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Voters have plenty of choices in Allegheny County Council elections

Theresa Clift
| Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, 5:18 p.m.
From left: Tom Baker, Jack Betkowski, Ed Kress, Anita Prizio, Pat Catena, Dimitrios Pantzoulas, Charles Martoni and Michael Dell
From left: Tom Baker, Jack Betkowski, Ed Kress, Anita Prizio, Pat Catena, Dimitrios Pantzoulas, Charles Martoni and Michael Dell

On Nov. 7, four Allegheny County Council members will face challengers.

Learn more about the incumbents and challengers.

District 1

Incumbent: Tom Baker

Age: 38

Party: Republican

Residence: Ross

Occupation: Chief Community Affairs Officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh

Experience in elected office: North Hills School District school board member

Member of council since: 2014

This year, Baker voted against the ban on vaping in public places , along with his Republican colleagues on council. He voted in favor of mandatory lead testing for children and in favor of gas drilling at Deer Lakes Park and Pittsburgh International Airport.

He voted against a proposal to post health inspection grades on restaurant doors – an example of the council serving as a check to the county executive, he said.

Baker said what he is most proud of on council is passing a budget on time without raising property taxes.

If he wins another term, he hopes to work to combat the opioid epidemic, continue to help Port Authority bus service around Community College of Allegheny County's North campus, and push for replacement of aging infrastructure and road repaving.

Baker considers himself to be the "most transparent and publicly engaged member of council."

Challenger: Jack Betkowski

Age: 62

Party: Democrat

Residence: Ross

Occupation: Former manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, former project management professional

Experience in elected office: Currently a Ross commissioner, former member of Ross Zoning Hearing Board

Betkowski decided to run for council as a write-in candidate after attending a council meeting to learn more about a decision to sell part of the Kane nursing center property in Ross for private development, he told the Trib. When the council approved it without discussion, he decided to run for council in the hopes of improving transparency and openness.

If elected, he also plans to focus on the opioid epidemic, increase public involvement in county government and replacing the voting machines.

Betkowski is not accepting endorsements or contributions, he said.

"I intend to start my first day on council beholden only to the residents of Allegheny County," he said.

If elected, he promises to limit himself to a maximum of two terms in office.

District 3

Incumbent: Ed Kress

Age: 46

Party: Republican

Residence: Shaler

Occupation: Attorney

Experience in elected office: Was appointed to Allegheny County Council in 2005 and 2011

Member of council since: 2014

Kress voted against both the vaping ban and mandatory lead testing.

Among his proudest achievements, he named "whistleblower" legislation that rewards county employees and residents if the county recovers any money from fraud they report. He also noted the online appeals process for property assessments, securing millions in private money for county parks, job fairs to place recent high school graduates in building trades, and legislation to ensure county contractors do not employ undocumented immigrants.

"I plan to continue to seek creative ways to increase county revenue by maximizing our assets, preventing government fraud and seeking efficiencies throughout our government," he said.

Challenger: Anita Prizio

Age: 54

Party: Democrat

Residence: O'Hara

Occupation: Owner of Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service Inc. in East Liberty

Experience in elected office: O'Hara Township Council; Democratic National Convention delegate

If elected, Prizio hopes to increase discussion and transparency, referencing Trib articles reporting the council routinely violated the state Sunshine Act this year.

"Even when debate should occur in front of public scrutiny, multiple violations of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act erode the trust between our council and us constituents," Prizio said.

She plans to also focus on the overdose epidemic and water crisis.

Homes of pregnant women and young children should be prioritized in lead line replacements, she said.

She supported the mandatory lead testing but said it "barely scratched the surface of the crisis we're facing."

Among the legislation she plans to introduce: creating a county jail investigative task force, clarified requirements for developer tax breaks, and stronger fracking oversight.

She is refusing PAC money because of the possibility that it could present even the appearance of a conflict of interest, she said.

District 4

Incumbent: Pat Catena

Age: 44

Party: Democrat

Residence: Carnegie

Occupation: Senior financial analyst

Experience in elected office: Carnegie Council president, Char West Council of Governments vice president

Democrats appointed Catena to council after Michael Finnerty resigned in December.

He voted for a vaping ban and mandatory lead testing.

If elected, Catena said he would continue to focus on economic development, preparing youths for leadership roles and maintain a civil dialogue with his colleagues on council.

"After all, everyone wants what is best for the county but we might have different perspectives at how to get there," he said.

He also hopes to improve communication and assist municipalities throughout the county, he said.

Catena has several pieces of legislation he is planning to introduce, but cannot yet share them publicly, he said.

Challenger: Dimitrios Pantzoulas

Age: 43

Party: Republican

Residence: McKees Rocks

Occupation: Small business owner

Experience in elected office: None

If elected, Pantzoulas hopes to decrease government spending and break the Democrats' majority on council, he said.

Currently, Democrats hold 10 seats on council and Republicans hold five.

"They can raise taxes, fees and pass any piece of legislation solely on a party line vote," Pantzoulas said.

Pantzoulas hopes to focus his efforts on making the county more attractive to businesses and to minimize the legislation that negatively affects small businesses.

"As a small businessman, I know firsthand the role regulations play in preventing me from growing and expanding my businesses," he said.

Pantzoulas is president of Decor Construction Group; Scoops & More in Oakdale; Pantzoulas Development Group; and The Center MedSpa and Salon in Greesnburg.

He is not supportive of the mandatory lead testing legislation and supports the gas drilling under Deer Lakes Park, he said.

District 8

Incumbent: Charles Martoni

Age: 81

Party: Democrat

Residence: Swissvale

Occupation: President of Community College of Allegheny County, Boyce campus

Experience in elected office: Swissvale mayor, president of council, member of school board

Member of council since: 2000

Martoni voted in favor of the vaping ban and mandatory lead testing — votes he is proud of but were difficult because they were controversial, he said.

In response to some of the challengers' concerns saying the council does not have enough discussion, Martoni said the council had many meetings on controversial topics such as the vaping ban.

A lot of the discussion they're not seeing at the regular council meetings happens during committee meetings, he said.

Martoni did not name any specific areas he plans to focus on if he is re-elected, but said he is open to the council holding meetings in other places of the county.

"I just want to continue to be a peacemaker up there and cooperate with the other 14 members and create a positive environment so we can get something done," Martoni said.

Challenger: Michael Dell

Age: 50

Party: Republican

Residence: Plum

Occupation: CPA

Experience in elected office: Serves as vice president for Plum borough council

If elected, Dell said he plans to ask many questions about county finances, including why county spending continues to rise.

"I have so many questions and need to understand why the county does certain functions before I can make a recommendation at budget time," he said.

He proposes more joint operations between local police departments to help cut back on crime east of the city, he said.

He also wants to explore what county services can be consolidated.

He questions the need for a new $1.1 billion airport terminal .

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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