On the Record with Doug Shields: One last debate with city council's most outspoken member | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

On the Record with Doug Shields: One last debate with city council's most outspoken member

"People often gave me a hard time ... about six-hour council meetings, but I loved them."

On Dec. 28, you could find Doug Shields in his city council office, sitting amid cardboard boxes and wearing an ear-to-ear smile — not the type of grin you'd expect to see on a man who's going to be unemployed in three days. 

Shields represented District 5 — which encompasses neighborhoods like Squirrel Hill, Hazelwood and Greenfield — since January 2004. Before that, he was the chief of staff for his predecessor, the late Bob O'Connor, for 11 years. But earlier this year, Shields decided not to run for re-election, choosing instead to mount a losing campaign for a district judge seat.

Shields' council career, which featured time as council president, was anything but subdued. He's championed social-justice issues, and often exasperated both Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and some of his council colleagues. His future is unclear — Shields says he's still weighing his post-council opportunities — but he is already taking stock of his past.

You seem awfully happy for a guy who's going to be out of work soon.

It's a nice feeling to leave on your own terms. I've been here for almost 20 years, and you just have to finally make the decision that it's time. There's always one more thing you'd like to do, but you have to be careful that you don't outstay your welcome. I'm 58 years old. It's just time.

What are you going to miss the most?

I'll miss working with the residents, helping them with their concerns. But most of all I'll miss the debates in that chamber. People often gave me a hard time about going on and on, and complained about six-hour council meetings, but I loved them.

Are you sure you're going to be able to function on the outside?

I figure I've got 10 good years left in me, and I want to spend them doing something for [his wife] Briget. She's had to put up with a lot over the years, like the long hours and being confronted on the streets by people who want her to pass on messages for me. ... Maybe if we had a mayor you could work with, I might have stayed a little longer.

You've come down on the mayor for not working with council, but do you think you share in the blame for the rancor and deteriorating mayor-council relationship?

[Ravenstahl] became mayor by happenstance and he has remained the mayor by the political machinations of backroom politics. No one on this council ever wanted the mayor to fail because if he fails, we all fail. But Luke Ravenstahl decided from the beginning not to work with this council and tap into the experience and expertise sitting on it.

Bob O'Connor and [former mayor] Tom Murphy were two of the biggest political rivals this city has ever seen. They'd go at it tooth and nail in elections. But while Bob was president of council, he and Murphy would sit down monthly and discuss things, work them out. They were frequently in opposition of one another but they realized that there's a big difference between running a campaign and running a city. Luke Ravenstahl still hasn't recognized that.

What legislation are you most proud of?

I think one of my proudest accomplishments was the city's shale-gas ban [which prohibits drilling within city limits]. I think it will go down as one of the most important pieces of legislation that we've passed here in the city. It garnered a lot of attention and I've travelled all over talking about what we've done here in Pittsburgh. I think we're seeing Pennsylvania setting up as the Gettysburg — the turning point in this fight. 

Another issue was the work this council did regarding domestic-violence policies in the police bureau. We took a lot of heat from the union and some of the officers that we were out to get them thrown off the job, but that wasn't the case. This law was about identifying people with a problem and getting them the help they needed. 

I'm also proud of the work we've done on the living wage, another measure that I just assumed was a no-brainer. If you're getting public subsidies to build in the city, then you need to pay the people working there a decent wage. You got your break, now you need to pass it on. 

You also worked very hard to require reporting of lost and stolen firearms. But so far, that ordinance hasn't been enforced by the city. Do you still see that as a victory?

To this day, I don't see why one gun owner is against that law [which is intended to stop guns from getting into the hands of criminals who can't buy them legally]. They don't want government-sanctioned gun control, fine: Then, control your guns yourself. That's all this law requires. If you buy a gun and it's stolen or lost, then you have to report it. And if one person starts losing seven, eight or nine guns, then gee, maybe we have a pattern here.

But is it any good if it's not enforced?

No, but I can't enforce it. That's the job of the police and ultimately the mayor. That's why this next mayor's race is so important. People are going to have to decide if it's time to elect someone who will work on the things that are important to them.

Has there been a moment on council you aren't so proud of?

Without question it was the way that I handled the situation with the personnel director [Barbara Trant, who Shields screamed at in 2008 over the funding of a gender-equity pay study until she left the room]. I was wrong to have treated her like that. However, I still think I was right in the argument. I had the right message, but I really had the wrong delivery.

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