Democrats in City Council District 7 have a high-contrast choice in the May 15 primary.
They can go with the incumbent, Len Bodack Jr., son of the longtime state senator, veteran of the Democratic Committee and foe of budget cuts that were needed to save the city. Or they can opt for the fresh thinking and independence of Patrick Dowd, a school board member who has been a force for change in Pittsburgh education and who didn't shrink from closing schools to reduce costly overcapacity.
It's a no-brainer for the residents of Bloomfield, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Polish Hill and Stanton Heights. For us, it has nothing to do with the councilman's failure to return calls from the Post-Gazette editorial board seeking an interview. We knew plenty already.
The Lawrenceville incumbent, 50, voted in March 2006 -- incredibly and unsuccessfully -- to end the state's oversight of city finances under Act 47. He was a member of council's "gang of five" who, in November 2004, rejected the stiff but necessary budget cuts to pull Pittsburgh from the brink of bankruptcy. He knuckled under to pressure from city employee unions in June 2004 and voted with three council members against the city's fiscal recovery plan.
Since Pittsburgh is not out of the financial woods, more difficult council votes will be required in the next few years. Don't expect Len Bodack Jr. to cast them.
Patrick Dowd, 39, is another story. The private-school teacher from Highland Park is concerned about the city's solvency, safety and population loss. He wants his children to grow up in a Pittsburgh that is about more than managing its decline.
"I don't see City Council making tough decisions," he told the editorial board. "We had to pare down school operations to get savings, but I don't see city government doing that. All the contracts and all the operations should go on the table."
Mr. Dowd, however, is not one of those elected officials who is driven solely by dollars and taxes. He wants quality service; he wants a city that can deliver. That's why he is not seeking re-election to the school board; he sees a greater challenge facing city government.
When the son of Sen. Bodack first ran for council, we said, "This fascination for dynasty-making is in part what is wrong with the local Democratic Party, which can't bring itself to taste new wine unless it comes in old bottles." Four years later, the line still applies to District 7.
Democrats need to choose carefully next month since no Republican is running and their nominee is likely to be the next council member. They should break with the past and make Patrick Dowd their choice.