When Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd announced he would be resigning his seat to head a new child-advocacy nonprofit, one question arising from the move was what does it mean for the Black residents of District 7.
The district, which stretches from Lawrenceville to Larimer, through Stanton Heights, Morningside and Highland Park has always had a sizeable African-American population. But thanks to redistricting, it now also includes the Strip District, Bloomfield and Friendship.
Dowd, an educator who also served one term as a Pittsburgh Public Schools director before winning his council seat in 2008, said the opportunity to get back to his first love, working on behalf of children, was too good to pass up.
The agency he’ll head up, Allies for Children, is a start-up that will be located in the Children’s Museum and will advocate to insure better outcomes for children in low-income households.
The effort is being funded through the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Grable Foundation, and the Heinz Endowments. Its operating budget will be $700,000 for the first year.
As for who will take his old seat, Dowd said he would stay out of the race and would not back any particular candidate.
“My district is very dynamic and, I think, the only majority White district with African-American school board representation,” he said.
“There are several people who’ve said they want to run. So while it could be a chance for an independent candidate, it’s also a chance for the Democratic Party to get back in step with the people I’ve been serving for all these years.”
With three years remaining on Dowd’s term, a special election will be held to fill it. It will likely coincide with the general election Nov. 5, but if he files his paperwork before July 9, there could be a district-only election held as early as August. That would cost the city approximately $45,000 extra according to Allegheny County Division of Elections Manager Mark Wolosik.
Either way, this would appear to be a rare opportunity to add a third Black representative to city council. However, in a special election, the district’s Democratic and Republican committees will nominate candidates.
The District 7 committee chair is Len Bodack Jr., who held the seat before Dowd. State Sen. Jim Ferlo, a former district councilmember himself, also serves on the committee. Neither has yet expressed an interest in running, nor are they pushing another candidate. Dowd, too, said he is staying out of it.
Louis “Hop” Kendrick said though the committees are unlikely to nominate a Black candidate, there is still an opportunity.
“I don’t care what the (Democratic) Party does,” he said. “Look at the Hill District, they chose Tonya Payne in three straight elections and she lost all three. If you get the right candidate, with four or five people in the race, it’s possible.”
But finding that candidate, Kendrick said, might be tough.
“People are searching, but I haven’t heard anything yet,” he said. “Brenda Frazier (former Allegheny County Councilwoman) is the only one I can think of in the district. But I don’t think she’s interested.”
Whoever wins will serve the remaining three years of Dowd’s term and likely run as an incumbent in 2015.
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