City Council District 1 Special Election | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

City Council District 1 Special Election

Ask Darlene Harris why she's the most qualified candidate to replace Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in Council District 1 and she'll point to her eight years as a member of the Pittsburgh City School Board.

Unfortunately for Harris, though, those eight years were often tumultuous -- and could send voters looking for an alternative, even though she is the endorsed Democrat in this special election.

"I'm not really worried about my time on the school board having an adverse effect," Harris says. "There were issues that were covered, including a push for new mathematics curriculum, the closing of community schools and the employment of Dr. John Thompson, that got a lot of attention. But that was just a slice of what went on. You have to look at the whole picture."

Her opponents agree.

"Darlene Harris is the epitome of old-boy, back-room politics," says Dave Schuilenburg, a 33-year-old 911 operator from Summer Hill who says he is running as a Democratic Independent. "Some people think they merit going up the ladder simply because they put in time somewhere else."

Overcoming the Democratic nominee could be a tricky proposition for Schuilenburg and Harris' other opponents. They include: Republican Joe Lucas, an attorney from Brighton Heights; independent Steven Oberst, an accountant from Brighton Heights; independent Myles P. Rooney, a security-system sales representative from Observatory Hill; and independent Kevin T. Donahue, a medical-equipment technician from Marshall-Shadeland.

"It's five against one, and they're going to split some votes," Lucas says. But, he adds, "We don't need another rubberstamp on city council; it's that type of mentality that got us in trouble in the first place."

Myles Rooney did not return calls by deadline.

Kevin T. Donahue, 27, Independent

A political newcomer, Donahue has lived his entire life on the North Side. He says his top concern as a councilor would be providing residents with a better place to live through beautification and enhanced public-safety policies.

The North Side, he says, is "losing a lot of good people and a lot of good families because they don't think it's a safe place to raise children. People have lost their sense of security, and we have to restore that in order to restore our neighborhoods."

Donahue says the city is on the right track by receiving state money for more police. But he says neighbors must become more involved through crime-watch programs. "We need more people calling 911," he says. "They need to know what's going on in their neighborhood and they need to get the police out into the neighborhoods more."

Darlene Harris, 53, Democrat

Harris has been active in the North Side for the past 30 years and currently serves as the chairwoman of the 26th Ward committee -- a position that helped her garner the party endorsement in the race. She is also involved with the North Side Leadership Council, to name just a few of her community-service involvements.

"I have been involved in the community for years and served [on] the Board of Education with its half-billion dollar budget for eight years without ever voting for a tax increase," she explains. "I love serving the community."

One of the main issues Harris sees both in her district and across the city is a need for improved public safety. She says continuing the late Mayor Bob O'Connor's "Redd Up" campaign, and demolishing abandoned buildings, is important for the city's future.

Joe Lucas, 41, Republican

Lucas says a lot of time must be spent trying to identify the city's future, and then working to get it on the right economic-development track.

"We need to find that guy locally that's going to be the next Bill Gates, bring him to the table and identify those jobs that will be our driving engine into the 21st century," says Lucas.

Lucas says council has to start making hard decisions. After three years of being under state financial oversight, Lucas says, the city has only managed to delay the inevitable. He favors selecting one health-care insurance provider for all union employees, and combining employee health care with the state's Employees Benefit Trust Fund.

"You look around this city and there is no vision, no identity," Lucas says. "We're called the Steel City and there hasn't been a mill here in 20 years.

"Depending on the day of the week, we're the technology city, a computer city, a travel and tourism city, a health-care city. What we are is a broke city, and without proper direction, that's what we're going to remain."

Steven Oberst, 43, Independent

Oberst, a member of the Brighton Heights Federation, says public safety is the city's biggest issue. He says the streets must be made safer with more police officers, returning beat cops to city streets. He also advocates the return of neighborhood-watch and block-parent programs.

Additionally, Oberst favors tightening rules governing Section 8 housing -- a rental subsidy for low-income families -- and pressuring absentee landlords to improve their properties.

Oberst says that, in his dealings with the numerous personalities and agendas in government, he will call upon his experience in a different type of organization: the Brighton Heights Athletic Association, where he serves as a coach and a referee.

"I'm used to dealing with people, and I'm used to them being mad at me for something I did," Oberst explains. "That's what we need on council: people who aren't afraid to make the tough calls regardless of the consequences."

Dave Schuilenburg, 33, Independent

Dave Schuilenburg may not be a native Pittsburgher -- he is, in fact, a Canadian citizen -- but says that that shouldn't affect his candidacy. And he has tried to be an active citizen.

This year he is the treasurer of the Summer Hill Citizen's Committee and an active member of the North Side Weed and Seed program.

Schuilenburg says he favors reducing city council from nine members to five. He favors term limits for council members and, where feasible, a merger of city and county services. He says he would also seek to empower the courts to appoint city ethics-board officers if the council and mayor are unable to do so.

He says he would hold a North Side socio-economic summit, and reinvest at least 25 percent of URA funds into community projects. He is against any further North Side firehouse closings.

"Unlike in years past, I believe, voters are no longer willing to eat what's being fed to them by the party," Schuilenburg says. "They are demanding a change."

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