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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Party-switching allegations in city council district 3

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 11:45 AM

A couple developments this week in the race for City Council District 3. 

First up is a strongly worded letter in the current South Pittsburgh Reporter. The letter notes that one of the challengers in the race, Gavin Robb, registered as a Republican in 2001. The letter accuses Robb of having then "conveniently ... switched to the Democratic Party so he could run for Pittsburgh City Council." The letter continues:

Hence, our Republican turncoat, Gavin Robb, voted in Republican Primaries supporting Republicans that in turn ran against our Democratic candidates in the General Elections ...

Do we want to elect a turncoat? Does the party of George W. Bush, Rich Santorum and Sarah Palin have a place in Pittsburgh city government?

I have verified that Robb originally registered as a Republican here 10 years ago. He switched party registration in early 2009 -- roughly two years back. 

"I'm flattered to get so much attention," Robb told me. "It's good to know someone is that concerned."

Robb noted that his party switch wasn't that recent, and says that "I've always been a moderate, but I found myself aligning more with the Democrats -- thanks in part to the people identified in that letter."

In any case, Robb says,  "I had no inkling that I would be running for City Council at the time I changed my party affiliation." The move "was based solely on a change in my feelings towards both political parties and the evolution of my overall political philosophy."

Indeed, Robb has previously told me that he began weighing a run for office nine months ago. 

What's more, Robb says, "I don't think voters are really concerned about this sort of thing. I don't plan on stooping to that level."

Robb will be responding to the allegations directly, however: He plans to write a rebuttal for an upcoming issue of the Reporter.

Meanwhile, distrct 3's incumbent councilor, Bruce Kraus, took some time during Tuesday's council meeting to address some of the campaign talking points being tossed his way.

The topic on the floor was a city council proclamation honoring public employees -- timed to provide support for the ongoing labor protests in Wisconsin. But it also provided an occasion for councilors to defend their opposition to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's plan to lease out publicly-owned parking garages -- a plan they likened to an anti-union privatization scheme. (Though proceeds from the lease would have been used to shore up union pension funds.)

Kraus noted that he and other councilors -- including council President Darlene Harris -- were facing election-year challengers, and he tied that opposition to the lease vote. 

After nothing that he's been accused of taking an anti-business approach to bar-related problems on the South Side, Kraus asserted that "not selling our parking assets to private bankers was the best pro-business decision this council has made." Council's position, he argued, protected neighborhood business districts from seeing steep parking-rate hikes. 

Yet a price was being paid on council, Kraus added: "If anybody out there thinks that this administration is not coming after sitting council members" because of the lease vote, "I've got news for you -- they are."

In any case, on balance you'd have to say Kraus is having a good week. As noted here earlier today, he also got the backing of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. And in a statement circulated by the Kraus campaign, YDAC president Michael Phillips lauded Kraus as a "model of how to be truly engaged in the betterment [of] neighborhoods and the city." The statement backed Kraus on a variety of issues, ranging from a ban on drilling for natural gas in city limits to opposing the tuition tax. But it singled Kraus out for "his efforts to rid the city of litter and graffiti, and his plans for maintaining a safe and vibrant nightlife in the South Side and Oakland neighborhoods."

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