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Republicans want minority voice

| Thursday, July 19, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh Republicans want to amend the city's Home Rule Charter to help them get a seat at the City Council table for the first time in 60 years.

The party is circulating petitions calling for the proposed change to be put on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, Pittsburgh Republican Chairman Bob Hillen said Wednesday.

The amendment, which was patterned after Allegheny County's Home Rule Charter, would reduce the number of City Council districts from nine to seven and add two at-large members to City Council.

City Council President Bob O'Connor called the proposal a 'strictly political maneuver' by the GOP. A spokesman for Mayor Tom Murphy declined comment.

Under the proposal, voters would cast a ballot for one at-large candidate. The top two vote-getters would be elected.

'It wouldn't guarantee a Republican, but with the registration numbers being what they are, more than likely the second at-large member would be a Republican,' Hillen said.

He said it was a matter of fair representation for the city's 38,000 registered Republicans. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5-to-1 margin in the city.

Republicans have not won a council seat since 1936.

'My immediate reaction is that they are trying to pull a maneuver - trying to get an appointment basically, instead of earning it the old-fashioned way by working for it,' O'Connor said.

O'Connor said he believes the existing system works. City Council consisted of all at-large members before voters adopted the district system in 1987.

'This council by district, I believe, has really produced government by the people,' O'Connor said. 'It gives the people a person to go to in almost every case - from their mail being late to fixing their neighborhood parks and roads, or whatever the issue is. With the district system, there's no passing the buck.'

Hillen said the at-large council members would improve representation for the entire city and offer more of a balance of power to the mayor's office.

He said he is confident the party can obtain the necessary 8,300 signatures from registered voters by the Aug. 7 deadline to have the proposal placed on the November ballot.

David M. Brown can be reached at dbrown@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5614.

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