Primary 2013/South: Two seek GOP nod for Allegheny County council

Winner faces off for District 5 seat in November

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They may not have spent much time in the big chair yet, but don't call the two Republican candidates for Allegheny County Council's District 5 seat political newcomers.

Incumbent Krista Harris, 28, served as an aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Chester, and currently coaches political candidates on fundraising. Sue Means, 61, helped push through Pennsylvania's home-schooling law and previously ran for the state House and Senate.

They say they share the common goal of making Allegheny County more attractive to businesses and reforming the tax code.

"We need to grow the area," Ms. Harris said. "I think when you're looking at the reassessments, looking at the nonprofit status, I think it needs to be fair across the board."

Ms. Harris was appointed earlier this year to fill the council seat of departing Republican Vince Gastgeb. She's running for the Republican nomination in the May 21 primary for the seat representing Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park and Bridgeville.

The youngest member on council, she says she has already learned much from her few months on council.

Campaigning for herself rather than for another politician has proved an interesting change of pace, she said.

"There's a lot more responsibility and I take it very seriously," she said. "I actually am making an impact and I have an ability to do that, rather than knocking on doors for other candidates."

Originally from outside Philadelphia, Ms. Harris graduated from Susquehanna University and earned a master's degree in media and public affairs from George Washington University.

While attending graduate school, she was a full time executive assistant and scheduler for Mr. Gerlach, her hometown representative. She also managed the 2006 re-election campaign of then-state Sen. Rob Wonderling, whose district covered a swath of Philadelphia suburbs.

Now the fundraising director for Cold Spark Media, a Pittsburgh-based political consulting firm founded by her husband, she's entering her third year as a Mt. Lebanon resident.

She also just became mother to daughter Abigail, who has been accompanying her as she knocks on doors.

"I want to focus on making sure that young families can come and stay in Allegheny County," she said. "When my daughter grows up and if she chooses to stay in the area, I want to make sure we have the infrastructure and she has the opportunity job-wise for her to be able to do that."

Her opponent already has seen that happen: Ms. Means, of Bethel Park, raised five children in Allegheny County. A lifelong resident, she has been an active member of the county's Republican committee, volunteering for candidates ranging from district judge to president.

Coming off two unsuccessful races for a seats in state government, the former nurse and West Virginia University graduate says local Republican leaders told her that now is the time to run for a seat in the county.

"The Democrats set the agenda," she said. "I want to champion a business-friendly environment, but we're outnumbered, so the best way to do that is to shine the light on any inefficiencies and educate the voters."

Ms. Means has served as an appointed member of the South Park Council of Friends for almost three years. The longtime editor of a home-schooling newsletter who her taught her own children at home, she was invited to late-Gov. Robert P. Casey's signing of Pennsylvania's home-schooling law in 1988.

She's also a third-degree black belt in karate, a practice that began as a way to participate with her kids but grew into a pursuit of her own.

In some ways, her journey to the council race is the same as her training for her black belt: eight years of arduous work, culminating in one final test before a judge.

"You had to break a board with your head," she said. "You know it's coming, and you worry about it ... but you train.

"My head not only broke the board," she continued proudly, "but I hit my instructor's chest with my forehead."

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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