Two city council incumbents complain of friction with mayor
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In the run-up to Tuesday's primary, spirited campaigns for Pittsburgh City Council seats have included allegations of mayoral interference, improper use of city resources and campaign finance violations.
The bitter tone in at least two of the races, Districts 1 and 3, is an outgrowth of ill will between council and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, tension that crystallized in a pension battle last year and then spread to other issues.
Council President Darlene Harris, who represents District 1, last week suggested that Mr. Ravenstahl, in a bid to make council members look ineffective, is delaying the start of seasonal street paving until after the election.
"I'm sure, after Tuesday, we'll start seeing potholes being fixed and streets start to be paved," said Mrs. Harris, who's being challenged for the Democratic nomination by Steven Oberst, Bobby Wilson and Vince Pallus. Mr. Pallus is backed by the mayor.
The mayor's office declined comment on what it called "campaign matters." In an email, public works Director Rob Kaczorowski said he hasn't developed a street paving list for two reasons -- uncertainty about the availability of capital funds due to council's 2011 budget and complications related to council's decision last year to equally apportion paving money among the nine council districts.
Mrs. Harris and Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents District 3, said Mr. Ravenstahl is punishing them for voting against his proposal last year to lease parking garages and meters to private investors.
Mr. Kraus said part of the punishment is Mr. Ravenstahl's decision to hold up a $100,000 study of problems in the South Side entertainment district.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kraus said, the administration allowed city police Chief Nate Harper last week to address a meeting organized by one of the councilman's opponents, Jeff Koch, a city public works supervisor who's backed by the mayor. Also seeking the Democratic nomination in District 3 are Jason Phillips and Gavin Robb.
Mr. Koch, who held the council seat for 18 months before losing it to Mr. Kraus in the 2007 campaign, said Chief Harper spoke not at a campaign event but at a kind of town hall meeting on the South Side's problems. Mr. Koch said guests were identified through a supporter's Facebook site. About 20 people attended.
In all, five council seats are on the ballot.
The District 5 seat is open because Councilman Doug Shields decided to run for district judge. Corey O'Connor, son of late Mayor Bob O'Connor, and Chris Zurawsky, a member of the county Democratic Committee, have generated little controversy in their battle for the Democratic nomination.
In District 7, Councilman Patrick Dowd has one opponent, Tony Ceoffe, a state employee who said he's lived up to his pledge to run a positive campaign. However, Mr. Ceoffe -- like Mr. Koch and Mr. Pallus -- complained that the incumbents in their races collected bigger contributions than allowed under the city's campaign finance law.
Mr. Ceoffe said Mr. Dowd collected $1,000 too much from one contributor. Mr. Dowd, Mr. Kraus and Mrs. Harris said they deferred excess donations to the next election cycle, leaving them in compliance with the law.
District 9 Councilman Ricky Burgess didn't accept that explanation and last week proposed rescinding the campaign finance law, saying there's no reason to keep it on the books if his colleagues are going to skirt it.
Mr. Burgess also delayed filing his own expense report for a day to protest his colleagues' actions, prompting criticism from Lucille Prater-Holliday, one of his two opponents for the Democratic nomination. Phyllis Copeland-Mitchell also is seeking the nomination.
Four years ago, several public works employees were disciplined for wearing Jeff Koch campaign T-shirts while completing work details on city time. Mr. Kraus said Chief Harper's attendance last week at an event involving Mr. Koch also was improper.
"The chief has indicated that he was not aware that it was a campaign event for Jeff Koch," police spokesman Diane Richard said, adding that Chief Harper "stated that he attended this event to listen to the business owners and provide responses to any concerns they may have regarding their businesses/public safety in the South Side."
Mr. Kraus also raised questions about a stop sign that recently appeared on Pius Street in the South Side, even though a city traffic engineer months ago said in an email to the councilman's office that a sign didn't belong there.
Mr. Koch said he read about the need for the sign in a local newspaper and contacted public works colleagues, who agreed to install one. He said he was happy to have helped.
The campaigns included hard-nosed campaign literature. Mr. Koch produced a flyer featuring Mr. Kraus' face on a milk carton and the question, "Have you seen me?" Mr. Pallus produced a mailer that says "Greed works for Darlene Harris." Among other criticisms, it says Mrs. Harris allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars for "senseless" projects, such as work in the Spring Hill area and its "sidewalk to nowhere."
Mr. Koch and Mr. Pallus said they've been factual, not negative or unfair. Mr. Pallus said people are upset about unpaved streets and a proliferation of abandoned houses.
"To be honest, there's not much getting done. The neighborhoods see it. The people can see it."
Mrs. Harris said she's received phone calls that workers in city and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority trucks have been taking down her campaign signs on the North Side. PWSA spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said Mrs. Harris likely was referring to a city public works truck authorized to remove signs from public property.
First Published May 14, 2011 12:00 am