Before he was a firebrand on Pittsburgh City Council and a maverick swing vote on the Pittsburgh Board of Education, Patrick Dowd taught high school history and economics, a role he calls "the most exciting" part of his career.
On Monday, in a move that stunned many, Mr. Dowd, 45, announced he would resign his council seat in mid-July to return to working with kids, this time as an advocate on children's policy issues as executive director of a newly formed nonprofit called Allies for Children. A special election to replace him will coincide with the November general election.
Mr. Dowd said he always planned to return to "working on behalf of kids." In a news conference at Pittsburgh Public School's CAPA 6-12 Downtown campus, he described the chance to lead Allies for Children as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something I couldn't pass up."
"Working with kids is something that moves my heart in a way I can't explain," said Mr. Dowd, a father of five.
Allies for Children was formed with the backing of United Way of Allegheny County, Heinz Endowments, Grable Foundation and Pittsburgh Foundation. The group intends to serve as the advocacy and lobbying arm for other groups already working on a wide range of children's issues, from homelessness to early education.
Kevin Jenkins, director of community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Foundation, said Allies for Children was formed after foundations began to look at ways to work across the spectrum of groups that concentrate on children's issues -- many of which are foundation-backed -- to see what role advocacy played.
"We wanted to know how similar organizations in other regions work in partnership to become greater than the sum of their parts and collectively become a powerful and effective voice for children in the public policy arena," he said. What they found is that existing advocacy efforts lacked the resources for effective lobbying and coalition-building. The hope is that Allies for Children will fill that niche.
Mr. Dowd hasn't always been known as a builder of coalitions. In many cases, he has been polarizing, digging in his heels on positions that weren't always popular.
He unseated then-board President Darlene Harris to serve on the Pittsburgh Board of Education in 2003. As a board member, he worked to bring in Mark Roosevelt to lead the district and to create an "accountability contract" for him.
In 2007, Mr. Dowd was elected to Pittsburgh City Council, representing District 7, which includes the Strip District, Lawrenceville and several East End neighborhoods.
In his half-dozen years on council, he has been a vocal, unapologetic critic of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. He cast the lone no-vote on the mayor's budget in 2012 and effectively stalled a plan to give developer Buncher Co. a tax deal to build a half-billion dollar development in the Strip District by refusing to introduce the legislation. He said at the time he was dissatisfied with the plans and felt the developer didn't provide enough detail in the application.
But he noted that he also has built alliances among strange bedfellows, most significantly authoring a plan to fund the city's pension with parking revenues with Ms. Harris, a longtime foe who now the council president; Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak; and City Controller Michael Lamb.
He said his reputation for sticking to his guns will serve him well in his new role.
"Coalition-building is actually about having a clear set of principles ... " he said.
In filling the vacancy Mr. Dowd will leave on council, the nominating procedures give party regulars a built-in advantage in that, in lieu of a primary election, the members of the Democratic and Republican committees from the district will choose their party's nominees for the special election.
• Lawyer Kevin Acklin figures to play role in Peduto administration. Page B-1.
• Ravenstahl, Peduto discuss future. Page A-3.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 and on Twitter: @MoriahBee. First Published June 17, 2013 1:00 PM