Thursday, April 14, 2011

Darlene Harris for City Council

When I met Darlene Harris I was fairly confident I would like her. I knew she loved animals, stood up to the Mayor when necessary and had a Northside brashness to her that I've come to appreciate.

What I didn't expect was how much she seemed to like me. She was very interested in blogs, asking me several questions and the confessing that she secretly enjoyed the anonymous blogs about Pgh politics. I told her I had zero anonymity, but had been kissed by at least 4 City Councilman. That part didn't impress her that much, but hey -- I'm not privy to anything more juicy (that I can share).

Darlene Harris combines what I imagine is old school Northside politics with a skillful capacity to evolve with the times (hence the blog appreciation) because it was was best for Pittsburgh. Our conversation flitted from pensions plans to soap operas, from Animal Care Control to the real smoke filled eras of days gone by.

Let me assure you, Darlene lives and breathes the Northside. She has no patience for the term North Shore and told me that even though I lived in Manchester (another district), I was a neighbor. I tried to test her by asking her to name all of her neighborhoods in reverse alphabetical order. She gave me a look over the top of her glasses and asked for a minute to think.

What she can do is regularly attend community meetings throughout the district. When candidate night rolls around, Darlene was more of a fixture than a guest. She believes this is the essential way to build a relationship with the district - keeping people engaged and she makes no bones about using a mother's style to meet her district needs.The same is true of her Council presidency - she strives for engagement and compromise. Then she laughs heartily when admitting it hasn't always worked out that way.

Born and raised in Troy Hill, Darlene made the big move to Spring Hill and has been there ever since. She became involved in the community when neighbors filled up a dumpster she had rented while she slept. She called the local community group and asked them to replace the dumpster since the community had filled it. It worked and a life of community advocacy began. She moved up the ranks from volunteer to leader and eventually found herself President of the Pittsburgh Public School Board. From there, it was just a few steps away to Pittsburgh City Council.

She has a strong interest in public safety. She admits she almost applied to be a police officer, but was distracted. During her tenure on City Council, she has had cameras installed in each of her neighborhoods, been vocal about the need for people to report crime to the police if they want to see something done and called for more police on the force. She actually abstained on the City's personnel budget because it defunded police positions. She is adamant that more police visibility deters crime.

She is equally adamant that the suburbanites are not pulling their weight when it comes to public safety and other public services. $52 is not enough, she shakes her head as she enumerates the variety of services people received while expecting 300,000+ folks to financially support it. She was philosophical about getting that changed, instead tearing into another long time debate - taxing non-profits. She spit out the statistics faster than I could write, sat back with her arms folded matter of factly and said "the City lives off wage taxes and property taxes, you do the math."

Her campaign manager handed her a sheef of papers and she cagily offered to name the neighborhoods in reverse alphabetical order. I was saved from an unPresidential point of order when both of her cell phones rangs at the same time. She was experienced juggling competing call and I was enthralled watching her negotiate a work related issue with plans for some activity with her family. Those on the other ends of the calls seem nonplussed by the crosstalk. I was really impressed when she continued to sip coffee throughout the calls.

We talked about diversity in public safety and she said it very bluntly -- people have to apply, the issue is not about hiring it is about recruitment. Darlene also regularly calls members of the media who punt and locate crimes in "the Northside" instead of pinpointing a specific neighborhood. She had a point when she said that didn't happen so much in the East End or the West End. She had neighborhood specific maps of the Northside printed up for distribution to the media. Education.

This also fits with her belief that each neighborhood in the Northside is unique. Her headquarters on East Ohio Street gave rise discussioin of revitalization. She envisions a Northside with plenty of green spaces and many new businesses. She also puts her money where her mouth is ... when the City is selling off a property, she consults with the neighborhood so they don't inadvertently create an absentee landlord situation.

Darlene's philosophy is pretty fundamental "Get Involved In Your Community" After all these years, it really does boil down to the dumpster mentality. Your rely on your community and you need to give back.

Someone recently asked me why I liked Darlene for City Council. I think it comes down to just our general conversation. I liked her self-confidence, her laying it on the line with me, her respect for community. I respect her leadership in a man's world and the example she sets for girls and younger women.

And I'm fairly certain she's memorized that list of neighborhoods, in reverse alphabetical order. Just because she can.

1 comment:

  1. Wow you must work for Darlene or you are easily impressed. Darlene like “green spaces” so much that she had her next-door neighbors house demolished and she purchased the lot for almost nothing. Her “love for animals” was demonstrated when she sent her 3 cats to die at Tiger Ranch because one was going on her carpet. She knows all the North Side areas in order of votes; she gives money and public works priority to those neighborhoods that support her. I know Darlene very well and it’s all about getting re-elected always. “Old School” is right look at the mess she made as president of the school board. None of Darlene’s large office staff is from the North Side, none are African Americans, what does that tells you/