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Politics

Hopefuls drawn to Allegheny County 'citizens council'

| Monday, April 9, 2007

Convincing a friend to run for Allegheny County Council might be a tough sell.

The part-time post pays $9,000 a year to control purse strings on multimillion-dollar budgets.

When things go right, the county chief executive gets the spotlight, several candidates said. The 15-member council, which replaced the three-member board of commissioners in 2000, has yet to launch a congressional career.

But several of the 21 candidates said the populist idea of a "citizens council," combined with hot-button issues such as consolidation and taxes, drove them to seek party nominations for 11 council seats up for grabs. Five of the seats feature contested races in the May 15 primary.

The hopefuls include four self-employed businessmen, three attorneys and two retired teachers. Others staff operating rooms and head steelworker unions. One's a Korean War vet; another, a pilot.

"People say, 'You're a politician.' I still like to refer to myself as a volunteer," said Councilman Bob Macey, 58, a West Mifflin Democrat who faces two challengers for the seat to which he was appointed last year. "I try to help get those potholes patched, get a street sweeper into a community ... I think grassroots is sort of my forte."

That's not to say there aren't hefty issues for candidates to tackle. Several said they want to investigate further consolidation of government services. Several more hope to focus on revitalizing neighborhoods and bringing jobs to the region.

Ultimately, though, most candidates said county voters should make ballot-box decisions based on experience. That could play a big role in some races.

Two attorneys with lengthy resumes -- Kevin Acklin and former county Solicitor Chuck McCullough -- are vying to succeed David Fawcett as Republican councilman-at-large, a countywide post. Both tout extensive legal, business and political backgrounds as qualifications. Fawcett is not running for the post he held since 2000.

"'Economic development' are the two words that best capture why I'm doing this," said Acklin, 30, of Squirrel Hill.

"This is what I do for a living, which is fixing governments," said McCullough, 52, of Upper St. Clair. "Allegheny County is a billion dollar public corporation. ... County Council should be functioning as a board of directors (and) they're not doing it."

Republican Joe Federowicz, a councilman-at-large candidate, whom a judge removed from the ballot last month because of an election challenge, said he's supporting McCullough.

Councilwoman Brenda Frazier, 65, of Stanton Heights, who's served on the governing body since 2001, faces two challengers in the District 13 Democratic primary: Vernon L. Boozer, 64, of Northview Heights, and Matt Arena, 68, of Morningside, a former deputy court clerk and County Council legislative aide who won the party endorsement last month.

Macey faces two challengers in District 9: John Andzelik, 63, of West Mifflin, and C.L. "Jay" Jabbour, 74, a former West Mifflin councilman whom Macey replaced when Jabbour unsuccessfully sought a state House seat.

In District 6, John F. Palmiere, 64, a Democrat from Baldwin Township, is looking to unseat Councilwoman Joan Cleary, 54, a registered nurse from Brentwood who joined the council in 2004. Democrat Jim Ellenbogen, 51, of Banksville, said he wants to shake up what he called a complacent council by challenging newly appointed Councilman Bill Lestitian, 44, of Brookline, for a two-year District 12 seat.

Candidates running unopposed in the primary include:

* John DeFazio, for the Democratic councilman-at-large post

* Republican Councilwoman Jan Rea in District 2 and Republican council hopeful Donald Lacek in District 6

* Republican Councilman Vince Gastgeb and Democratic challenger Barbara D. Logan in District 5

* Republican Councilwoman Sue Caldwell and Democratic challenger Nick Futules in District 7

* Democratic Councilman Bill Robinson in District 10 and Democratic Councilman Rich Fitzgerald in District 11

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