Thursday, April 2, 2009
Here's what I can tell you about Patrick Reilly, candidate for city council District 4: At one point while we were talking outside, Reilly broke off the interview to help some children return an escaped dog to their dad's car.
"If some old lady shows up needing help to cross the street," I told him, feeling the need to assert my hardboiled journalist credentials, "I'm calling bullshit on this whole thing."
But my cynicism notwithstanding, Reilly is a really friendly guy. He's also relentlessly earnest. Ask Reilly what he thinks of outgoing councilor Jim Motznik, for example, and the response is, "He's matured in the position." And when Reilly said it, it didn't even sound backhanded. (Or presumptious, considering Reilly, at 26, is just over half Motznik's age.)
A lifelong resident of the district -- he grew up in Overbrook -- Reilly knows the area. And he touts the work he's done as a community liasion in state Rep. Chelsa Wagner's office, which he says has given him a chance to participate in functions like Beechview's community-planning process.
"I'm the only candidate who has been doing day-to-day constituent service," he says. He prides himself on a willingness to work with anyone, and on an ability to transcend "factions" on council.
Reilly doesn't talk a lot of substance. For example, he puts public safety at the center of his campaign and says, "We need to make sure our police officers have the best technology." But ask what technology he thinks police currently lack, and the answer is a reference to GPS units and "updated software."
And while he's not as strident about opposing "politics as usual" as, say, his rival Natalia Rudiak, he is open to reform. He supports campaign-finance reform, for instance, and thinks the current limits supported by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl seem "a little high."
Still, some have their suspicions about Reilly. He's been backed by Pete Wagner, who is of course Chelsa Wagner's father, the chair of Ward 19 and the political majordomo of the Monongahela. Pete Wagner's endorsement outraged Anthony Coghill, a former Wagner ally who is also running for the district 4 seat. Then there was some unpleasantness involving the Democratic Party endorsement.
Reilly won the endorsement, which Coghill charged was tainted by a vote allegedly cast by someone other than a party member. He then filed a lawsuit naming Reilly (and Wagner) as defendants: A judge later removed them from the suit because, as Reilly puts it, "There wasn't even an allegation against me."
"People call me a puppet" because of Wagner's support, Reilly acknowledges. "I actually think it's comical ... I'm my own candidate. No one's going to control me." And as for any Wagner/Coghill resentment, Reilly shrugs: "It doesn't have anything to do with me."
In fact, Reilly is trying to stay as far above the fray as he can. "I could never go negative," he says. The race is too local, the connections too deep -- Reilly's brother plays flag football with Coghill, for God's sake.
In fact, the more you talk to these candidates -- and I'll be posting about the fourth candidate, Richard Weaver, soon -- the more they start to sound alike. Each promises to transcend factionalism on council, each stresses the importance of injecting life into the district's business districts, and each bemoans District 4 as the city's red-headed stepchild. Reilly observed that the South Hills makes up "one third of the tax base, but it isn't getting one-third of the services" -- a line that almost mirrors one I've heard Rudiak make.
That said, this four-way contest is shaping up to be a good race.
In addition to the Democratic Party endorsement, Reilly has the backing of a handful of unions as well, including the all-powerful firefighters.
But Rudiak has garnered some support as well. She's got the backing of the SEIU -- the one union that progressive types allow themselves to like -- the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and some government employees and retirees. (Rudiak's father is a retired
city state worker.) Not to mention the environmentalists at the Sierra Club.
Coghill, meanwhile, is the veteran -- the guy who nearly beat Motznik four years ago, and came close to beating Reilly for the endorsement this time around. For many voters, Coghill's name will be the most familiar on the ballot. He also had the most poise at a March 26 candidates' night in Beechview.
To be fare, Beechview is Coghill's stomping grounds, and all the candidates fared well on stage. (Rudiak actually got the evening's biggest applause line, decrying "backroom deals and [a] lack of accountability" as reasons for the district's plight.) But every time Coghill stepped to the microphone, he'd sort of step into it, in a way that made you think he was about to break into a rousing performance of "My Way" or "Oh You Crazy Moon." (It looked like a Sinatra crowd.)
Coghill also had the best insult of the night -- perhaps unintentionally so. (Other than the dispute surrounding the party endorsement, it's been a civil campaign.) Decrying the sad shape of the Beechview business district, Coghill noted that the T rumbles right along Broadway, but that there was nothing in the district worth stopping for. "All we have is Foodland right now," he said.
It's worth noting, perhaps, that Pete Wagner owns a bar, the Huddle, located right beside a T stop on Broadway. Somehow, Coghill neglected to list his former ally's establishment as a worthwhile destination.
It's also worth noting that Reilly held a fundraiser at the Huddle a few days ago.
"They have really good wings," Reilly told me. Earnestly, of course.
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