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Two candidates in lead in race for Dowd’s seat on Pittsburgh City Council |

Two candidates in lead in race for Dowd’s seat on Pittsburgh City Council

Five candidates are running for Patrick Dowd’s former seat on Pittsburgh City Council, but the race might boil down to two.

Tony Ceoffe, 29, of Lawrenceville and Deb Gross, 47, of Highland Park bring the most political clout to the Nov. 5 special election to fill the remaining two years of Dowd’s term. Marty Marks, a Democratic operative, said the backing of Councilman Bill Peduto, the mayoral front-runner, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald give Gross an edge.

“Clearly Deb Gross is the front-runner,” Marks said. “She has the entire Peduto/Fitzgerald operation behind her. Tony Ceoffe is a strong candidate. His father is a magistrate.”

Gross and Ceoffe bring a bit of acrimony to the election, made necessary when Dowd resigned to run a North Side nonprofit.

The Democrats’ nomination of Gross by a 42-40 margin raised ire among party stalwarts. Ceoffe sued the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, claiming the committee violated its rules and state election law during the nominating election. An Allegheny County judge upheld the nomination, and Ceoffe filed to run as an independent.

“Deb Gross is so bought into Bill Peduto and Rich Fitzgerald that she cannot possibly sit at the table and go against them,” Ceoffe said. “I’m out having meaningful conversations in our neighborhoods from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. That’s how local races are won.”

Gross said she has disagreed with Peduto and Fitzgerald and they know it.

“I have differences with Bill and differences with County Executive Fitzgerald, and I’ve talked with them about them,” she said. “They’re still supportive of me.”

She said she’s been active in District 7, which includes Lawrenceville, Polish Hill and a number of East End neighborhoods, and is intimately familiar with its needs.

“I have my own base,” she said.

The three other candidates say voter discontent and grassroots campaigns can overcome a lack of name recognition.

Tom Fallon, 51, of Morningside and James Wudarczyk, 61, of Bloomfield, along with Ceoffe, are running as independents. Dave Powell, 42, of Morningside is a Libertarian.

Gross has secured endorsements from powerful city employee unions including police, firefighters and paramedics.

Ceoffe comes from a well-known Democratic political family and has been active for years in community affairs. He said his first priority if elected would be to increase public safety by putting more police officers on street patrol. He said he would work with council and the mayor to ensure funding for new recruit classes. He would like to increase police ranks from about 870 to 1,000.

Gross said her top priority is revitalizing Bloomfield’s Liberty Avenue business corridor. She would do that by working with residents and determining strengths, weaknesses and needs and then creating a plan. She would apply for state funding to pay for improvements.

Fallon’s first focus would be working to remove Pittsburgh from state fiscal oversight. He said it’s time for the city to make independent fiscal decisions without Harrisburg’s interference.

“I know most of the people on council,” said Fallon, a former council office staffer. “I’ve worked with these people. What I need to do is get them to sit down at the table and start (working) constructively.”

Powell that he would work to cut Pittsburgh’s $1 billion employee pension liability by moving new employees from city-funded pensions to 401(k)-type defined contribution plans. “Really, it’s only fair to them. If we’re promising these guys a pie-in-the-sky pension and we aren’t funding it, these guys are going to come up empty anyway.”

Wudarczyk said he would work on maintaining dilapidated and vacant properties by holding owners, including the city, responsible for their upkeep.

“The city owns things such as roads and parks and they have shamefully neglected these facilities,” he said. “We have to steer money away from pet projects and put them into brick-and-mortar properties that the city actually owns.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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