The Northside Chronicle recently spoke with the three candidates running for Pittsburgh City Council’s District 1 seat.
Democrats Bobby Wilson of Spring Hill and Vince Pallus of Brighton Heights are challenging incumbent and current City Council President Darlene Harris of Spring Hill.
Read on to find out what each candidate has in store for District 1 and how each plans to fulfill his or her vision for the area.
Darlene Harris isn’t running for a second term in District 1 because she sees herself as a politician and wants to keep her job, but to make a difference, she said.
“I’m proud not to only be a leader in my community, but that my colleagues see me as a leader,” she said of being elected city council president in early 2010. “I’m not a politician, I’m a public servant, and there’s a big difference.”
The biggest problem the Northside faces now, she said, is drugs, followed closely by large numbers of abandoned buildings that need to be torn down or renovated, depending on the level of deterioration.
Harris said she made decisions based on what the community wanted, not based on what she wanted.
The best thing she can do to help her district is advocate for what her constituents want, she said, emphasizing that city council legislates and creates policy, and it is the mayor’s office that acts on those policies.
“[City Council] advocates to get houses torn down, but in the end that’s the mayor’s job.”
In 2010, Harris set aside $930,000 to have abandoned District 1 houses demolished, although not all of that money was used, she said.
In order to solve the drug problem, Harris said she tries to connect the eyes and ears of the community with law enforcement, since the police cannot be everywhere at once.
Harris believes she is the best person for the District 1 council seat because of the work she has already done and her 30-plus years of community service. She cited putting $3 million into District 1 projects over the past two years of evidence of her past work.
Harris has been endorsed by the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trades Council and the Allegheny County Labor Council.
“The other thing is the experience behind the years. I think I’ve done it all,” Harris said.
She added that even when she was sick and required surgery, she worked through the illness and recovery period. “I’m a hard worker. I don’t care how many hours it takes.”
Vince Pallus, a lifelong resident of Brighton Heights, is running for the District 1 council seat because he feels the Northide needs a change in leadership.
The Northside lacks many basic services, like having abandoned buildings demolished and having major roads re-paved, said Pallus, who works for a local research and consulting firm.
The root of those problems is not spending money in the right places, and a lack of communication throughout city departments, he said.
“How can you effectively represent a city without good communication?” he added, “It’s going to take some work, obviously, to make communication better.”
But, he said, if elected he plans to ask city department leaders and District 1 community leaders to sit down with him to establish open lines of communication. Face time, and a personal touch, is important in keeping communication open, he said.
“If I am elected I will have an open door policy.”
Pallus, who volunteers at North Catholic High School in Troy Hill, also wants to communicate to the rest of the city how great the Northside really is.
“I feel there’s a misconception that it’s not a safe place, and it can be,” Pallus said. “We need to let these business owners know that it is safe bring your business here.”
To show his commitment to communication, Pallus plans to knock on every door in District 1.
“I plan on meeting every community member in the district. It sounds like a tough feat, but that is my plan,” he said.
Another important aspect in reducing crime is ensuring each District 1 neighborhood has a youth center or at least strong youth programs, such as the Brighton Heights Athletic Association, in every neighborhood.
Earlier this week Pallus received the Allegheny County Democratic Committee nomination. He also has been endorsed by the Pittsburgh Firefighters Union Local No. 1 and the Teamsters Joint Council No. 40.
“I’m very humbled to receive the Democratic Committee nomination, and I know how important it is in the Democratic race.
“That shows me that I’m not the only one who feels it’s time for a change.”
Bobby Wilson is running for the District 1 council seat because he’s tired of hearing “I can’t believe you live there” about the Northside.
“All my life I’ve been hearing how great the Northside was. Now I see the decline. It really hurts me to see all the abandoned buildings,” Wilson said, who has done research for the University of Pittsburgh and analyst work for UPMC.
Wilson cited public safety as the largest issue facing District 1. A large public safety concern is the large numbers of abandoned buildings that attract criminals and pose fire and collapse hazards throughout the area.
What the Northside needs, he said, is someone who will work to get structurally unsound buildings torn down, and someone who will bring in developers to build new homes and restore old ones.
Wilson, who volunteers at Sarah Heinz House, also said youth and after school programs should be a priority, since so many Northside youths get involved in crime and violence.
Implementing more programs like the ones at Sarah Heinz will go a long way toward solving the Northside’s public safety issue, he said.
A background in research has given Wilson excellent communication skills and that’s one of the most important skills a council person can have, he said. Not only do community groups and local businesses like private developers need an advocate on council, he said, but the council person needs to know what’s going on in his communities.
Wilson said he’s been to several community meetings where District 1 representatives could not answer questions asked by residents.
“They need to know the ins and outs,” Wilson said. “I think we should expect more from city council.
“I’m 28 years old and I have a lot of fresh ideas and energy.”