Pittsburgh City Council races draw big field of hopefuls
State financial control, attempts to cut districts and a protracted ethics investigation have eroded the prestige and job security of a seat on Pittsburgh City Council, observers say.
Yet a determined group of 11 hopefuls are challenging four sitting council members in the May 15 Democratic primary.
"You can't start out running as U.S. senator, so that's why they've focused on City Council, because it's doable," said Gloria T. Forouzan, whose Lawrenceville company runs the candidate-training workshops "Run Baby Run."
"You can realistically expect to raise the kind of money that you need, and you can engage the help of your family and friends, which can actually make a difference," she said.
Some see the office -- which pays a $55,029 annual salary -- as a stepping stone, Forouzan said. That's led to high turnover. Councilman Jim Motznik, elected in 2001, is the senior member.
Joe Weinroth, vice chair of the city Republican Committee, said Pittsburgh's state-controlled financial recovery plan has reduced the council to little more than a rubber-stamp on budgets.
"The office is a little diminished in terms of stature, power and what they can do," said Weinroth, a former mayoral candidate who mounted an attempt to cut the council's size last year. "I wish that we could elect better people to council. I'd say half of them are former chiefs of staff for previous council people."
Nearly all of this year's challengers have no political experience, and none are Republicans.
Four incumbents face tough challenges: Jeffrey Koch, of Arlington; Len Bodack, of Stanton Heights; Darlene Harris, of Spring Hill; and Twanda Carlisle, of Homewood. Doug Shields is running unopposed.
Carlisle, 48, the only council member not to win the Democratic Party's endorsement, has the most challengers. County prosecutors are investigating her for more than $177,000 in questionable taxpayer-funded payments she authorized to family friends and political supporters over four years.
The wide field of candidates vying for her post are betting the political damage the investigation has done will make her easy to beat. She faces the party's choice, the Rev. Ricky Burgess, and candidates Ora Lee Carroll, Judith Ginyard, Leah Kirkland, Eric Smith, Randall Taylor and William Anderson.
District 3 features a rematch of sorts from a March 2006 special election. In an eight-way race, Koch, 45, a former public works foreman, beat Bruce A. Kraus, 52, an interior designer from the South Side, by 151 votes.
In this year's head-to-head race, Kraus claims Koch has lost touch with residents and neighborhood groups. He said he's running to reconnect with the people.
"That is truly my only interest in this seat," Kraus said. "It's not to be in politics; it's not necessarily to have a job. I have a job and a business. I'm fine."
Koch touted his work to limit the number of new bars on the South Side as a first step toward dealing with parking and police enforcement problems.
Bodack, 50, the District 7 incumbent, also said he has worked on the bar problem, helping close four "nuisance" taverns as chairman of the council's Public Safety Services Committee from 2004 to 2006. And he took credit for uniting Lawrenceville's "dysfunctional" neighborhood groups since narrowly winning election in a three-way race for his first term in 2003.
He faces Patrick Dowd, 39, of Highland Park, who beat Harris three years ago for a seat on the Pittsburgh Public Schools board. A St. Louis native and teacher at The Ellis School, Dowd moved to Pittsburgh in 1991.
"I had no intentions of staying here, but as you start to look at the city you start to realize there's tremendous potential here," he said.
On the North Side, Harris, 54, faces two newcomers just six months after beating five contenders in a special election to fill the remainder of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's term on council. She said she's proud of her work to get the Perrysville Avenue fire station renovated and improve playground equipment in a Brighton Heights park.
Robin Rosemary Miller, 48, executive director of the North Side and North Shore Chamber of Commerce, said she's running to take part in what she calls a critical time in a neighborhood revival driven by a new casino, hotels and restaurants.
"I have a feeling that the North Side is going to be the place to be in the next five years," she said.
Fellow challenger Valarie D. Coleman, 34, a business payroll consultant from East Allegheny, said she wants the job because, as a black, single parent, she can understand the problems of many North Siders.
The May 15 primary essentially decides who will win the general election in November because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by a ratio of 5-to-1.
Candidates for Pittsburgh City Council
Darlene M. Harris
Darlene M. Harris
Residence: Spring Hill Age: 54 Family: Husband, John; three grown children Education: Graduate of Perry High School Occupation: Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Previous elected office: Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Public service/activities/organizations: North Side Leadership Council
Robin Rosemary Miller
Residence: Spring Hill Age: 48 Family: Three brothers Education: Bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from Penn State University Occupation: Executive director of the North Shore North Side Chamber of Commerce Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Pittsburgh's Public Safety Committee; Clean Pittsburgh Commission
Valarie D. Coleman
Residence: East Allegheny Age: 34 Family: Single mother of one child Education: Bachelor's degree in corporate communications from Point Park University Occupation: Business payroll consultant Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: League of Women Voters; anti-violence groups
Jeffrey S. Koch
Jeffrey S. Koch
Residence: Arlington Age: 45 Family: Wife, Anita; three daughters Education: Graduate of Hilltop Catholic High School Occupation: Pittsburgh City Councilman Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Board member of the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority
Bruce A. Kraus
Residence: South Side Age: 52 Family: None Education: Graduate of Baldwin High School Occupation: Entrepreneur; interior design, construction Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Past president of South Side Chamber of Commerce
Residence: Squirrel Hill Age: 53 Family: Wife, Briget; two children Education: Associate's degree from Community College of Allegheny County Occupation: Pittsburgh City Council president Previous elected office: Elected to council in 2003 Public service/activities/organizations: Former Budget & Finance Committee chairman
Residence: Stanton Heights Age: 50 Family: Wife, Sharon; two daughters and a son Education: Graduate of Central Catholic High School Occupation: Pittsburgh City Councilman Previous elected office: Elected to council in 2003 Public service/activities/organizations: Former Public Safety Services chairman
Residence: Highland Park Age: 39 Family:. Wife, Leslie; six children Education: Bachelor's degree in history from the University of Missouri; doctorate in history from the University of Pittsburgh Occupation: History and economics teacher at The Ellis School in Shadyside Previous elected office: Current Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Public service/activities/organizations: Member of Highland Park Community Club
Residence: Homewood Age: 48 Education: Graduate of Peabody High School Occupation: Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Previous elected office: Elected to council in 2002 Public service/activities/organizations: Housing Authority of Pittsburgh board member
The Rev. Ricky V. Burgess
Residence: Homewood Age: 49 Family: Wife, Carlotta Education: Graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Penn State, Eastern Michigan and LaSalle universities Occupation: Pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Homewood Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Executive director of the Concerned Citizens Community Creations Center for at-risk youth
Residence: Lincoln-Lemington Age: 25 Family: Daughter of the Rev. Jacque Kirkland-Fielder and Aubrey Kirkland, both of East Liberty Education: Graduate of Slippery Rock University Occupation: Cell phone company employee Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Young Democrats of America and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
Residence: Point Breeze Age: 44 Occupation: Youth program consultant Previous elected office: Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Public service/activities/organizations: Former member of NAACP of Pittsburgh education committee
Ora Lee Carroll
Residence: Larimer Age: 65 Family: Widow; seven daughters Education: Pittsburgh high school graduate Occupation: Executive director of East Liberty Concerned Citizens Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Founded ELCC 24 years ago
Judith K. Ginyard
Residence: Lincoln-Lemington Age: 48 Family: Two children Education: Accounting degree from Community College of Allegheny County Occupation: Licensed real estate broker Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Former executive director of Lincoln Larimer Community Development Corp.
Eric S. Smith
Residence: East Hills Age: 36 Family: Wife, Shawnell D. Smith; two children Education: Bachelor's degree in public administration from Point Park University Occupation: Placement officer at a career and academic training institution Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: Youth social services volunteer in Allegheny County
Residence: Homewood Age: 34 Family: None Education: Graduate of Perry Traditional Academy; studied business administration at Penn State University for two years Occupation: Owner of Pittsburgh's Finest Auto Body in Homewood Previous elected office: None Public service/activities/organizations: President of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Young Democrats