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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.