Darlene Harris has blossomed as an InsolvenCity councilor, in part consequent to happenstance, in part consequent to outrunning reasonable expectations. The result is a straightforward, independent public servant who appears to recognize, and overcome, her limitations. Her independence is precisely the reason she has unexpectedly become the mayor's main target for elimination from council.
Mrs. Harris (left) embodies old school Pittsburgh -- literally. A lifelong North Sider trained as a dental assistant, a churchgoing mother and wife of a union laborer, she entered the public arena to oppose certain elements of change in Pittsburgh's public schools, which where being compelled to change by declining enrollments in a declining city. She was a straight-ahead combatant, before and after joining the school board, who succeeded in modifying the district's transition, sometimes in ways the district could absorb sensibly.
It was reasonable to refrain from expecting much when Mrs. Harris was elected to her council position. She had aligned with the ossified elements of the city's Democratic machine. She lacked the resume suited for tackling the public policy problems of a deteriorating and stubborn InsolvenCity.
After a few years as a head-down, block-and-tackle councilor, Mrs. Harris made a striking end run to the council presidency, patiently transforming her vote into a path to the presidency after Rev. Ricky Burgess (carrying the ball for the mayor) and Bill Peduto each faltered just short of the goal. The degree to which Mrs. Harris foresaw or arranged her ascension is a point for interesting debate along Grant Street.
The established interests in Pittsburgh politics -- the List-Makers, the mayor -- expected to tolerate Mrs. Harris' presidency: How far would a Len Bodack soldier wander from the ranks? But the improbable coalition of progressives and Mrs. Harris stuck together long enough to sink the Not-So-Great Pittsburgh Parking Garage Sale, and with it millions of dollars in commissions, placement agent fees, law firm invoices and prospective revenue streams.
Mrs. Harris has, remarkably, become the mayor's top target. Ahead of Bruce Kraus, whose mere existence bothers the Ravenstahl camp, even before he illuminates and fights the deadly but profitable cesspool created by South Side saloons. Ahead of Patrick Dowd, who not so long ago was standing on street corners (right), yelling about the mayor's corruption and failures.
Beyond schoolyard taunts, Mrs. Harris is challenged by two pursuers of the Democratic endorsement.
Vince Pallus (left) brings a career-and-education resume fit for class recording secretary. He pledges to correct "poor decisions;" we are willing to wager, however, that Mr. Pallus could not identify, let alone analyze, Pittsburgh's public policy issues with a pistol at his forehead. He did, however, attend North Catholic with Luke Ravenstahl.
Bobby Wilson (right), the other challenger, is a twenty-something son of a Democratic committee member; like Adam Ravenstahl, he has been an "analyst" on UPMC's payroll. He also has a Facebook page. His political affiliations have yet to be publicly identified.
Kevin Quigley, an aggressive mayoral ally from the Public Works Department -- the Harvard-Kennedy School of Government for one traditional element of Pittsburgh politics -- is a North Side ward chair, rustling committee votes in an effort to deny Mrs. Harris the Democratic endorsement. In a district that elected Adam Ravenstahl to the Pennsylania General Assembly, no unqualified, underaged, politically connected candidate can be dismissed. But the Ravenstahl forces appear to have been hobbled by a late start -- they apparently switched from Kraus and Dowd to Harris because of a late-breaking perception she was more vulnerable -- and Pallus and Wilson are weak even by North Side standards. Even without the party endorsement, Mrs. Harris seems positioned for reelection.
Darlene Harris deserves another term as InsolvenCity's District 1 councilor. She takes the Infindorsement into the primary.
Infindorsement: Darlene Harris
Infinonytune: North Country Girl, Pete Townshend
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