The controller candidates served as the opening act, and maverick Mike Dawida was both the most dramatic (he quoted the Bible and Dr. King), and the most humorous (his suggestion that Shields, being an excellent City Council president, should remain that way). But he didn’t seem to make a strong connection.
Michael Lamb, conversely, seemed to go out of his way not to pander — he referenced Dickens novels, and pushed a more aggressive tax-collection regime. He returned to the theme “We’re all proud of our city, but we’re not proud of our local government,” burnishing his reformist credentials.
On minority hiring, Tony Pokora made the news of the night by promising outright to hire an African-American for deputy controller; he says he already has three good candidates in mind.
We discovered that Doug Shields used to milk cows, and more importantly, that he’s against the $52 occupation tax because “regressive taxes hurt poor people.” He got some applause, but on the whole failed to mesmerize this time around.
DaMon Macklin was late to arrive, but he did get to stress that qualifications matter (is he the only candidate with a degree in finance?), and also the importance of freeing up city contracts for minority-owned companies.
Patrick Dowd visited briefly (we suppose in the event that Len Bodack got lost in Larimer, and had to stop to ask directions). He advocated reinvesting in aging homes instead of boarding them up and tearing them down. He also advocated a ballot referendum on term limits for city council positions.
Incumbent councilperson Twanda Carlisle stood proudly before the cameras to repeatedly demand more accountability in city government, because “we have to account for every dollar!” Miraculously, no one in the room was seen to crack a smirk. No questions and no candidates would touch even obliquely upon her legal woes.
The key issues were gun violence, drug dealing, economic opportunity, and transportation cuts. The Comet underscores that if the voters of D9 deem Carlisle the most capable leader on these issues, then rumors of corruption and incompetence will not matter one whit.
She was obviously the most seasoned and talented political speaker on the panel. She called out Ed Rendell for breaking promises on public transportation, which seemed to resonate well. However, there was a very conspicuous “Twanda Table” that would chime in with “Mmm–hmm!” and “Tell it, sister!” to say nothing of standing ovations; some in the audience seemed resentful of the disruption.
Endorsed candidate Ricky Burgess came across as soft-spoken and moderate; this obviously served him well among the party committee, but it may not be what the rank and file is looking for. (The benediction at the event’s conclusion featured the plea “We don’t need a Solomon, we need a David!”) Burgess stressed recovery programs for drug abusers, job training, and economic development.
Leah Kirkland spoke with both eloquence and emotion, and at times anger. “The 9th Council District has lost its way,” she said, and “We are lacking morals within the homes,” and “Parents are burying their children.” She said the problem with D9 is “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” and that “We have churches and nonprofits on every corner; if they were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be eight people in this race!” She came down pretty hard on do-nothing nonprofits.
Eric Smith was notable for casting the problem not as wayward youth, but of “organized crime,” which when you think about it is really a revelation.
The most interesting candidate, in our humble opinion, was David Adams — a Republican with a military background who calls himself a progressive and speaks comfortably about Black Power. He urged his district not to remain “beggars,” and spoke of a crime prevention plan for Pennsylvania for which Pittsburgh would be a model. He also took some potshots at the Allegheny Conference.
With the exception of Adams, no candidate spoke of improved policing. Instead, there was much positive talk about the “One Hood” coalition, whose community and religious leaders patrol their own neighborhoods. Similarly, there was little talk of cooperating with government in regards to public transportation, but rather of boycotting the Port Authority and beefing up jitney service in the interim.
All in all, we came away with an impression of a far more radical and activist District 9, although this might have been a reflection of who chose to attend this particular event.