Former Millvale mayor proud of bipartisanship

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Allegheny County Councilman Jim Burn, who served as mayor of Millvale from 1994 to 2005, said he takes special pride in having worked with Republicans and Democrats during his seven years on county council.

Mr. Burn, D-Millvale, announced last week that he would not seek a third term on council.

"I'm proud that council operates in a bipartisan fashion," Mr. Burn, 49, said. He recalled working with Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless, on legislation to regulate county authorities and with Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, on public safety bills.

That emphasis on working with members of both parties may seem surprising, especially because Mr. Burn is a former head of the Allegheny County Democratic Party and current chairman of the state Democratic Party.

He has a year left to serve on council, but he expects his position as state party chairman will occupy much of his time in the next two years.

He described the November election results in Pennsylvania as very gratifying for Democrats. President Barack Obama once again carried the state, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey won re-election and Democrats were elected to the state posts of treasurer, auditor general and attorney general.

The victory of Kathleen Kane as the first Democrat and first woman to be elected attorney general in Pennsylvania was especially significant, he said.

"Her victory speaks volumes about our party and about how strong women candidates can be successful," he said. "But the percentage of women [candidates] remains unacceptable.

Women need to be encouraged and asked to run, and this party is committed to getting those numbers much higher."

In 2010, the election results were disappointing.

Republican Tom Corbett became governor, and the GOP took control of both houses of the state Legislature.

The years since have been a time for rebuilding party organization and boosting fundraising, especially from new donors.

"Now we are looking forward to a spirited gubernatorial campaign in 2014," he said.

Looking back on his county council service, Mr. Burn said he is proud of his 2006 efforts with then-Councilman Dave Fawcett to craft legislation creating a regional park along both banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.

He introduced a bill that lowered the county's poured drink tax from 10 percent to 7 percent.

In 1997, at age 34, he was named Mayor of the Year by the Pennsylvania State Mayors' Association. His most vivid memories from that time include Hurricane Ivan in 2004, a disaster that brought President George W. Bush to the borough to assess the damage.

"It was a reminder of why we need government and a safety net," he said of the emergency response teams that aided borough residents after the widespread flooding.

"Mother Nature can make you feel real helpless real fast."

He added, "It also shows the ability of elected officials to put politics aside."

Mr. Burn cited the more recent cooperation between Mr. Obama and New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie after Superstorm Sandy hammered the East Coast in October.

Mr. Burn began his first term on council in 2006 and served as president in 2011. He was county party chairman between 2006 and 2011 and took over as state chairman in June 2010.

Mr. Gastgeb, who heads the GOP caucus on county council, said Mr. Burn and his successor as president, Charles Martoni, both sought to play fair with the Republican minority.

"We're not going to always agree on issues, but I've had the sense that Republican members and ideas are treated with respect," he said.

Mr. Burn is a trial lawyer with the Pittsburgh firm Abes Baumann, where he has worked for 19 years.

He and his wife, Lori, live with their two sons, Jimmy, 12, and Brandon, 8, in Millvale in a house next door to his parents.

He is a graduate of Duquesne with a bachelor's degree in English and a law degree from the University of Dayton.

He was a classmate of former county Executive Dan Onorato at North Catholic High School.

Mr. Burn became involved in local politics after he graduated from law school and returned home to start a practice.

He said he ran for mayor because of concerns about rising crime and lack of government accountability in his hometown. He hasn't given up plans to seek elective office in the future.

"I am going to focus on party building, but I would be surprised if I did not run for office again," Mr. Burn said.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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