It would make a great movie; poor kid works his way from the streets of South Oakland to Harvard, then law school, then to the mayor’s office via a grass-roots independent campaign. It could be Kevin Acklin’s movie—if he can just write that last act.
On Oct. 9, Acklin told the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board he has knocked on about 70,000 doors throughout Pittsburgh in an effort to do just that.
“I’m on my third set of (shoe) soles, but there’s a great guy in Brownsville, Mr. Ricciardi, who keeps putting on new ones for me,” he said. “I’m also about 25 pounds lighter, so I should probably change that first photo on my web site.”
Acklin is making himself visible in neighborhoods across the city because he said they have been neglected by city government in favor of large corporate and institutional interests. New leadership, his leadership he said, can change that.
“I was in Homewood the other day and at the intersection of Frankstown and N. Homewood Avenues, there are a couple garbage cans. One of them has ‘Bloomfield’ printed on it, the other said ‘Highland Park,”’ he said. “Now, how long would something like that be tolerated on Murray Avenue? It speaks volumes about priorities when even the most basic city services are not provided fairly.”
The thrust of Acklin’s neighborhoods agenda is based primarily on refurbishing and selling salvageable abandoned properties, adding another 200 police to the force over four years and rebuilding the city’s pension fund. He would pay for these initiatives mainly by reprioritizing stimulus fund spending and by “resizing” the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
“The URA is a boondoggle. It is sitting on about $480 million in assets and $200 million of that is cash,” he said. “We’d take the cash and put it in the pension fund. And then make sure development funds are not going to ‘special friends’ so the URA keeps competing against private business.
“We have millions in stimulus funds earmarked for big projects like Bakery Square, and we can’t find $1 million to keep libraries from closing? These are community centers for neighborhoods like Hazelwood, Lawrenceville and Beechview,” he said. “These priorities are wrong.”
As for police, he wants them “out of the cars,” in the neighborhoods and in the schools.
I’m out campaigning the other day and little kids are thinking I’m there to buy drugs. I’m stepping over little bags of dope in the street,” he said. “And in the six hours I was there, I saw no police.”
Acklin’s focus on revitalizing city neighborhoods comes from having grown up in racially diverse South Oakland. He mentors a young man from the Hill District as a “Big Brother,” and has worked via his law practice and through religious associations to help youth and victims of violence throughout the city.
“I had mentors who taught me the benefits of education and hard work, so I try to give back. The kids I played with in 2nd and 3rd grade, a lot joined the South Oakland Crips, and most of them are dead now,” he said. “I’m the only candidate in this race who knows what it’s like to grow up on welfare, to have a father who spent time in jail and to have a family broken by violence and drugs. And that’s why I quit the Republican Party, because they have no urban agenda.”
Acklin also favors a city-county merger, but one that, unlike the plan supported by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, actually eliminates local municipalities. He admits it’s a long shot.
At 33, Acklin is the old guy in the race against Ravenstahl and independent candidate Franco “Dok” Harris. All will participate in three televised debates:
•at KDKA, taped Friday, Oct. 16, and likely broadcast the following night after college football;
•at WTAE, recorded Wednesday, Oct. 21, and most likely air it that night at 7pm, and
•at WPXI, taped Oct. 29 and aired on WPXI Nov. 1, and on PCNC Nov. 1 and 2.
(Send comments to cmorrow @newpittsburghcourier.com.)