Party time: Democrats and Republicans have their say

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The winds of change blew through Pittsburgh City Council on election night and, with any luck, will help clear the air in city government. Three incumbents -- one under indictment and the other two backed by the party leadership -- were denied the Democratic nomination and will leave office at the end of the year.

With no Republicans on the ballot, Grant Street newcomers Bruce Kraus, Patrick Dowd and Ricky Burgess -- presuming their winning tallies become official -- will be heavy favorites to win election in November.

All three, representing districts as diverse as the South Side, Highland Park and Homewood, campaigned on themes of openness, efficiency and independence. It's risky to truck in labels, but you might call these candidates "progressive" -- prospective council members who may find themselves voting more often than not with Bill Peduto. Time will tell.

Mike Lamb, the county prothonotary and the Democratic committee's endorsed candidate, won a five-way battle for the city controller's nomination over political veterans like Council President Doug Shields and former county Commissioner Mike Dawida. An advocate for row-office consolidation, Mr. Lamb will do well in this fiscal watchdog role (no Republican sought nomination) if he can maintain a healthy independence and a strong voice for reform.

Further up the ballot was less excitement in the overnight results. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, with Councilman Peduto having withdrawn as a challenger last month, easily won the Democratic nomination. This time last year, before the illness and death of Mayor Bob O'Connor, he was the 26-year-old president of City Council with no claim on Pittsburgh's top executive office.

When Tuesday's Republican write-in votes are counted, the city will know whether technology consultant Mark DeSantis will become Mayor Ravenstahl's GOP opponent -- a prospect we eagerly await, if only to give city residents a choice and a robust debate over the issues confronting Pittsburgh.

Like the mayor, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato had an easy night, in his case overcoming a token challenge for the Democratic nomination. The party had four contested nominations for County Council seats, with two of them going to candidates endorsed by the Democratic committee -- challenger Jim Ellenbogen in District 12 and incumbent Bob Macey in District 9 -- and the others going to nonendorsed incumbents Joan Cleary in District 6 and Brenda Frazier in District 13.

Republican voters made a curious nomination in Chuck McCullough of Upper St. Clair for an at-large County Council seat. He's the former county solicitor who ended his campaign after questions arose over his handling of the finances of a 90-year-old widow. His decision to withdraw came too late for removal from the ballot; now he's the GOP standard-bearer.

Democrats and Republicans did well, for the most part, in nominating candidates for four seats on Allegheny County Common Pleas Court. Due to cross-filing, all county voters will get to select from five candidates in November: Cathleen Bubash, Mike McCarthy and Kelly Eileen Bigley, who were nominated by both parties; plus Jack McVay running as a Democrat and Arnie Klein as a Republican.

Voters also chose generally high-caliber nominees for the appellate benches. For Supreme Court, Democrats nominated Debra Todd and Seamus McCaffrey, both Superior Court judges. Republicans gave nods to Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green and former Environmental Hearing Board Judge Michael Krancer.

The four nominees for Superior Court are Republicans Cheryl Allen, an Allegheny County judge, and Bruce Bratton, a judge in Dauphin County; and Democrats Christine Donohue, a lawyer from Shadyside, and Allegheny County Judge Ronald Folino, if his vote margin holds up.

Finally, voters sent a strong message to Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature, who thought it would be a good idea to give people who routinely complain about school property taxes a chance to shift some of that burden to a local income tax. Voters rejected the option in nearly all 498 school districts that had such a ballot question.

Maybe it was confusion over the question, fear of the unknown, preference for the current tax mix or doubt that a property tax cut would really result. The simplest solution is government and schools that are cost-effective and tax dollars that are well spent. That's a lesson every candidate should learn.


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