If the last two races for the Democratic nomination in the district have shown anything, it's that it can be extremely unpredictable. The victors in both 2005 and 2009 prevailed by about 200 votes.
"Two hundred twelve," said Tonya Payne, 49, the former councilwoman who was unseated in 2009 by the man who currently holds the job, 35-year-old R. Daniel Lavelle. Franco "Dok" Harris, 33, of Downtown, is also gunning for the Democratic nomination. Because no one is registered in the Republican primary, whoever wins the nomination is the presumed victor for the fall.
The politics of the Hill District, which make up the lion's share of District 6, have proven brutal and vengeful, producing a narrative that can sometimes seem like a Shakespearean drama between two factions. And there's plenty at stake for the troubled neighborhood, one that has been defined by the city's greatest policy failures that some say are at the heart of the area's blight, poverty and crime.
But leaders there also see opportunity: a grocery store under construction, a new housing development at Crawford Square and collateral benefits from the new Consol Energy Center. In the district's other half, which sits on the North Side of the Allegheny River, there's new development in Manchester.
Mr. Lavelle is a protege of former Councilman Sala Udin and the grandson of the founder of the Hill District institution Dwelling House Bank. Ms. Payne, who also worked for Mr. Udin in the late 1990s, defeated Mr. Udin in 2005 by 208 votes.
The acrimony has played itself out in local as well as state politics. After Ms. Payne lost her council seat in 2009, she challenged state Rep. Jake Wheatley, who once served as Mr. Udin's chief of staff, for state office. Mr. Lavelle campaigned for Mr. Wheatley, collecting signatures for him.
But his work for Mr. Wheatley landed him in hot water after Ms. Payne took her concerns about what she believed were bogus signatures to Allegheny County police. He was ultimately charged with two misdemeanors -- perjury and false signatures -- in September 2011. A judge allowed him to enter an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition in February 2012, an arrangement in which he could have the charges expunged from his records if he successfully completed a program, according to Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office. In his case, the program entailed 100 hours of community service and 12 months of probation.
Mr. Lavelle said he never forged signatures, but did certify bogus ones that he said were collected by a volunteer. He called the incident "a lapse in judgement."
Both Mr. Harris and Ms. Payne see it not as an aberration, but as a mark of Mr. Lavelle's character.
"Good leadership is people with good character and, most of all, with integrity," Ms. Payne said. "And this dude ain't have it."
Nonetheless, Mr. Lavelle said he still has work to do as a councilman. He touted his work as the vice chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, including the redevelopment of the Garden Theater block on the North Side. He fought against wholesale demolition of homes in Manchester and for saving homes and the development of housing in Columbus Square.
He said he's encouraged the participation of women- and minority-owned businesses in development projects.
Mr. Harris, of Downtown, also believes the community can be lifted through economic development and he believes his experience and education -- he holds an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University -- lends itself to the job.
He wants to make Downtown a "neighborhood community that people not only want to live in, but want to visit on the weekends at night."
He believes he's the best person for the job because he has the multifaceted experience to match as an entrepreneur -- he's helped his father, former Steelers player Franco Harris, expand the family business -- and as an attorney helping small businesses.
Ms. Payne said she can bring a formidable voice to council. She said she is the opposite of the incumbent, unafraid to speak her mind loudly. She is the endorsed candidate.
Ms. Payne, who has been working as a safety manager at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, said she wants to bring accountability measures to the police, bringing more transparency to policies and procedures. She also talked about her track record from her term on council, when she and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl negotiated with University of Pittsburgh and residents in Oak Hill to divide up contested land. Pitt got part of the land they wanted in exchange for underwriting some mixed-used development.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published April 16, 2013 4:00 AM