4 candidates running for 2 Pittsburgh City Council seats
October 14, 2013 4:00 AM
Democrat Dan Gilman, top left, faces Republican Mordecai Treblow, bottom right. District 4 Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, top right, faces Republican Samuel Hurst, bottom left.
By Joe Smydo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Nov. 5 election for two Pittsburgh City Council seats pits a pair of government veterans -- one an incumbent and the other a council staffer -- against opponents calling for more attention to finances, development and basic city services.
In District 4, which encompasses South Hills neighborhoods, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, 33, a Democrat from Carrick, faces Republican Samuel Hurst, 30, of Brookline. In District 8, Democrat Dan Gilman, 31, a Shadyside resident and chief of staff to outgoing Councilman Bill Peduto, faces retired chemist Mordecai Treblow, 83, a Republican from Squirrel Hill.
Ms. Rudiak, who's seeking her second term, was in office only several weeks when a February 2010 blizzard paralyzed the city. She was an early critic of the city's handling of the storm and led a council task force that reviewed the city's response and recommended policy changes.
Since then, Ms. Rudiak said, she has spent much of her time trying to raise the profile of her neighborhoods, helping to build a sustainable network of community leaders and identifying economic-development opportunities, such as a "dairy district" shopping and tourism area that builds on the success of the Colteryahn Dairy on Brownsville Road in Carrick.
"I've been working to, frankly, introduce our neighborhoods to dozens of developers, foundations and other organizations," said Ms. Rudiak, who keeps constituents apprised in upbeat newsletters delivered by email.
Because of common interests, Ms. Rudiak, has worked on joint projects with nearby suburban communities. For example, noting her neighborhoods lack the community development corporations that promote development in other parts of the city, she forged an alliance with Economic Development South, a CDC serving some of the south suburbs.
"We're modernizing the way community development is done," said Ms. Rudiak, who has a bachelor's degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master's in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University. That work, she said, includes making sure that community groups build knowledge, skills and access to resources so they're less reliant on local politicians down the road.
Mr. Hurst, a cab driver and volunteer member of Allegheny County Transit Council, said he's making his first run for office because he doesn't "like the direction the city is headed." He said the city needs to get back to basics, and that includes spending more money on parks, police and paving.
Vice president of the parent-teacher group at Pittsburgh West Liberty K-5, Mr. Hurst criticized recent council legislation that earmarks money for an architectural inventory, saying it's "feel good" legislation that doesn't address the city's key needs. He also criticized a bill that provides money for construction-related training to "under-represented ethnic groups," saying such training should be made available to the wider city population.
Mr. Hurst said a city with its financial priorities in order shouldn't have to float a bond issue, as Pittsburgh did in 2012, to generate revenue for street paving. And he said the city should get to the bottom of, and fix, chronic turnover in the police bureau.
"We want to make sure our pay for police officers is competitive," he said.
Mr. Hurst, who attended ICM School of Business for medical office administration, said Ms. Rudiak has been slow to address some community needs, such as additional recreational amenities. Ms. Rudiak disagreed.
The district takes in Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Carrick, Overbrook and a small part of Mount Washington.
As Mr. Peduto's chief of staff in District 8, Mr. Gilman said, he has worked on nearly $2 billion in development projects, including the expansion of Bakery Square, university-related projects and improvements to neighborhood business districts. Mr. Gilman worked on Mr. Peduto's campaign-finance and lobbyist-disclosure laws, green initiatives and tax-abatement programs.
He also has been his boss's point man on constituent issues, cajoling and browbeating a sometimes-unfriendly city bureaucracy into solving problems related to paving, building inspection, stormwater management and parking.
"I think until you experience first-hand what it's like to be in local government, it's hard to understand what a large chunk of your day is spent dealing with basic city services," said Mr. Gilman, who has a bachelor's degree in ethics, history and public policy from CMU and was president of the school's student body.
By now, Mr. Gilman said, he knows not only how to cut through the red tape at city hall but also how to help constituents solve problems involving state and federal government. He would wield considerable clout citywide if Mr. Peduto, who is vacating the council seat to run for mayor, wins his own election.
Mr. Gilman said his goals include doing more for small business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs, such as creating a searchable database of available city- and county-owned properties.
"There are great things coming out of our institutions every day, and we're not doing enough as a government to keep them here," said Mr. Gilman, whose district encompasses much of the city's university community.
He also wants to infuse more technology into city services -- making sure people can pay for permits with credit cards, for example -- and forging a stronger partnership with the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Mr. Treblow, a retired chemist who worked in industry and academe, said he's running partly to help invigorate the two-party system in a city long dominated and run by Democrats. But he also said he sees an opportunity to help the city improve the way it interacts with business, provides services and manages its finances.
"If we're going to grow, we've got to change the way we do things," said Mr. Treblow, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 1985 and for state representative in 1998.
Noting that the city no longer is a magnet for Fortune 100 and 500 companies and that the suburbs in recent years have had success wooing employers such as Mylan and Westinghouse, Mr. Treblow said the city is "unfriendly to business." He said officials should lower business taxes and cover the revenue shortfall with spending cuts.
"I think every job function in every department has to be looked at," he said. "Do we really need all those people? I suspect not."
Mr. Treblow, who has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, years ago took part in efforts to have city council members elected by district and to collect an extra 1 percent sales tax countywide for regional assets such as museums. Now, to prop up the two-party system, he'd like at least two city council members to be elected at large.
He called for financial and operational reviews of city-related authorities, saying aggressive enforcement by the parking authority borders on unfriendliness and that officials of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority need an independent review of big infrastructure projects. "Are they doing it properly?" he said.
The district takes in Shadyside and parts of Oakland, Point Breeze and Squirrel Hill.