Primary 2013/West: Candidates very similar

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Both candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Allegheny County Council's District 1 seat agree about the importance of working with Democrats.

"People on council are listening to one another more now," incumbent Matt Drozd said. "I think it is a better, gentler council."

"I believe I can work across the aisle and get things done," challenger Tom Baker pledged.

An ability to get along with members of the rival party likely would be an important skill for GOP council members. Democrats hold all countywide offices, including the county executive's position, and currently have an 11-4 advantage on county council. That margin could shrink in the November general election, but Democrats will maintain control of county council.

A belief in the importance of working across party lines is not the only thing that Mr. Drozd and Mr. Baker have in common. Both candidates also share an interest and background in education.

Mr. Drozd taught business at Robert Morris University and the University of Pittsburgh as an adjunct faculty member. He raised money for Penn State scholarships as a development officer at the university's Fayette campus. He works about three days per week as a substitute school teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Mr. Baker has bachelor's and master's degrees in education-related fields. His duties as chief community affairs officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh include volunteer training. He currently teaches Leadership for Life, a civic development course at Penn State's Altoona campus.

Mr. Baker is a current member of the North Hills school board, and Mr. Drozd is a former member of the same board. Both live in Ross.

In describing issues that are important to voters, both candidates agreed on the importance of holding the line on taxes.

Mr. Drozd, 68, is seeking his third four-year term on council. He said he pays little attention to the number of birthdays he has celebrated, saying his biological age is much lower than his chronological age. "I run 3 miles and can do 300 pushups and 150 situps every day," he said.

Born in Munhall, Mr. Drozd graduated from what was then Munhall High School. He is a veteran of both the Army, which he joined as a private, and the Air Force Reserve, where he retired as a lieutenant colonel. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in business from Duquesne University. He is divorced and has two grown sons, Matthew and Stephen, both of whom live in the North Hills.

Mr. Drozd sees a connection between his work as a member of county council and as a substitute teacher. The county's costs for courts and the jail are rising beyond the ability of taxpayers to fund them, he said. A good education improves the odds that young people will avoid crime and stay out of prison. "I do what I can to help these kids," he said.

He described himself as the voice of the residents in the county's northern and western suburbs who elected him. "I vote the will of my constituents and I speak the will of my constituents," he said.

Mr. Drozd said he would support changes in state law that would allow Allegheny County Port Authority to declare bankruptcy, which would give the mass-transit provider a chance to restructure its existing labor contracts. He also favors replacing the 13-year-old executive-council form of county government with a return to a board of commissioners.

Mr. Baker, 33, met his wife Erin when both were undergraduates at Millersville State University. He earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and was elected student body president. He later earned a master's degree in student affairs in higher education administration at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to his job at Big Brothers Big Sisters, he is president of Baker Leadership and the author of three books for young adults interested in community service. They are titled "Get Involved! Making the Most of Your 20s and 30s," "Give Our Passion" and "Empowered in Pittsburgh."

Mr. Baker is the founder of "Get Involved! Inc.," a nonprofit volunteer organization that seeks to develop young leaders. His outside activities include serving on the boards of North Hills Community Outreach and the Baierl Family YMCA.

"My parents raised me to be active in the community," he said of his late father, Tom, a Pittsburgh school teacher, and mother, Patty. Service began early. "I volunteered at age 5 or 6 with Special Olympics, and 20 years later, I served on the state board."

Why is he running for the council nomination? "I think it is time for a change in District 1," Mr. Baker said. "I think I can be a strong voice for Republicans in the county and work across the aisle to get things done."

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Daniel A. McClain, who is unopposed. An internal auditor for U.S. Steel Corp., Mr. McClain lives in Ross, where he is vice chairman of the township's Democratic Party.

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Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.


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