Highland Park activist Deb Gross narrowly won the city Democratic Committee's nomination Sunday for a vacant East End seat on Pittsburgh City Council in what was also a show of mayoral nominee Bill Peduto's new political muscle.
Ms. Gross took 47 committee votes to 43 for Tony Ceoffe Jr. of Lawrenceville, the son of the neighborhood's district judge. She will be the official Democratic nominee in the Nov. 5 special election to fill the two years left in departed councilman Patrick Dowd's term, while Mr. Ceoffe has to consider an independent bid.
The vote was only by those members of the committee who live in District 7, which includes Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Morningside, Stanton Heights and the Strip District.
"I am incredibly honored and humbled to receive this nomination and want to thank the Democratic Committee for their support," Ms. Gross said. "In the coming months, I will continue to share my vision of neighborhood-driven development with the people in our community. Our district needs continued leadership that will keep our neighborhoods as great places to live, work and raise a family."
Ms. Gross, 47, is the former director of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance and a longtime campaigner for both Mr. Dowd and Mr. Peduto.
The Democratic mayoral nominee was the first public official to endorse her after Mr. Dowd's July 10 resignation, with other high-profile Democratic names in his political circle following his lead including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, state Sen. Wayne Fontana of Brookline and state Rep. Ed Gainey of Lincoln-Lemington.
State Rep. Dom Costa of Stanton Heights also endorsed Ms. Gross and stood with her throughout the committee vote at the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville. Another high-profile Democratic endorser was county Controller Chelsa Wagner, who supported her uncle Jack Wagner in the mayoral primary versus Mr. Peduto.
Mr. Dowd lost the committee's endorsement in both of his runs for the District 7 seat. In his last election in 2011, he lost the endorsement to Mr. Ceoffe.
"We knew it was going to be close, given the history of the Ceoffes and the history of party politics over the past decade," Mr. Peduto said in a phone interview. "Certainly [Ms. Gross] was playing on their field. A lot of this is attributed to her hard work on the phones and meeting committee people, even those not voting for her."
As the close vote showed, Mr. Ceoffe, too, has political might in the district and in the Democratic Committee, where he serves as the chair of the 6th Ward covering parts of Lawrenceville and Polish Hill. The 29-year-old said he has to talk it over with his family whether to seek an independent bid for the seat, which would likely force him to resign from his party position.
He and other candidates considering independent bids will have until July 31 to do so. Republicans also have until then to file, but no candidates had come forward for the Democratic-dominated city seat.
Mr. Ceoffe, who works for the city Housing Authority, said some allies in the committee were forced to miss the endorsement, which was just announced last week. With a handful of extra votes under different circumstances, he might have won the party machinery's nod instead, and that could weigh on his decision.
"With this [closeness] of numbers, I don't really feel that this is indicative of the overall opinion for the neighborhood," he said. "This isn't something that is common, where you have a race that ends with a four-vote difference."
Legal challenges of the endorsement are also possible.
Vanessa Turpin, the chair of the committee's 8th Ward in Bloomfield and a Ceoffe supporter, officially challenged three votes from people recently added to the committee by Nancy Mills, the chairwoman of the overall Allegheny County committee.
One such voter did not show for the endorsement, and Ms. Mills kept the other two ballots in reserve and did not count them as part of the total, in case of a legal challenge. But with Ms. Gross' four-vote edge, the two votes would not have changed the outcome anyway.
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter @EarlyReturns. First Published July 21, 2013 5:15 PM