Why I Defied My Party and Decided to Support Tony Ceoffe Jr. for City Council

A few months ago, we folks in Pittsburgh’s District 7 got dumped. Still not sure why; he was such a charming and considerate City Councilman, and he really seemed to like us. He  was always there for us–cheering while we crossed the finish line of a local race, hanging out and enjoying snacks at our local street festivals and ball games, and meeting us in neighborhood cafes to listen, with furrowed brow and concerned eye, while we voiced our concerns. Then out of the blue, Councilman Patrick Dowd dropped us, right in the middle of his term, making us scramble together a “special election”, and bickering between ourselves, wondering if it was something we’d said.

I believed you when you called me "your  constituency"
I believed you when you called me, “my constituency”

Now, I must make a confession; I have, in the past, voted for individuals of whom I knew completely nothing about, except for their name and the letter D parenthetically tagged to it. I wanted this vote to be different. I wanted to take this opportunity to really get to know who was running. It was a little hectic at first, but because it was a “special election”, the vote for who would be the nominee from the Democratic party was not public. Rather, it came down to a private vote by the exactly 90 ranking Democratic Party members who bothered to show up that day, between a Progressive Political Consultant and Charitable Fundraiser named Deborah Gross, and a Housing Authority Caseworker and Community Organizer named Tony Ceoffe Jr. In a very close race, (47-43) Deb Gross won the nomination.

...and the winner is...
…and the winner is…

I started talking to people and looking into the candidates’ platforms. Deb Gross has an impressive past in politics and fundraising, specifically for the Arts in Pittsburgh. Her work was pivotal in helping reshape the Cultural District downtown, from a seedy, unsafe area into the upscale, Yuppie hub it has become today. She has worked on many successful campaigns of popular local politicians, such as Jim Ferlo and Patrick Dowd…you know, our Ex.

There are four Independent candidates–Jim Wudarczyk, Tom Fallon, David Powell, and Tony Ceoffe Jr.–but for sake of brevity, let’s just all admit Tony Ceoffe has, by far, the largest following and name recognition. He’s run for the office before, and has had a solid turnout. I could tell you all about Wudarczyk’s soaring anti-pothole rhetoric, or how Tom Fallon was once an Olympic Beach volleyball judge, or that Powell is a Libertarian Systems Analyst, but the odds of any them winning the day are pretty low. Sorry guys, maybe next time.

JimWudarczyk_campaign_poster01
But Wudarczyk does get bonus points for the most Epic poster ever, ever!

Tony Ceoffe has lived in Lawrenceville all his life, and he doesn’t have a college degree. He was accepted into Duquesne University and began studying Law, but then decided for a less traditional career path. He has worked extensively with the community group, Lawrenceville United, for over a decade, and built a career as a Section 8 Housing Case worker, going in and out of homes and neighborhoods all over the city. He has also been very active in the Democratic Party as a Ward Chairman, until recently, when he lost the Party nomination and decided to run as an Independent. The Democrats even kicked out Tony’s brother, Justin, as well as three other Party members from the Turpin family, who actively support Tony’s campaign, from their posts as Democratic Ward chair persons.

The Pittsburgh Democratic Party has, however, been very active in helping Deb Gross. Presumptive Mayor, Bill Peduto, has been assisting her campaign with funds, volunteers, and including her in on key photo opportunities. Some people suggest it’s a conflict of interest to purge the party of Ceoffe’s supporters, while channeling some of Peduto’s political capital to Deb Gross, but she’s their nominee. That’s how it works; I personally  don’t see anything corrupt about it. The issue here really is that the Democrats are basically unchallenged in this city. That comes from choices made by the voters, not the politicians.

We ain't one-atta-timin' here, we's MASS communicating!
We ain’t one-atta-timin’ here, we’s MASS communicating!

Again, I don’t think it’s wrong, but I do see how Peduto’s support of Gross, as well as Gross’ history of fundraising for many of the political figures she might work with, could possibly create some conflicts of interest down the road. It is The Nature of politics to trade favors; it’s often the only way things get done. However, I think it benefits the citizens of a city when their legislators must face hard scrutiny before passing policies from peers who have different perspectives. Not to suggest that Deb Gross would simply serve as a rubber stamp for the Mayor; I have specific areas of policy where she and Mr. Peduto seem to agree and I do not. Act 47, Buncher, Alcosan, Lawrenceville zoning plans…it’s a lot to go into in the context of a blog, so I won’t at this time.

Ain't nobody got time for that...
Ain’t nobody got time for that…

I respect Ms. Gross and think she is incredibly competent. She has had a solid impact on the Downtown area specifically and the Pittsburgh region in general. It’s not that I’m voting against her as much as I am voting for Tony Ceoffe Jr. I see their two careers and ask myself, “does District 7 need a Council member with experience in Cultural development and Progressive Political campaigns, or someone with a background in Housing issues and Community Outreach?” When I consider the real challenges of District 7,  I think of Upper Lawrenceville. Out of all the neighborhoods in District 7, it has so many challenges and so much potential at the same time. Ceoffe has, without a doubt, the most experience with that area of any candidate. Tony demonstrates a courage and persistence of being physically on the streets, even the dangerous streets, to address the needs of those citizens living there. From planting gardens and picking up litter, to working with police to resolve specific criminal issues, Tony has proven he’s willing to do the work to fix problems.

Tony seen here dealing with some trouble-making thugs.

I personally want a Council member who has a focus on practical, quality-of-life issues like safety and proper housing, especially with someone like Peduto, the “Student of Cities” as he’s called himself, who has such grand visions for Pittsburgh’s future. I think Peduto will be a great Mayor; Pittsburgh needs a guy like him right now. I just believe Peduto needs a guy like Tony Ceoffe to advise him on the needs of District 7. I think he is the best person for that job, and you know what else? Just a heck of a nice guy.

ceoffe
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9 thoughts on “Why I Defied My Party and Decided to Support Tony Ceoffe Jr. for City Council

  1. Nice post. If you call Tony a community organizer instead of a former party ward chair, you can call Deb a community organizer also instead of a “political fundraiser”. They have worked among different sorts of communities, in portions, but Deb was active in Lower Lawrenceville from way back – which has become not *everyone’s* finest cup of tea but is certainly a bright spot citywide.

    1. It’s difficult to succinctly describe Deb Gross’ career, but fundraising was, from the information given to me by Matt Merriman-Preston, central to much of it. I didn’t mean it in any derogatory way, it was just the best way I could describe it. I am interested in details about how “Deb was active in Lower Lawrenceville from way back”. I know she lived in Bloomfield when she first moved to into the City of Pittsburgh’s district 7. I can’t find my notes from my phone conversation with Ms. Gross and the background stuff I found on Percolator and the Ferlo campaign, but once again, it’s hard to say exactly what her actual job description was, due to the nature of Politics and Community organizing, people wear many hats for which they never are credited.
      But you are right, my description of his connection to the Democrats as a Party Chair was vague. Thanks.

      **edit**clarification

  2. (Sorry, my comment cut cut off. I was going to say…) It seems like Ceoffe is a more natural politician, but that can be a good or bad thing depending on the candidates’ instincts and judgment. The Post-Gazette got that conversation started good today with its Deb endorsement. Looking like an excellent race.

  3. Absolutely, positively, and totally untrue. Deb Gross over the past ten years has played only one very minor role in Lawrenceville, and that was her limited work as one of many consultants on the Garfield / Penn Avenue project. Tony Ceoffe worked hard to include Lawrenceville in that project and succeeded in getting the Penn Avenue corridor work extended to Doughboy Square. The project would have ended at Penn and Main were it not for his persistence.

    To set the record straight, Tony Ceoffe worked tirelessly to revitalize the Lower Lawrenceville area. His work is well documented in newspapers, periodicals, and editorials regarding the problems that once plagued Doughboy Square. He worked to bring a developer to Doughboy Square to build market-rate housing that acted as a catalyst to spur the development that you now see in Lower Lawrenceville.

    In fact, Tony was once thrown out of the Desmone Architects building for asking the employees to sign a petition to close a problematic and dangerous bar in the area. He was asked to leave the building by Mr. Desmone and told by him that the bar owner had every right to run her business the way she seen fit. Ironic that his son, Chip Desmone, now stands to benefit the most from Mr. Ceoffes hard work by erecting a 55 unit apartment building on that very site.

    Mr. Reichbaum is misinformed as it pertains to the revitalization of Lawrenceville. Just 10 short years ago this neighborhood was left for dead. Tony Ceoffe and his resident volunteers from Lawrenceville United did the heavy lifting and very dangerous work that was required to revitalize this community. Give credit where credit is due. Deb Gross may have invented the internet and helped Republican Arlene Specter get elected but she had nothing to do with making Lawrenceville the wonderful community that it has become.

    1. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Lawrenceville United and Ceoffe Jr. weren’t also instrumental to rehabilitating Lawrenceville to the wonderful community it still becoming. I just stated that she has some roots there too, she conducts her form of organizing…. and though she’s done more of it city-wide and closer to Highland Park, one oughtn’t need totally erase some of the early work among other Lawrencevillians.

      I’d almost describe Lawrenceville as a triumph of different kinds of organizing.

      1. and to be fair, she runs the campaign, in part, out of the Bath House Office building on Butler. I don’t want to imply Ms. Gross doesn’t have a presence at all in Lawrenceville.

  4. I am voting for Tony because he simply is the right choice! Through this election I haven’t heard from Gross, I asked her questions on her Facebook page and she blocked and deleted my questions! Who deletes and blocks a registered voter in their district? My guess is one that thinks she has it in the bag because of her political affiliations. Then I heard her speak at the forum in Bloomfield then I noticed she was answering questions she was looking at Peduto so he can nod his head approving her answers. If Peduto wasn’t holding her hand in this election she would not be a front runner. Nomination or not Tony is the only candidate right for this job. Best of luck to Mr. Ceoffe!

  5. I was born and raised in Lawrenceville (LV). I have NEVER even heard of the name Deb gross. I really would love to know what exactly she has done for my community. The ones that I know for a fact who helped LV go from drugs and violence to a place you can safely raise a family is LV united, residents of LV and the candidate tony Coffee.I asked deb gross specific questions of her Facebook page and I too was ignored and blocked. If a candidate who should be eager to answer questions ignores a citizen during election, how will it be if elected. At one of the debates Mrs. Gross was asked her top three priorities if elected. One of her response was fixing main street. Not sure if she realizes but there are bigger problems then a single street in her old stomping grounds, and I am not even sure what even needs fixed? Here is what I want, a good and safe education for my child, clean,safe parks, and a pension for my husband. I think we should start off with problems like those. Tony Coffee is a young citizen who grew up in LV and has been helping that community with NO recognition. The things he has accomplished are more important to me and my family then how much one can fundraise for useless projects. I hope the city of Pittsburgh realizes that tony coffee is the man to vote for on election day.

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