City of Pittsburgh races: Two City Council members lose their positions

Twanda Carlisle and Jeff Koch beaten; Bodack and Dowd running neck and neck; Shields keeps his seat

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A day in which city of Pittsburgh polling places seemed sleepy ended with a shrill wake-up call for incumbents, at least two of whom won't be keeping their jobs.

Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, who faces corruption charges, and Councilman Jeff Koch lost their Democratic primary races, according to unofficial results. Councilman Len Bodack's effort to hold off school board member Patrick Dowd appeared too close to call.

The turnover of as much as one-third of council suggests that those voters who showed up were angry about the city's ongoing struggles and scandals, observers said.

"This may be the voters finally waking up and recognizing the fact that city council can do some things and demanding some performance," political analyst William J. Green said.

Veterans of city government, meanwhile, were bested by a long-time county official in the race for controller, Pittsburgh's number-two elected post.

Michael Lamb, the Democratic nominee for controller, could instantly become a potential rival to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who had no primary opposition.

Mr. Lamb, the county prothonotary, handily beat four other contestants. Acting Controller Tony Pokora, who worked in the office for 22 years and was groomed for the post by predecessor Tom Flaherty, may face the job market after a disappointing showing.

Council President Doug Shields held on to his current seat, but couldn't advance to the controller's post. Former County Commissioner Mike Dawida failed in a second political comeback effort, saying he's "pretty much done with politics." Businessman DaMon Macklin made only a dent.

Mr. Lamb ran on a pledge to upgrade the city's auditing and financial management. At a Stanton Heights poll as voting wound down, he bemoaned light turnout, but said, "the people who are voting are motivated and they know who they're voting for."

No Republican has filed for the post. The win means Mr. Lamb could become a thorn in the side of Mr. Ravenstahl.

The controller is the city's watchdog, so starting in January, he can bark at the mayor if he sees fit. A third-place finisher in the 2005 mayor's race, the 44-year-old Mount Washington resident may be in position to eventually challenge for that post again when it goes back on the ballot in 2009.

The Rev. Ricky Burgess, 50, of North Point Breeze, handily beat Ms. Carlisle, with six other Democratic candidates also trailing him.

Endorsed by the Democratic Committee, he spent 12 hours yesterday making 44 visits to 38 polling places. "I'm going to kiss my wife, and hug my children, and go to sleep," he said.

"I've talked about a comprehensive economic development plan and a public safety plan," he said. "The city of Pittsburgh's budget is challenging, and the reality of it is, most of it can't be cut. ... We have to find new funding sources."

Ms. Carlisle, a 48-year-old with five years on council who faces trial late this year on charges of leading a kickback scheme, could not be reached for comment.

Bruce Kraus, a 52-year-old interior designer from the South Side Flats, beat Councilman Koch after one of the most bruising city contests in recent memory.

"We were always the little engine that could," Mr. Kraus said. "My connection was with the people. They are who I represent and they're who my heart is with."

Mr. Koch, 45 and of Arlington, rose out of the city's Public Works Department to win office in a special election 14 months ago. His reelection effort was apparently hurt when former colleagues were caught wearing his campaign shirts while doing city work, and a council office staffer was accused of politicking using a city phone.

"Good luck, God bless him," said Mr. Koch of Mr. Kraus. He said he was beaten by months of what he characterized as negative campaigning. "It's tough to overcome things that aren't true when you try to run an honest campaign."

"I couldn't be any more proud of the campaign that we ran, any more proud of the people who worked on it, or any more proud of the voters," Mr. Kraus said. "I'm not going to address how Jeff Koch chose to run his campaign."

Challenger Patrick Dowd, a 39-year-old private school teacher from Highland Park, said he believed he edged out Councilman Len Bodack, but expected challenges once the votes all were tallied.

Mr. Bodack, 50 and of Stanton Heights, said the difference was less than the number of still-uncounted absentee ballots. "I'm going to thank my people, and then I'm going to go home and get some sleep, and when I wake up, we're going to sort it out," he said.

Mr. Dowd said his campaign knocked on 12,000 doors from January to May.

"When you go out and talk with people day after day and evening after evening, you get a sense of what they want," he said. "People were saying that we needed new blood."

His campaign featured concepts like putting more city data on the Internet and creating incentives for rehabilitating older homes, rather than tearing them down. It also included criticisms of the incumbent's hiring of Democratic Committee members as consultants and staff.

"A negative campaign tends to keep voters home," the councilman said.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris, 54 and of Spring Hill, cruised to an easy victory over Robin Rosemary Miller of the same neighborhood, and Valarie Coleman of East Allegheny. She attributed her win to "working for the people of the communities, and not doing what I want, but what the communities want."

Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Michael Lamb, leading in the race for Pittsburgh City Controller, is greeted by his neices and nephew. Left, in a flowered dress is Annie Garvey, age 8, at center Claire Garvey, 10, and at right in the green shirt, Ciaran Lamb, 5. The candidate's wife, Jill Lamb, is on the far right as he arrives at Gaetano's Restaurant on Banksville Road where his supporters were waiting last night.
Video: Scenes from an election night headquarters
Click photo for larger image.
Related Stories, Unofficial Results
More primary coverage

The PG's Early Returns blog

Allegheny County

Armstrong County

Beaver

Butler

Fayette

Greene

Washington

Westmoreland

Pennsylvania Department of State -- Primary 2007 Returns


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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