Races for controller, 5 City Council seats drawing swarm of hopefuls

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Though the race for Pittsburgh mayor promises to be the city's big political bout next year, the undercard could feature tough fights, and maybe knockouts.

While Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and challengers such as Councilman William Peduto debate the course of the city, contestants for controller and five council seats will argue the roles of those offices.

The acting controller and council incumbents, none with more than five years in office, face vigorous challenges. Among those saying they might run are Corey O'Connor, son of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor; former Allegheny County Commissioner Larry Dunn; and Pittsburgh school board member Patrick Dowd.

"It's going to be an absolute whirlwind, because there are so many races, from the mayor on down," said Councilman Jeff Koch, of Arlington, who has seven months in office.

Battle for control

Acting Controller Tony Pokora, 50, of Banksville, said he'd run for the post he's held since Tom Flaherty left to become a Common Pleas judge in December.

He emphasizes experience as an aide to Mr. Flaherty for 21 years and independence. He has criticized the administration this year for refinancing debt and stockpiling real estate.

He plans to go to court to boost his budget for next year from $2.21 million to $2.37 million. He said he needed the money to head off "a concerted effort" by state fiscal overseers "to stifle the controller's office." But an opponent could knock it as a cash grab.

He might face Mr. Dunn, 64, long a Republican but a Democrat since 2003. "If I would run, it would be on a platform of really digging into the city government and really looking deeply at all of the contracts," the Squirrel Hill man said.

DaMon Macklin, 28, a Highland Park property manager, said he'd run on a platform of using the controller's office to get contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses.

County Prothonotary Michael Lamb, 43, of Mount Washington, is considering whether to run for mayor or controller.

Council President Doug Shields, 53, might jump in. The Squirrel Hill man is having a fund-raiser Tuesday hosted by Judy O'Connor, the mayor's widow. He said he'd run for controller, or re-election to council.

King of Squirrel Hill

"If [Mr. Shields] runs for controller, I'd like to take a shot at [the council seat], possibly," said Mr. O'Connor, 22. He is finishing up his teaching degree at Duquesne University and will student-teach next year, unless he runs.

He'd probably be buoyed by his father's campaign fund, which held $36,000 at the beginning of the year and might hold several times that amount now. He said he didn't know how much money is there, and that the family could give some to charity.

Also considering a run if Mr. Shields doesn't is his executive assistant, Lynette Lederman, 59. She said she might run, even if Squirrel Hill neighbor Mr. O'Connor does, potentially pitting her experience in the Democratic Committee and community against his name recognition.

A likely challenger if Mr. Shields seeks re-election is Thomas "Tucker" Sciulli, 43, of Greenfield. An aide to Mr. Lamb, he held the seat for eight months in 2003 before losing it to Mr. Shields. He said he might run on a platform of transforming council to include at least some members elected citywide.

A crowded race

Likely to attract a slew of challengers is Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, 47, of East Hills.

"This year's negative [news] is overshadowing the good things I've done for the past four," she said. The news focused on her spending $178,000 in council discretionary money over four years on community groups and consultants, some connected to her family and campaign helpers.

The spending is under investigation by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. She's had conversations with investigators, and said she expected their probe to be finished "in the very near future."

She said she'd play up development wins, including new homes in East Hills, a Garfield senior center and the Liberty Park Apartments in East Liberty.

"I think the Ninth Council District deserves better representation," said Judith Ginyard, who lost to Ms. Carlisle in 2003 and plans to try again. "Money that should've been allocated to the community just didn't get there."

Ms. Ginyard, 48, a real estate broker from Lincoln-Lemington, was, until recently, the head of the Lincoln-Larimer Community Development Corp. That group has faced fiscal problems and failed to pay property taxes on its headquarters because, she said, "We haven't had the support of our council representative."

Also challenging Ms. Carlisle is Shawn Carter, 31, of Homewood, who was her aide last year and is now a coordinator for Project Vote, which helps low-income and minority people register. He said development could turn the district "into something the residents won't recognize, and most can't afford," so council has to ensure that displaced families can find new homes in the city.

Mr. Carter was Mr. Peduto's deputy field director last year, making him one of three likely council candidates, the others being Mr. Dowd and Bruce Kraus, with connections to that mayoral contender.

Lesson plans

Mr. Dowd, a private school history and economics teacher, plans to run against Len Bodack Jr., who narrowly won a six-candidate contest in 2003. "Government needs to be more focused on its constituents," Mr. Dowd said.

Mr. Bodack, 49, of Stanton Heights, said his focus was on helping constituents address problems with trash pickup, rodent control and potholes. He's also worked on public safety issues, helping to forge a plan to improve security in the Strip District, backing an effort to weed out crime and seed social programs in Lawrenceville, and writing a bill restricting panhandling.

The incumbent will play up his hometown advantage. "I was born and raised in the district," he said. Mr. Dowd, 38, is a St. Louis native who moved to Pittsburgh in 1991 and lives in Highland Park.

Rematches north and south

Darlene Harris, 53, of Spring Hill, was elected to represent most of the North Side on council in a special election Tuesday. She might face one or more of the five people who ran against her again next year. Republican Joe Lucas, 41, a lawyer from Brighton Heights who finished second, said he was "probably going to go again next year."

Mr. Koch, 44, elected in a March special election in parts of the South Hills, faces a rematch with Mr. Kraus, 51, who finished a close second in that contest.

Mr. Koch said he'd cite his success at getting his former colleagues in the Public Works Department to clean up graffiti, tear down derelict buildings and tow abandoned cars. He's writing legislation to keep new bars from opening in the South Side's historic district and trying to move the antiquated Zone 3 police station to an Arlington site.

Mr. Kraus, of the South Side Flats and an interior designer, criticized Mr. Koch for proposing the new station location without getting enough neighborhood input, and for voting to allow developer Soffer Organization to build three 165-foot towers in the South Side Works, despite community group opposition.

Mr. Kraus said his close race last year came despite the O'Connor administration's support of Mr. Koch. "The political landscape has changed dramatically in the last few months," he said.

And it could change again.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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