Candidates for District 3 council seat offer different plans for solving South Side problems
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In a race that could help chart Pittsburgh City Council's future relationship with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, the four candidates running for the District 3 council seat are advancing varying strategies for sobering up the South Side entertainment district.
Vying for the Democratic nomination in the May 17 primary are incumbent Bruce Kraus, 57; city public works supervisor Jeff Koch, 49; glass studio manager Jason Phillips, 29; and attorney Gavin Robb, 34. Mr. Koch lives in Arlington and the others live on the South Side.
There are no Republicans on the ballot, meaning the race likely will be decided in the primary.
Mr. Ravenstahl would like to see the ouster of Mr. Kraus, who has accused the mayor of all but ignoring the noise, litter, vandalism and violence in the party district. Mr. Kraus also helped to defeat the mayor's parking lease plan last year and helped to push through an alternative pension bailout.
Now, Mr. Ravenstahl is believed to be supporting Mr. Koch, the 16th Ward Democratic chairman who won a special election to the seat in 2006 and served 18 months before losing the 2007 election to Mr. Kraus. Mr. Koch was a public works employee before the 2006 election, and he returned to the department after losing his 2007 bid to Mr. Kraus.
Mr. Ravenstahl also opposes the re-election of President Darlene Harris in District 1. Council often has voted 7-2 against Mr. Ravenstahl on important matters, so the defeat of Mr. Kraus and Mrs. Harris potentially would better position Mr. Ravenstahl on hot-button issues like the parking lease.
The challengers criticized Mr. Kraus, who's in his first term, for not getting along with the mayor and some South Side businesses. Mr. Phillips cast himself as "middle ground" in a race that he said includes a mayoral "rubber stamp" in Mr. Koch and a "thorn in the mayor's side" in Mr. Kraus.
Mr. Kraus, a former self-employed business man, crafted or supported legislation that requires certain workers to be paid a prevailing wage, requires residents to report lost and stolen handguns, pushed for emergency funding to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and banned Marcellus Shale production in the city.
"Clearly, we've taken on some pretty serious stuff in three years," he said.
Mr. Kraus also highlighted his attention to constituent matters, including his frequent attendance at community meetings and his decision to open a satellite office in Arlington a year ago.
His campaign to clean up the South Side took on added significance in December when an alleged drunken driver crossed the center line on East Carson Street and struck another vehicle, seriously injuring the other motorist and killing her daughter and unborn child.
Mr. Kraus said he's the only person in the race with a comprehensive plan for addressing all of the South Side's ills from noise to drunken driving -- but needs the administration's help to implement it. At the same time, he said, he understands the value of a hospitality economy and wants to support it.
Mr. Robb said he likes one part of the Kraus plan, the creation of an "improvement district," in which businesses and, perhaps, residents would be assessed fees for added police protection, trash pickup and other services. He said he'd let residents decide whether they want to pay into, and have a voice in, the program.
An attorney with Tucker Arensberg, Mr. Robb focuses on municipal law, a position that he said has prepared him to address tax, code-enforcement and other issues facing the council district and city. As president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce and active in other community groups, Mr. Robb said he understands the neighborhood's needs.
He said he also wants to help Hilltop communities attack blight, stimulate development and enhance public safety.
Mr. Koch, who said he would not be an automatic vote for Mr. Ravenstahl, called himself a "stickler on constituent service." He said he believes he made a good start as councilman in 2006 and 2007 and would like to see what he could do with a full term.
He proposed obtaining a parking lot on the periphery of the nightclub district or developing a shuttle or valet service, with the goals of quickly getting revelers off of East Carson when the bars close and keeping them off of side streets that abut residents' homes. Mr. Koch also wants to capture a slice of the Allegheny County drink tax money for South Side services and jump-start Hilltop improvements, including street repairs and economic development.
Mr. Phillips, a Democratic Committee member, said the councilman should be a "lobbyist" for his district. He called for the state to adopt a "saturation law" limiting the number of alcohol establishments in the area, saying, "I don't want to see another bar on the South Side."
Mr. Koch and Mr. Phillips lamented the recent closing of neighborhood market and hardware stores, saying that's the kind of business the council member should be trying to attract to the district. "The only thing we seem to be growing more of is bars," Mr. Phillips said.
If "Grant Street politicians" better managed the city coffers, he said, there would be more money for district services. He said he'd try to get a handle on pension costs by calling on the state to raise the retirement age for city workers.
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 3, 2011) Jeff Koch is one of the city council candidates in District 3. His picture did not appear in a story Saturday.
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 5, 2011) Jeff Koch is running for Pittsburgh City Council District 3. His picture was omitted in a story Saturday about the race.
First Published April 30, 2011 12:00 am