Republican voters in many of Allegheny County's northern suburbs have nominations to make in county council District 1 and District 3 on May 21. Both primaries pit a person who has been on council against a newcomer and both will send the GOP choice to face a Democrat in the fall.
In District 1, Matt Drozd, 68, a part-time substitute teacher who is completing his second term on council, is challenged by Tom Baker, 33, the community affairs officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.
Both candidates live in Ross. The district also covers Aleppo, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Coraopolis, Emsworth, Findlay, Glen Osborne, Glenfield, Haysville, Kilbuck, Moon, North Fayette and West View. The winner will face Democrat Daniel A. McClain Jr. in November.
A retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, Mr. Drozd was an administrator at the Fayette campus of Penn State University, a development director at Penn's Southwest and an adjunct business instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University.
Mr. Baker is a member of the North Hills School Board (where his opponent also served), former board president of PUMP (Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project) and an instructor in a civic development course at Penn State Altoona. Among his duties at Big Brothers is volunteer training.
No wide gulf separates the contenders on key issues. They want property owners to have more convenient ways to appeal their assessments and they believe Allegheny County needs to reduce reliance on the property tax. Several years ago, though, Mr. Drozd voted against two new revenue sources meant to ease the property tax burden: the alcoholic drink tax and the $2-a-day tax on car rentals.
Mr. Drozd told Post-Gazette editorial writers that the county should drill for Marcellus Shale natural gas in its parks, while Mr. Baker said the county must be careful which lands it opens for drilling.
Both want a healthy and efficient transit system. Mr. Drozd would force the Port Authority into bankruptcy to achieve that, while Mr. Baker would prefer to try public-private partnerships to reduce costs.
Both candidates want to see county health inspection grades posted on bar and restaurant doors, although Mr. Drozd defended late health director Bruce Dixon several times during the interview. Dr. Dixon delayed the grade system, which has yet to be enacted.
Mr. Drozd displayed his usual shoot-from-the-hip, stream-of-consciousness manner, but Mr. Baker impressed us a more thoughtful, careful thinker. That prudent approach has earned Tom Baker the Post-Gazette endorsement for the District 1 nomination.
Ed Kress of Shaler and Mike McMullen of Hampton are seeking the District 3 GOP nod to oppose Democrat Mary E. Gibson in the fall for the seat being vacated by Councilman Jim Burn. District 3 includes Aspinwall, Etna, Fox Chapel, Hampton, Indiana Township, Millvale, O'Hara, Reserve, Shaler, Sharpsburg and West Deer.
Mr. Kress, 41, is an attorney who served on council through interim appointments -- May to December in 2005 and April to November in 2011.
Mr. McMullen, 46, does political and other consulting and has worked for Republican candidates including Melissa Hart and Rick Santorum.
Like the Republicans in District 1, this pair isn't split by radical differences. But if their approaches can be summarized, Mr. McMullen is about bringing "common-sense, conservative values" to the job, while Mr. Kress wants to find creative solutions to county problems.
Mr. McMullen said he'd prefer to see an alternative like a higher sales tax, which would have to be approved by the state Legislature, reduce reliance on the property tax. Mr. Kress favors actions that can be taken by council, such as deriving revenue from banks and other firms in exchange for exclusive rights to county business.
On the opportunities posed by Marcellus Shale gas development, Mr. McMullen said the county should consider drilling on its properties, including parks. Mr. Kress said the county should ensure that its infrastructure is ready for the industry and Community College of Allegheny County should offer programs that train the drillers of the future.
On transit, Mr. McMullen said the county should create a light-rail line along Interstate 279 between Cranberry and Downtown, while Mr. Kress believes the Port Authority should try to increase ridership on the existing system by considering wifi on buses and other innovations.
Both candidates would be reputable carriers of the Republican banner, but Ed Kress deserves the Post-Gazette endorsement for a creative approach to the county's challenges that is tempered by realism.