Five vie to take Dowd's council seat

Candidates prepare for Nov. 5 election

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With the close of Labor Day comes the two-month sprint toward Pittsburgh's most competitive political race, which was not even on the calendar early in the summer.

City Councilman Patrick Dowd's surprise announcement in mid June that he was resigning to lead an education nonprofit ultimately triggered a special election Nov. 5 to fill the last two years of his District 7 term, representing Bloomfield, Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, Highland Park, Morningside, the Strip District and parts of East Liberty, Friendship, and Stanton Heights.

Five candidates are seeking to replace him. Deb Gross got the Democratic Party's nomination by committee vote, three others are running as independents and one is a Libertarian.

Ms. Gross, 47, is a consultant to nonprofits and has formerly worked for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance, Run Baby Run (which seeks to elect women to public office) and the Women & Girls Foundation.

Though she spent her childhood in Pittsburgh, her father's job at Westinghouse took the family to Florida, where she graduated from high school in 1982 and the University of Florida in 1988. She resettled in the city in 1998 and lives with her husband and two children in Highland Park.

Beyond the concerns with quality of life issues she hears from most residents in the district, Ms. Gross said she also hears worries about fights between health industry titans UPMC and Highmark; the pressures between business growth and longtime residents in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville; and redevelopment plans for the Strip District produce terminal.

Though she is a historic preservation advocate and board member of the Landmarks Development Corp. (the for-profit subsidiary of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation), she said she is still undecided on plans to partially demolish the structure to make way for riverfront development in the Strip. But knowledge of the players in such issues, she said, positions her well for a city council role.

"With the people I know in the district and the great projects they're doing, I really could be a good liaison for them in government. It's a dream job where I can bring the resources from working with elected officials and civic leaders from the work I've done for 15 years," she said.

Independent Tony Ceoffe, 29, is a former client placement specialist for the city Housing Authority and medical claims officer for the State Workers' Insurance Fund. A 2002 graduate of Central Catholic High School, he lives in Lawrenceville with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

Mr. Ceoffe already has put policy platforms on his campaign's Facebook page, promising to support the city's ban on natural gas drilling and its suit challenging UPMC's charitable status. He also has proposed naming a "community services liaison" from his council office who will work daily with community groups in District 7 neighborhoods.

The three greatest issues facing residents, he said, are public safety, economic development and the delivery of city services. Police staffing has to be boosted, particularly in the Zone 5 station, he said, and the needs of longtime residents of neighborhoods such as Bloomfield and Lawrenceville have to be balanced with the spurt of business growth there.

General quality of life issues keep coming up in his talks with residents.

"There are too many potholes. Streets are not cleaned. We need services delivered effectively -- people are paying taxes here expecting quality services," he said.

Mr. Ceoffe, son of the Lawrenceville district judge, unsuccessfully ran against Mr. Dowd in the 2011 Democratic primary.

In a vote of Democratic party committee members from the district, Ms. Gross narrowly won the Democratic nomination over Mr. Ceoffe in July. Mr. Ceoffe challenged the vote in a series of court battles, before a county Common Pleas Court judge dismissed the last of them Thursday.

The pair have continued to tangle over debate plans. Mr. Ceoffe unilaterally scheduled two candidate forums in September, which all other the candidates other than Ms. Gross are planning to attend.

Ms. Gross will debate in other forums organized by community groups, including two set tentatively for October in Bloomfield and Highland Park.

Another independent, Tom Fallon, 51, is a housing developer and former staffer to state Sen. Jim Ferlo. A graduate of Central Catholic in 1980 and of Kent State University with a marketing degree in 1984, he and his wife live in Morningside.

Mr. Fallon started his firm Urban Green Development in 2007 after years of trying to help Mr. Ferlo's constituents with debilitating energy bills. His firm renovates homes in the East End and makes them more energy efficient, and he says his dual experience in government and the private sector give him unique talents to bring to city council.

"It's not just about getting a street paved, putting community gardens in and other things people want to see. The primary responsibility is putting in the due diligence about our budget," he said.

His plans are to bring business practices to government, such as adopting quarterly budgets, seeking money-saving cooperation agreements with other municipalities (including with Allegheny County on financial software), and working with Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Peduto on environmental initiatives.

Mr. Fallon launched a Democratic primary bid in 2007 against Mr. Dowd and then incumbent Len Bodack, but was removed from the ballot on a technicality.

Jim Wudarczyk, 61, is a customer service representative for a Strip District packaging company. He graduated from Lawrenceville Catholic High School in 1970 and Edinboro University with an English degree in 1973. The Lawrenceville man has a 23-year-old daughter doing graduate work at Duquesne University.

He is running as an independent to join council to address worries about the city budget; crumbling streets, sewers and other parts of the city infrastructure; crime and the related issue of dwindling police manpower.

A Civil War buff who has just published his third book, "Until the Morning Cometh: Civil War Era Pittsburgh," those issues drove the fourth-generation Pittsburgher to make his first run for office.

"I would not be running unless I thought I had a chance of winning. Ten years ago individuals would have slammed every door in my face," Mr. Wudarczyk said. "To get on the ballot I needed 128 signatures, and submitted 500 from every neighborhood in the district."

Dave Powell, 42, is a systems administrator at Pitt and the county chair of the Libertarian Party. He graduated from Baldwin-Whitehall High School in 1989, ran a book store, then graduated from Pitt with an information sciences degree in 2001. He lives with his wife and two children in Morningside.

On council, he would seek approval for laws banning the city from using military-type equipment against residents (such as the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, deployed during G-20 protests in 2009), or red light cameras or face-recognition software.

He wants the city to stop prosecution for nonviolent marijuana offenses, readopt its former practice of taxing land at a greater rate than buildings (in hopes to boosting development and discouraging land speculation and absentee landlords), and figure ways to clear liens from vacant properties to encourage redevelopment.

He also would focus on the city's crippling long-term pension and capital debt issues, which eat up a quarter of its annual spending in debt service. "It doesn't make sense to run a household that way and it can't make sense for government," Mr. Powell said.

This is Mr. Powell's first run for political office.

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Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns.


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