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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Political round-up: Developments in City Council races and the county exec contest

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 12:40 PM

Gonna bundle up a couple different races in this dispatch, with news from City Council Districts 3 and 9, as well as initial impressions of a new entrant in the county executive race. If that doesn't interest you, Dan Savage has some advice this week for married dudes who are bored with their sex lives, and lesbians who are ecstatic about theirs.

So, last night marked a "meet the candidates" night for Ward 16 committeefolk. That ward covers much of the hilltop communities in city council district 3 (though the event was held on Carson Street, in the South Side Flats). And its chair is none other than Jeff Koch, one of the three candidates challenging incumbent Bruce Kraus.

Koch has, by his own acknowledgment, been running a somewhat under-the-radar campaign, at least as far as voters are concerned. He appears to be much more focused on rounding up support for the party's endorsement: As he told the couple dozen people attending last night, "Right now, that is my main concern -- the Democratic endorsement."

Koch kept his own remarks fairly brief. Like Kraus' two other challengers, Koch faulted Kraus for what he portrayed as a divisive leadership style -- especially where quality-of-life issues in the Flats are concerned. Koch pledged to "rebuild some of the bridges that have been strained bewteen residents, some property owners, and restaurant owners."  He also intimated that he had some ideas for resolving parking pressures in the area, though he declined to discuss those last night. 

I hope to have more about those solutions -- and a full sit-down with Koch -- sometime soon. 

Neither of Kraus' other challengers were on hand to speak last night. But for his part, Kraus reiterated many of the legislative accomplishments he discussed in this space last week. And as in that discussion, he made no apologies for a "very hardline position" on the Carson Street bacchanalia. "Some might say that's acrimonious," Kraus allowed. "I say it's governing on a law-and-order basis." 

Kraus gave some signs of being in enemy territory last night -- this is Koch's committee, after all. But clearly, Kraus needs party support less than Koch does. Kraus won without the party's backing back in 2007.  Koch, who was then the sitting councilmember, after a special election in 2006 -- had the party's backing in both his previous runs for the seat.

Still, Kraus Koch has arguably missed a chance to press his advantage this time around. The ward he chairs has at least three vacant spots which, if filled, could have cast votes in the endorsement process. As ward chair, Koch could have recommended replacements -- and presumably padded his chances of carrying the endorsement. (Though final say rests with the party's county chair, Jim Burn, he usually defers to ward chairs in such cases, unless there are problems with residency or party registration.)

The deadline for Koch to pick fill-ins, however, expired Feb. 4. 

A number of other candidates also appeared at last night's event: including Rich Fitzgerald and Michael Lamb, who is running for city controller again -- and who told committeemembers that "Maybe the most compelling reason to support me is I don't have any opposition." 

But perhaps the strangest laugh came from Marc Daffner, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. Daffner introduced himself in part by saying he had one child "that I know of." I LOLed, as the kids say. But then it occurred to me that newly elected county judges typically end up presiding over cases in the Family Division. Not sure how well jokes about paternity go over there.  


Committee battles are also ongoing in city council district 9, where incumbent Ricky Burgess faces two challengers: Lucille Prater-Holiday and Phyllis Copeland-Mitchell

There's already been some outspoken support for Copeland-Mitchell from Ward 12. Chair Jacque Fielder sent out a Feb. 15 e-mail that simply read "PUT COUNCIL DISTRICT 9 'BACK ON TRACK' ELECT PHYLLIS COPELAND-MITCHELL."

Days before that, however, Fielder also sent out a somewhat puzzling e-mail to commitee members. It seems to suggest that Fielder doesn't want candidates soliciting committee members directly for their support -- a reading Fielder denies, as we'll see. 

The e-mail reads as follows:

PLEASE DIRECT ANY CANDIDATE TO ME THAT HAS CONTACTED YOU FOR SUPPORT.

I AM RECEIVING MESSAGES THAT CERTAIN CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES HADN'T RECEIVED RETURN CALLS FROM ME OR MY REPRESENTATIVE. THAT IS NOT TRUE.

I SPOKE DIRECTLY WITH RICKY BURGESS AND AGREED TO SIT DOWN WITH HIM. I ALSO SPOKE WITH OTHERS TO ARRANGE A MEETING WITH REV. BURGESS. SEVERAL MEETING REQUESTS HAVE TAKEN PLACE IN THE PAST BUT WERE NEVER CARRIED THROUGH ON REV. BURGESS OR HIS REPRESENTATIVE'S PART, NOT MINE.

NOT ONLY DID LINDA BEY-GRAHAM RETURN A CALL TO MS. PRATER-HOLIDAY, LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT I HAVE ALREADY SPOKEN TO MS. PRATER HOLIDAY AT ST. JAMES BAPTIST CHURCH ABOUT HER POSSIBLE RUN FOR CITY COUNCIL. I TOLD HER THAT I DIDN'T THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA FOR HER TO RUN BUT THAT IT HAD TO BE HER OWN DECISION. SHE WAS WELL AWARE OF THE 12TH WARD'S INTENTION CONCERNING CITY COUNCIL AND OUR SUPPORT OF HER CANDIDACY IF SHE DECIDED TO RUN. I TOLD HER THAT I COULDN'T SUPPORT HER AND I TOLD HER WHY. AS A MATTER OF FACT, I WAS SHOCKED THAT SHE ENTERED THE RACE FOR CITY COUNCIL AFTER THE CHALLENGING INFORMATION THAT WAS DISCUSSED DURING OUR CONVERSATION. AS YOU ALREADY KNOW, MS. HOLIDAY HAS RAN FOR SEVERAL DIFFERENT OFFICES DURING DIFFERENT ELECTION SEASONS. UNFORTUANATELY, I AM NOT ABLE TO SUPPORT HER RUN FOR CITY COUNCIL-9 AT THIS TIME.

MS. PRATER-HOLIDAY AND I HAVE ALWAYS MAINTAINED A GOOD RELATIONSHIP IN THE PAST, AND I WISH HER THE BEST.

PLEASE BE AWARE OF CANDIDATES WHO ARE TRYING TO GET AROUND THE WARD CHAIR AND GOING STRAIGHT TO THE COMMITTEE PEOPLE. THIS IS ALWAYS DISRESPECTFUL TO THE COMMITTEE SINCE YOU ELECT THE WARD CHAIR TO REPRESENT YOU. TO THE NEW COMMITTEE PEOPLE, CANDIDATES SOMETIMES TRY TO MAKE YOU FEEL INTIMIDATED OR LIKE YOU CAN'T SPEAK FOR YOURSELF AND HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE WARD CHAIR. THIS IS CALLED THE OLD "DIVIDE & CONQUER" GAME. THIS GAME IS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF BREAKING UNITY AND WEAKEN THE COMMITTEE. PLEASE BE POLITE TO ALL CANDIDATES, BUT DIRECT THEM TO ME SINCE YOU ARE NOT YET TRAINED IN THESE MATTERS. THE PHONE NUMBER IS BELOW. THANK YOU.

THERE IS STRENGTH IN OUR UNITY.

What's most striking about this -- at least to my eyes -- is that on the one hand, the e-mail seems to fault candidates who "make you feel ... like you can't speak for yourself and have to go through the ward chair." On the other hand, the first line of the e-mail seems to suggest ... that committee people insist on going through the ward chair. So does the last full-length paragraph there, which seems to warn committeefolk "of candidates who are trying to get around the ward chair and going straight to the committeepeople."

But Fielder says that's not the way it's intended at all. Asked by our very own Lauren Daley about whether she was trying to bar conversations with candidates, Fielder responded, "absolutely not. They speak with candidates all the time." 

Fielder says she sent the e-mail because she heard reports that candidates had complained that Fielder would not return their phone calls. And that is "not true," Fielder says.


Finally, this morning a new candidate saw another candidate entering the county executive race on the Republican side: D. Raja, a Mt. Lebanon businessman and current member of the township's board of commissioners.

Raja's entry as the third candidate for the GOP nomination was not unexpected. And at a Downtown gathering this morning, Raja positioned himselfaas a pro-business Republican. Raja runs an information-technology consulting firm, and says that what's keeping more such firms from setting down roots here is the county's "high taxes, aging infrastructure and inefficiencies." 

The talk was upbeat though, not surprisingly, short on specifics. Raja pledged to bring "fresh eyes" to government and to go beyond making "incremental changes." When asked afterwards what inefficiencies he'd be able to address, he cited "duplication of services" with the city.

"Part of the frustration," he added, is that while both the city's mayor and the county's executive are Democrats, "they have not accomplished the goal" of eliminating redundancies. 

Raja's speech urged that the county "make sure that Pennsylvania's newest industry, Marcellus Shale jobs, does not bypass Allegheny County. We need to make sure we address those environmental and safety issues so that these jobs can stay here." 

Afterwards, Raja told me that the county executive would "have to work with the state" on ensuring adequate environmental protections were in place for drilling to continue. Did he think current regulations and policing were adequate? "That's something we have to evaluate," he said. 

But there's lots of time for Raja to flesh out his views. His event was upbeat, and drew a mix of Indian Americans from the suburbs, business-suited GOP stalwarts, and a smattering of tech workers. He hails from Mt. Lebanon, which despite its reputation as a haven for cake-eaters has skewed Democratic. That suggest s he may have more appeal to moderates than, say, Tea Party candidate Patty Weaver.

And Raja has already racked up a big-name endorsement: state Senator John Pippy. 

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