Theresa Smith presents herself as someone who’s gone to all the meetings, has the greatest depth and breadth of district-wide experience, and is an advocate for increased funding for children’s programs and certain aspects of public safety even if it stretches the budget.
Georgia Blotzer presents herself as the unassuming champion of the McArdle Roadway remediation movement, a fierce critic of business as usual in Pittsburgh, and an advocate for community responsibility, collaboration, and strategic planning along the lines of the East End.
Brendan Schubert presents himself as an earnest Catholic school grad who went to work for the City of Pittsburgh, who is feels his procedural and political knowledge of city planning is what separates him from other candidates, and is convinced that this makes him the superior choice to bring change at last to District 2.
The candidates were seated in front of a scattered audience of about 50; the inestimable Carl Sutter was accorded by the moderator the honor of the first question.
We know about the problems. Why isn’t the Bureau of Building Inspection cracking down on these problem property holders?
Schubert said we need to fill 16, 17, 18 vacancies in the bureau. To carry that many vacancies for so long is “unexcusable”.
Blotzer agreed heartily with that, and said that furthermore, five out of the seven currently on staff are not properly certified. Also, there is currently only one overworked attorney at BBI; it makes it difficult to follow through on problem-solving.
Republican candidate Chris Metz said the right answers were already taken.
Smith seconded what was said previously, and recommended dealing with these issues in the manner of Tony Ceoffe in Lawrenceville.
We all know we’re overrun with drug dealers, drug users, and vandals. What are we going to do about that?
Theresa asserted this was tied closely with high school dropouts. She recommended more school programs, and strengthening Weed & Seed.
Georgia recommended neighborhood block watches. The people of District 2 need to take responsibility for following up on problems directly with police commanders.
Schubert said we’re underfunded as far as police go.
A voice called out from the back of the room. The moderator let it proceed.
WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ON COUNCIL? What law are you gonna pass?
Georgia gamely asserted that coordinating how to work the system is very important. If you go through 311 and you go through the police and you don’t get an answer, you have to make your council representative aware and they’ll make things right.
You’re telling us stuff that we already know. We do all that stuff. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ON COUNCIL?
Theresa chimed in that restoring longevity pay for police officers would have a good effect on retention, and the need to retrain and relearn neighborhoods.
A new voice rang out, and the moderator let it have the floor.
Hey, can we hear from Chris? He hasn’t said a word.
The Republican candidate Chris Metz agreed with all that, and added, “I’m sure we can find a way to make loans cheaper or something”. End quote.
Two voices called out at the same time. The moderator said the previous questioner could proceed with a follow-up.
Oh! Oh, I’m sorry.
That’s okay! I don’t have a question, I have a comment.
It was about Weed & Seed and how to make it more effective. The inestimable Carl Sutter took it upon himself to answer the comment himself.
The moderator chimed in with even more data on Weed & Seed. However, “the sad thing is, they’re just like cockroaches. You kill one and ten more pop up.”
A new guy.
You talk about building inspection. I been doing this. [Explains credentials, licenses, experience] I’ve been looking, and they’re not advertising! The administration isn’t putting pressure on to fill the vacancies. So great. Now I’ve got a job out in the South Hills. [Shrugs].
The candidates nodded in affirmation that that was not ideal.
I’ve seen Theresa and I’ve seen Georgia at various community meetings. Chris, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you. Can you explain that?
Republican candidate Chris Metz said that he went to more meetings a year ago, but then got busier with his job, but he still goes to some. “I’m usually quiet, hanging out in the back.”
I’ll give you each two minutes. Give me a Strategic Plan for District 2.
Brendan spoke of a plan involving Overbrook; down Lorenze Avenue. He envisions an active mixed-use development district that will bring foot-traffic and commerce, and stabilize a key corridor.
Georgia repeated her desire to see a strategic plan grow out of a facilitated, grassroots community process. The moderator chimed in that the WEECC has been working diligently on a strategic plan for four months, and is shepherding it along through certain channels.
Matt Hogue, who had been functioning quietly as assistant-moderator for the discussion, then took the floor and chimed in with his own concerns. After clearing his throat to the effect that Georgia Blotzer seems like a nice person and he’d be happy to work with her as a council member…
You come from the most affluent neighborhood in District 2. How are you going to relate to neighborhoods like ours? Also, how much time are you going to waste on campaign finance reform? It doesn’t work and it’s proven.
Georgia, turning halfway around to face him, said first that campaign finance reform gets to the crux of why development goes where it does in the city, and how it goes in there. For example a single company can invest $70,000 in politics, turn around and get a return of ten million with a hotel that … and Matt had an answer:
We’re not getting the projects, though! I’d love to see a Bakery Square come here!
Georgia mostly let that pass, then said more importantly that when a lot of people of think Mt. Washington they only think of one side, of Grandview Avenue — and there’s a whole ‘nother reality that maybe some in other neighborhoods don’t know exists.
What’s the deal with the West End Circle?
The moderator clarified that this was a PennDot concern.
As a black American, know that I tried to raise issues with my council rep in the past. But I never could get through. I could never have a talk. I could never sit down. How am I gonna be sure it’s going to be different with you?
Georgia immediately answered that he has a good way to hold us accountable: his vote.
Talking about development. What are you going to do for places like Windgap-Chartiers? You can’t really say it has a business district: it has a bar, a Dairy Queen, and a day care.
The candidates gave short answers wholly representative of their approaches.
Carl Sutter posed to Brendan the same question someone else had already fired at Chris.
Theresa Smith and Georgia Blotzer, I know I’ve seen them at meetings and I know they’re active in Weed & Seed. Where have you been when it comes to things like Weed & Seed?
Brendan said he’s very active as a community member through his church and through fraternal organizations. He said that when it comes to something like Weed & Seed, due to his position at City Planning, there are guidelines in place that discourage him from getting too highly involved in certain civic organizations that have overlaps with his duties.
That was about it. The moderator gave a few more updates on neighborhood news and reminded everyone to go check out weecc.org.
In an unscientific smattering of post-debate interviews, the audience was generally impressed with the field of candidates as a whole. They held some reservations about Theresa’s ability to make change, about Georgia’s ability to relate to the whole district, and about Brendan’s lack of direct involvement in programs that they find critical.
The Comet also interviewed the three candidates separately.