South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Candidates continue to make their case for District 3 seat


February 14, 2006

The race for the vacated council seat in District 3 continued as six candidates showed up at the Arlington Civic Council meeting at the Kaufmann Center on Salisbury Street on February 6.

One of the candidates happens to live on Salisbury Street: Jeff Koch who is the endorsed Democratic candidate. Mr. Koch pointed out he easily won the endorsement by a 2-to-1 margin over his closest opponent.

“From my vantage point [working for 25 years in the city pubic works department], I can see the neighborhoods need a lot of attention,” said Mr. Koch.

“I'm a doer,” Mr. Koch said. “I'm hands-on. I'm not someone who just stands around and talks.”

Mr. Koch mentioned to the Arlington residents at the meeting that he will look into seeing if he can get the utility companies to increase the brightness of the street lights on Arlington Avenue in the area where there is a small business district.

Mr. Koch, a city public works supervisor who also runs his own landscaping business, wants to address the absentee landlord problem. As a landlord of several apartments in Arlington, Mr. Koch said he can relate to the problems facing landlords, but he also believes maintaining safe, clean rental properties in this part of the city is a worthwhile endeavor when properly done by the landlord. Through a position on city council, he would make sure that all landlords would follow the existing rules and regulations that are required in maintaining rental properties.

Candidate Bruce Kraus emphasized his “passion” for the council district as a life-long resident of the South Side Flats.

“What I find to be most energizing and inspiring about the people I would serve as the next council person in the district is how diverse we all are,” Kraus said. “I believe this is our greatest asset. What I find we all share in common is our deep [concern] to safeguard and nurture the neighborhoods we live in.”

Mr. Kraus believes strongly in keeping neighborhoods clean and attractive. He believes the city has not done an adequate job in keeping the neighborhoods this way. He said if neighborhoods are allowed to become run down, even just a little bit, this becomes an invitation for people to continue a pattern toward blight which becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to reverse. This is called the broken window theory.

Mr. Kraus' campaign slogan is, ‘Safe, Clean, Green.'

“A lot of people feel they can no longer live in the neighborhood, but they also feel they can not afford to move away because they can not sell their house,” he added.

Candidate Bruce Krane emphasizes his professional background as a major asset over the other candidates. He is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, the only college graduate among the candidates since Mr. Sweeney dropped out.

The former council representative of the district – Gene Ricciardi – was a graduate of Duquesne and Pitt.

Mr. Krane noted that he is the only candidate with previous legislative experience as an elected official, having served on the North Strabane board of supervisors after a scandal rocked that township more than a decade ago. Mr. Krane got involved there because records were destroyed by township officials who were not being held accountable for their performance. Accountability in city government is one of his major areas of concern.

Mr. Krane feels strongly that the city charter needs to be changed so that professional services to city government for legal, engineering and accounting work is put up for bid each time instead of just being handed out to people who may have contributed to an elected officials political campaign which has been a common practice for many years.

He also wants to see if health-care coverage for municipal employees can fall under the same plan for not only city workers, but also for the municipal employees in the other 129 municipalities in Allegheny County.

Mr. Krane said that having a larger pool of workers for health-care coverage, plus requiring bidding for professional services, could result in substantial savings.

Mr. Krane, who said he has been responsible for “multi-million dollar” budgets in both the public and private sector as a business manager, feels the city can not begin to solve its drastic problem of declining neighborhoods until it solves its budget problems which have really hamstrung the city since it declared bankruptcy in 2003-04.

At age 24, Jason Phillips is by-far the youngest candidate running for office. A student at Pitt, he decided to run for office because he wants to try and get more young people involved as community activists.

He said he has been attending community meetings in neighborhoods throughout the district for several years and believes the only way to stop the downward spiral of the neighborhoods is to get more young people involved in the community.

He also noted that he is not just concerned about the more affluent neighborhoods of the district such as the South Side Slopes and Flats, but the areas that really need the help such as Beltzhoover, Knoxville and Allentown.

“I will do whatever I can [to make the area more prosperous] so people are not inclined to want to sell their property,” Mr. Phillips said.

Candidate Matt Bartus, a long-time city employee who has been laid off from his job in the maintenance department for long periods of time in recent years, said he has seen first-hand the deterioration of city neighborhoods from his job.

He said more police need to be out on the streets. He also said neighborhood streets need to be maintained better through rodent control, more road resurfacing and an anti-graffiti campaign. Mr. Bartus also wants to open all city pools, recreation centers and senior centers after there was a massive shutdown of many of these facilities three years ago.

He also wants to change the tax structure so that non-profits pay their ‘fair share' of taxes. He also wants to stop the wasteful spending that goes on in city government.

Some of the things he would like to see done to cut costs would be to reduce the number of city council members from nine to five. He also wants the position to have a two-term (eight years) limit. Also, if a person wants to run for another office, they must immediately resign from council.

When Mr. Ricciardi ran for district magistrate, he remained on council for six weeks after winning election to his new office.

Mr. Bartus would also like to do away with sub-contractors for city work such as painting the Market House. He cited that as an example of how hiring outside workers for painting a facility like the Market House cost the city thousands of dollars more than if it were done in-house. Plus, the in-house staff would have accomplished more than the outside help, according to Mr. Bartus.

The final candidate at the Candidates Night at Arlington was Mark Rauterkus who showed up a few minutes late for the session. The reason he was not there on time was due to a commitment he had with a youth organization he is involved with.

A South Side resident, Mr. Rauterkus has been a tireless worker when it comes to organizing youth activities. He is a strong proponent in making sure that young people play an active role in the neighborhood, noting that is the only way the city can stop its downward trend in the neighborhoods. He feels that if the city budget focuses more on the needs of the young people, rather than catering to corporations that do nothing for the neighborhoods, the city will begin to flourish again.

“People vote at the polls, but they also vote with their feet [moving out of the city] which they have been doing for a long time,” said Mr. Rauterkus, noting the city's population has dwindled by the hundreds of thousands in the past 30 years.

Mr. Rauterkus said he wants the city to stop giving tax breaks to the wealthy and start focusing more on the neighborhoods because if this trend continues, there will not longer be a base of middle-class residents which is the backbone of the city.

“Our endeavor is about performance, the kids, wellness, accountability, communication, openness, open-source technology, freedoms, personal responsibility, taxing land, prudent spending, real democracy and respect of the marketplace,” Mr. Rauterkus said.

Every candidate basically agreed that City Hall has spent too much time and energy pandering to the corporate world while totally neglecting the residents who are most responsible for Pittsburgh being a unique city of diverse neighborhoods.


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