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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Make that FOUR candidates in District 3 -- and an introduction to Jason Phillips

Posted By on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 4:48 PM

Most of this post will be about Jason Phillips, who announced his candidacy in City Council District 3 earlier today. But first comes word of a new (sort of) entrant in the race.

As has been predicted previously, Jeff Koch apparently is running for the seat, which he held before losing it to current incumbent Bruce Kraus. 

Or at least Koch is seeking the party's endorsement: I have confirmed with local Democratic officials that he has formally submitted his letter of interest. With luck, we'll be hearing directly from Koch sometime soon. (And on a related programming note, look for Kraus himself to appear in this space early next week.)

In any case, this is shaping up to be an intriguing contest, with a lot of angles to it. Koch won the seat in a 2006 special election, but was later defeated by Kraus. This would be a rubber match between the two men. And Koch already has at least one factor distinguishing him from the rest of the field: Of the four declared candidates, he's the only one who doesn't live in the South Side Flats. He's a resident of Arlington, one of District 3's "hilltop communities." In a district where you sometimes hear resentment over how much attention the South Side gets, that might come in handy. 

As for Phillips, his campaign style can be, well, a little pugnacious, as the campaign announcement I posted earlier today suggests. He too has run for the seat before, part of a divided field in the special election that Koch won. He had, in fact, once worked on Kraus' campaign before a falling out. (An argument over wages went to court, though Phillips says the dispute with Kraus "has run its course. It's not as if we're best friends, but we serve on the Democratic committee together and have lively debates.") 

Since then, Phillips says, "I've mostly laid low and haven't done a lot in terms of politics," working instead as a business manager for a South Side glass studio. His highest-profile political activity, in fact, also resulted in his abrupt departure from a political campaign: During the 2007 election season, Phillips was working on the (ultimately successful) Supreme Court campaign of Debra Todd. He came forward with claims that a staffer in the office of -- take a wild guess -- Jeff Koch had made a political call from a city phone on city time. Koch and his staffer, Eileen Conroy, characterized the call as an "honest mistake."

Partly as a result of such stands, Phillips says,"People know me as having high ethical standards."

It might sound strange, coming from a guy who seems like such a lightning rod, but Phillips is running in part on a promise to reduce rancor. Just as rival candidate Gavin Robb did earlier today, Phillips faults the incumbent for last year's shrill debate on the city's pension problems, as well as on other issues. And that animosity, Phillips contends, makes it even harder to address the wretched excess of Carson Street's weekly bacchanals.

Says Phillips: "It doesn't help you get results when, instead of asking for more police on the street, you instead criticize the mayor for hanging out at a nightclub."  (Actually, while Kraus has criticized Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's handling of problems on Carson, to the best of my knowledge, that particular criticism was made not by Kraus but by his frequent ally on council, Doug Shields.)

What would Phillips like to see happen on Carson? One answer, he says, is to address the fact that much of the friction between bar-goers and nearby residents comes at the end of the night, when bar patrons often roam residential sidestreets, "going back to cars that they parked while they are sober." Phillips wants to see residential-only parking in the area, and suggests the city look into constructing a multi-level parking garage -- preferably one "with a restroom on the first floor."

In general, Phillips seems likely to steer a middle course between Robb -- who Phillips faults for a "pie-in-the-sky" view that doesn't take Carson Street's problems seriously enough -- and Kraus, who Phillips says is too punitive in his approach to bar and restaurant owners.

As for communities outside the South Side? Phillips has lived for the past several years in a South 15th Street apartment, but says he's lived in Arlington and in the South Side Slopes as well. And he says the problems there involve blight and crime -- problems that can be solved by more aggressive policing and demolition of abandoned structures. 

Of course, you could devise those solutions just by driving through the district; the question is where to get the money to pay for stepped-up services. Phillips admits long-term budget solutions are "tricky," but in the near future suggests raising money by selling off idling city properties -- like the vacated former Zone 3 police station in the Flats. 

How much backing can Phillips bring to the campaign? As of the end of last year, his political committee had a bit more than $3,000 in it. Most of that was in small-dollar contributions of less than $50, but Phillips did receive some bigger-dollar support from two Carson Street restaurants: The owner of the Cambod-ican restaurant and a co-owner of the Doublewide Grill have given Phillips $300 and $500, respectively.

ADDED:

Since this post was published, Phillips e-mailed a letter to the editor responding to it. I'm reprinting that response below, verbatim:

First, I would like to complement the City Paper on their coverage of local elections in the City of Pittsburgh. I believe the CP realizes the importance of municipal races and always appear to be fair and impartial in their coverage. Where the two major newspapers in our city often fall short, the CP writes in-depth articles about candidates, issues and the dynamics of the races.

I was particularly pleased that the CP dedicated an article to my candidacy for a seat on City Council in District 3. However, I believe the article spent too much time on the personalities of the candidates and not enough on the issues and policies of the campaign. For example, the cornerstone of my campaign will be creative ideas, the ability to connect, a spirit of collaboration, highly involved, and a partner willing to work for everyone.

So, while I complement the CP on their coverage, however, I was amused by the fact that I was described only as aggressive. I find that description quite interesting considering that my friends have described me as “passionate”, “driven” and “committed” to this race and other issues I’ve addressed throughout the years. Hence a better description would be that I am genuinely and sincerely passionate, driven by the issues and committed to protecting my neighbors.

In closing, the CP performs a wonderful service to its readers and I look forward to future interviews with them during this race. Keep in mind though that I will steer my campaign on the issues and present my ideas in an intelligent and respectful manner and not base my campaign on petty politics or personalities.

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