategist for D. Raja's unsuccessful bid for county executive against Rich Fitzgerald in 2011. Mark Harris, who worked for Sen. Pat Toomey's campaign, is the co-founder of Cold Spark Media.

After a televised debate in November 2011 between Fitzgerald and Raja, Fitzgerald called Mark Harris one of the “sleaziest political operatives in town” because of Raja's political ads. That led to a testy exchange after the debate.

On his way out of the studio, Fitzgerald walked past Mark Harris, who said to the candidate, “You're attacking me by name?” Fitzgerald said he was. Krista Harris, who was standing next to her husband, shook Fitzgerald's hand and said, “I'm his wife.”

Fitzgerald, smiling, responded: “I wouldn't be proud of that.”

Krista Harris said on Tuesday she respected Fitzgerald.

“I'm really looking forward to working with the executive,” Harris said. “It won't be a problem. I respect the executive and the office.”

Asked about Harris, Fitzgerald said, “We hope we can do productive things with all council members.”

Among the seven hopefuls who did not get selected for the seat was Charlotte Stephenson, 54, of Mt. Lebanon.

“I felt I presented my position very well. I was hoping to serve the constituents, but unfortunately I was not (the council Republicans') choice,” said Stephenson, whom the Republicans interviewed on Monday.

Harris will represent the communities of Bethel Park, Bridgeville, Mt. Lebanon, and Upper St. Clair until voters select a representative in a November special election. Harris said she plans to run for a full term.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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