Primary 2013/North: Three seek District 1 Allegheny County council seat incumbent lost in primary

Drozd was defeated in May primary

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Republican Matt Drozd has served as Allegheny County's District 1 representative on county council for two terms. During his tenure, he's gained a reputation for lofty oratory and out-of-left-field proposals.

After his lopsided defeat in May's primary election, voters on Nov. 5 will pick among these candidates:

• Tom Baker, a North Hills school director who beat Mr. Drozd for the Republican nomination;

• Daniel McClain, a first-time candidate with a financial background who won the Democratic nomination;

• Jim Barr, a Constitution Party candidate with close ties to Mr. Drozd.

Mr. Baker, 34, the chief community affairs officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, is running with an energy his teenage charges would envy. With an ample resume -- Mr. Baker runs his own leadership company, founded a community service nonprofit and has authored three books -- the Ross resident says he has the ideas and the experience to steer the county straight.

"I'm somebody who wants to get things done," he said.

"I think something I'll be able to bring to the table is really good relationships with both parties."

Indeed, Mr. Baker is banking on his crossover appeal. While already a presence in city civic leadership circles -- not exactly a bastion of conservatism -- he is nonetheless proudly Republican.

He was pleased to see the county hold the line on taxes in next year's proposed budget and would fight against an increase if elected.

That said, he believes county council should not be a partisan body and pledged to work with Democrats for the good of the county. If he wins, he plans to keep his school board seat.

The county home rule charter would appear to prohibit that, reading "county council members and the chief executive shall not hold any other elected political office." Mr. Baker said he has consulted with a lawyer and believes holding both posts is allowed.

Mr. Baker fought a fierce primary against Mr. Drozd. One item that left Mr. Drozd bitter was an ad accusing him of voting to support President Barack Obama's health insurance reform plan, which was impossible because that is a federal issue.

As a result, Mr. Drozd is supporting Mr. Barr, 60, an aide at a group home for mentally challenged adults and a firm believer in a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Politicians and political parties have warped the meaning of the law for their own purposes, he said, robbing citizens of power.

He's involved with plans to form a common-law grand jury, a volunteer body of dubious judicial authority that he said could investigate crimes and recommend arrests to the county district attorney.

Though an underdog, Mr. Barr has proven scrappy. He fought off a challenge from Mr. Baker over his nominating petitions last month, subpoenaing dozens of supporters to testify in court they signed on for his candidacy.

"The system is biased in favor of the two-party system -- that's why I'm running," he said.

The two conservative candidates will square off against Mr. McClain, a lifelong North Hills resident who says the county's support helped him weather a difficult childhood under a single parent to become a successful professional.

Now 35, Mr. McClain is an internal audit manager at U.S. Steel. He believes his financial acumen could be of use on council, which is dominated by lawyers, small business owners and retirees. "That type of skill is often missing in elected officials," he said. "I am a person that always wants all the facts and information before I make a decision."

If elected, the Democrat plans to focus on supporting public transit and holding nonprofits accountable. He's also a believer in coordinating regional economic development, with communities working together and sharing rewards instead of competing against each other to offer the biggest tax breaks to developers.

And he believes he's the hometown favorite. "I know the community better than the other two candidates -- I grew up here," he said.

The district covers Aleppo, Ben Avon, Ben Avon Heights, Coraopolis, Emsworth, Findlay, Glen Osborne, Glenfield, Haysville, Kilbuck, Moon, North Fayette, Ross and West View.

neigh_north

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497. First Published October 17, 2013 1:35 AM


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