Just when Pittsburghers in City Council District 3 were getting to know their new councilman of 13 months, voters will go to the polls May 15 to decide if he deserves a full four-year term.
Although the face-off between incumbent Jeffrey Koch of Arlington and challenger Bruce Kraus of South Side Flats is technically the Democratic primary, the eventual nominee will be heavily favored to win in November since no Republican is on the ballot. That nominee should be Bruce Kraus.
We say this although we've seen growth by Mr. Koch, 45, since he joined council in March 2006, after winning a special election that included Mr. Kraus and six other candidates. This time it's a one-on-one affair for Democrats in Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Carrick, Knoxville, Mt. Washington, South Oakland, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes and St. Clair Village.
Mr. Koch, a former employee of the city public works department and a party committeeman, arrived on Pittsburgh council by the traditional route. He has familiar allies, with endorsements from the county Democratic Committee, Allegheny County Labor Council and various units of the United Auto Workers, Teamsters, Fire Fighters and Fraternal Order of Police -- all of which gives us pause.
Pittsburgh is a city that requires courageous decisions on spending. Public-employee contracts, pension debt and streamlining the workforce are live-or-die issues for a government in fiscal distress. What happens when the needs of a councilman's powerful backers collide with the interests of taxpayers?
Councilman Koch clearly has a desire to work for the district. He is pushing legislation to limit the number of liquor licenses in dense business zones like Carson Street, lobbying the Port Authority to complete the East Warrington Avenue resurfacing project and working to obtain federal Weed and Seed funds for anti-crime programs.
But Mr. Kraus, 53, is the more independent choice.
The challenger is a forceful and articulate advocate for the district. As the operator of an interior design firm, he knows the city both as a resident and as a business owner. He has grown impatient with city government's approach to bar patrons whose drunken revelry trashes the neighborhood around Carson Street and he finds the councilman's liquor-license legislation poorly crafted and timed for election-season benefit.
Even without being on council, Mr. Kraus has rolled up his sleeves on behalf of the community -- as chair of the Pittsburgh Anti-Graffiti Task Force, an original member of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission, a board member of the South Side Community, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce and a player in the United Way Neighborhood Leadership Program to promote healthy living habits.
The candidates agree on many issues, but we give the edge -- and our endorsement -- to Bruce Kraus because of his citizen involvement and his independent voice.