Brighton Heights native Dan Keller becomes first official candidate in District 20 race


Daniel Keller of Brighton Heights announced his candidacy for the District 20 representative seat in the state legislature.

The race to represent the 20th District in the state legislature has officially begun.

Brighton Heights resident Daniel Keller officially announced his candidacy last Friday after filing paperwork with the State Elections Board to enter the contest as a democrat.

After winning a spot on Common Pleas Court, current Rep. Don Walko will be vacating the seat — which represents the upper and eastern section of the Northside, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield and parts of Ross and Reserve townships — on Jan. 3.

A special election to fill the remainder of Walko’s term cannot be held until 60 days after his departure, but Keller and others say the election might coincide with the May primary.

At the very least Keller will be joined by Paul McKrell of Stanton Heights and Tim Tuinstra of Observatory Hill, both of whom have not officially announced their runs but confirmed their intent to The Northside Chronicle.

Keller said he has been considering a run for the seat since January, when Walko announced his campaign for Common Pleas Court.

Keller was president of the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation from 1989 to 1994. Former Mayor Murphy appointed him to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission in 1999, where he served for four years. He has since served on the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, or Alcosan, since he was appointed late last year by Mayor Ravenstahl.

Keller cites his time on the Planning Commission as a formative experience where he "learned to interact with neighborhood groups and build consensus."

And Keller doesn’t view the fact that he’s never held elective office as a barrier.

“One of the big points I want to make in the campaign is that I’ve never run for a public office, and I’ve never worked for a public entity. I’m a business person,” Keller said. “Not to minimize government service, but I think that can compartmentalize someone. If that’s all you’ve done, that puts you at a disadvantage.”

With 26 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, Keller said his skill set will complement his relationship with district members.

“As a state representative, you’ve got to deliver bread-and-butter, constituent services on a daily basis,” Keller said. “If you haven’t built a payroll, if you haven’t had to make a profit and you haven’t been in the business of making customers happy,” then you won’t deliver services “in a high quality manner.”

One failure he’s seen on the local level was the demolition of the Davis Avenue Bridge, which he argues could have been saved if state and local politicians had focused on the matter.

“To the mayor and [City Councilwoman] Harris’ s credit, they said we have to get this done. But somebody failed in government, on some level, when that bridge fell. The missing Davis Avenue Bridge is a metaphor for failed government.”

Mayor Ravenstahl ordered the bridge, already closed to traffic for eight years, immediately demolished after an inspection determined it was in dire shape this spring.

Keller said he will also push continued funding for special needs education in public schools. His son, J.D., was a recipient of special needs education from the Pittsburgh public school system. Now that J.D. has made a successful transition to a job at UPMC, Keller said he wants to ensure that special education stays a priority and is easier to access.

“What that said to me is that government can improve lives when money is spent on successful programs.”

The candidate has worked in sales for Owens-Corning Fiberglass and Steelcase, both Fortune 1000 companies, and was general manager at UFT Mortgage for 10 years.

He ran his own sales business in the first half of the 1990s called Keller Architectural Specialties. Presently, he is director of business development for Overton and Associates in Bridgeville.

Keller’s campaign, “Right Now!!,” is currently all-volunteer, and he said he will begin fundraising shortly.

Though it was rumored that Dave Schuilenburg of Summer Hill would enter the race, Schuilenburg said he is not planning to enter.

Schuilenburg, who has run for city council in two earlier elections, said though he has been prompted by friends to run for the office, he is instead mulling a run for Darlene Harris’s District 1 city council seat in 2011.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that Paul McKrell lives in Bloomfield. Though he grew up there, McKrell now lives in Stanton Heights. Also, Dave Schuilenburg did not run for mayor.

Check back in the coming weeks to read interviews with more District 20 candidates.



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