District 1 turning uglier | Blogh

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

District 1 turning uglier

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2011 at 3:30 PM

The campaign for City Council District 1 is getting uglier.

One week before the May 17 primary election, candidate Vince Pallus is attacking City Councilor Darlene Harris in a campaign mailer accusing the incumbent of using her position for her own personal benefit. Titled "Greed Works for Darlene Harris," the mailer -- "Paid for by the Friends of Vince Pallus" -- tells voters that Harris has used her influence as a city councilor to:

  • GET houses condemned and demolished on her street, while these two [pictured in the mailer] on Spring Garden have sat dormant for 6 years.
  • DIRECT $30,000 from our demolition budget to fund her pet project -- chicken coops
  • STEER $108,000 of City tax dollars to get her street graded, paved and a retaining wall built for her homes
  • GET the city to buy a smoke eater that allows her to smoke illegally in her office.
  • FUNNEL nearly three quarters of $1 Million out of the paving budget for her senseless special projects. Spring Hill Spring and its Sidewalk to Nowhere, Bridge to Nowhere, etc.)
  • A DEAL to move thousands of badly needed paving budget dollars out of our district

Harris' acquisition of a smokeater did indeed raise some eyebrows in late 2006. More recently, Harris came under fire from KDKA-TV, which ran a report asserting she'd diverted street-paving funds toward projects in her district. (The reference to chicken coops derives from an intiative to help lower-income residents raise chickens for food, part of an urban agriculture bill council approved earlier this year.)

What did Harris have to say about the charges?

"It's unfortunate that more and more often, campaigns stoop this low ... rather than show a positive vision for the district," says Harris.

The incumbent acknowledges that a derelict house near her home has been demolished: In fact, she says, 25 homes have been torn down in Spring Hill since she's been in office. And while the Pallus flyer points to two homes in Spring Garden that have yet to be razed, Harris says 68 houses in that neighborhood have been demolished. 

Harris rejects Pallus' accusation -- and the KDKA report -- that she funneled roughly $750,000 to pay for pet projects (including $50,000 to restore a spring). Harris says the money for the spring, for instance, came from the Urban Redevelopment Authority funds, not from the city's street-paving budget.

As for the smoke-eater, Harris did in fact have the device removed shortly after taking office in 2007. And she has maintained all along that she never sought the device to facilitate her smoking; she merely asked for something to help with ventilation.

Considering Pallus is backed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, allegations of pork-barrel politics could cut both ways A key Pallus ally, North Side ward chair and city Public Works official Kevin Quigley, drew headlines when his dead-end street was paved by city crews. But Harris says she doesn't intend to respond to Pallus' attack with a similar broadside.

"I've always run a clean campaign," she says.