New Allegheny County Council member plans to seek complete term

"I wanted to make my community better, and one of the ways to do that is through elective office." -- Krista Harris

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Krista Harris has had an eventful winter.

The Mt. Lebanon resident and her husband, Mark, are the parents of a 7-week-old daughter named Abigail.

Then last week, she was appointed to Allegheny County Council to replace veteran Republican member Vince Gastgeb. She will serve at least until November and plans to run in a special election to complete Mr. Gastgeb's term.

"I wanted to make my community better, and one of the ways to do that is through elective office," Ms. Harris, 28, said in a phone interview. She said she was inspired to go after a county council seat in part by her participation in the Anne B. Anstine Excellence in Public Service Series. It is a yearlong training program for Republican women who want to seek public office.

Ms. Harris was one of eight candidates who applied for the District 5 seat. She was nominated by council's GOP caucus and confirmed by full council on Tuesday.

No sooner was she approved than she began knocking on doors and meeting voters in District 5, which includes Bethel Park, Bridgeville, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair.

Ms. Harris grew up outside Philadelphia in West Chester. She earned a bachelor's degree from Susquehanna University and a master's in media and public affairs from George Washington University.

She was working full time on Capitol Hill as an executive assistant and scheduler for U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester, while she earned her master's degree. "I've been comparing being a new mom to being in graduate school and working," she joked. "You have to operate on limited sleep for a long period of time."

She moved to Mt. Lebanon two years ago. A Republican committeewoman, she serves as vice chairwoman of the community's GOP committee.

She is on maternity leave from her job as an account executive and fundraising director for Cold Spark Media. The political consulting, advertising and communications firm has offices in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. The business was co-founded by her husband, Mark.

Her job with Cold Spark involves exactly what it sounds like. "I help clients raise money for campaigns," she said. "Candidates have to get their message out, and in order to do that, they need money."

In 2006, Ms. Harris managed then-state Sen. Rob Wonderling's re-election campaign. His district included portions of Montgomery, Lehigh, Northampton and Bucks counties. While a student at Susquehanna, she was co-chair of Pennsylvania College Republicans and worked as an intern for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004.

Mr. Gastgeb resigned from the District 5 seat after he took a job with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which is indirectly overseen by council. He had represented South Hills residents since 2000, taking office after county voters approved a new executive-county council form of government. His term is due to end in 2015.

Ms. Harris will be part of the minority party in county government. Democrats hold all row offices and the county executive's job. They also have an 11-4 majority on county council.

Ms. Harris and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald already have had brief contact during the 2011 race for the top county job.

Her husband was a chief political adviser to Republican D. Raja in his unsuccessful run against Mr. Fitzgerald. The race was hard-fought, with both sides using attack ads.

During a Nov. 1 television debate, Mr. Fitzgerald called Mr. Harris and Mike DeVanney, his partner at Cold Spark Media, "two of the sleaziest campaign operatives in this town." After the cameras stopped rolling, Mr. Harris challenged Mr. Fitzgerald for attacking him by name in front of his wife, who was present in the studio.

Ms. Harris said she had no hard feelings. "That's all in the past," she said. "I respect the county executive and I look forward to working with him."

Mr. Fitzgerald expressed similar sentiments. "I congratulate her on her new role, and I look forward to working with her and other members of council as we continue to move the county forward," he said.

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Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159. Timothy McNulty contributed to this report.


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