While mayoral candidate Franco ‘Dok’ Harris, 29, believes Pittsburgh has strong leadership throughout its universities, hospitals and foundations, he said this kind of leadership is sorely lacking in city government.
“There is no proactive leadership,” Harris said. “There has been no time spent building relationships. When you build relationships you don’t have to worry.”
Harris, who is one of two independent candidates challenging the incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the November election, said the mayor does not have strong relationships with members of the community or government officials at the state and national level. He said this has weakened the city because the local government does not have a support system when they are in need of financial or legislative assistance.
To reverse the city’s status, Harris said he would use his entrepreneurial background working with Capital One financial services and Super Bakery Inc. This would include giving “excellent customer service” to Pittsburgh residents and creating a budget that does not extend beyond what the city can afford.
“My skill set and experience lead to running the city like a small business,” Harris said. “We have to start simply.”
Harris said he would use this approach to proactively fight crime by creating business districts in the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. He would work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to provide small businesses with buildings at low or no rent and if the businesses stay in the neighborhood for five years, they would be given the building for free.
Harris said this would help bring hope to neighborhoods that are currently crippled by fear and paralysis from a decrease in opportunities and an increase in crime. He said creating business districts would provide “walkable jobs” and give residents more pride in being responsible for the well being of their neighborhoods.
Harris also addressed the recent announcement that several libraries will be closed. He said the community could create similar facilities with Internet access and meeting spaces through the use of volunteers and donations.
“What we see in these neighborhoods has to go beyond libraries. We have a closed recreation center, a pool,” Harris said. “We knew these libraries were closing and the places where libraries are closing are the places where kids need to be reading.”
Harris’ business approach would extend to other government issues including directly attacking criminal activity, specifically drug and gun trafficking. Harris said he would begin by attacking offenders at the top of the chain as opposed to lower-level offenders.
In terms of gun trafficking, Harris said he would work to make it “unprofitable” by enforcing the “presumption of responsibility,” which means that gun owners should know where their guns are.
“If your gun is stolen, you should report it,” Harris said. “We have to focus on who’s bringing truckloads of weapons into our neighborhoods.”
“Presumption of responsibility” is different from fining gun owners who do not report their guns lost or stolen. Instead, these people are taken through legal proceedings to essentially prove their innocence when one of their weapons has been involved in a crime.
Harris said Ravenstahl, who has the power to make 38 board appointments in various city offices, has surrounded himself with people who do not challenge any of his decisions. In instances where people have challenged the mayor, Harris said they were later fired.
“We’re building a city of yes,” Harris said. “If you don’t have people butting heads a little bit, they’re not doing their job.”
In the May Democratic primary, Carmen Robinson and District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd opposed Ravenstahl, essentially splitting the vote. There is a possibility for a repeat with this election as Harris and fellow candidate Kevin Acklin are running against Ravenstahl.
To set himself apart from Acklin, who he labeled as a “conservative right-winger,” Harris said he has been pushing a positive message to Pittsburgh’s residents.
“We have to win this, but we have to win it the right way,” Harris said. “Our path to victory is we’re in every neighborhood, making this personal.”