District 7 forum goes on without Gross

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In a break from the political infighting between Tony Ceoffe and Deb Gross, a Tuesday-night forum organized by Ceoffe at the Union Project gave the three other candidates vying for Patrick Dowd's seat in District 7 a chance to make their case.

Everything from the small stuff (improperly managed sewer grates) to UPMC's tax-exempt status got a hearing. But concerns about violent crime and management of the police bureau kept bubbling to the surface.

"Various [police] zones are given the same resources even though you don't have drive-by shootings in Squirrel Hill," said David Powell, a libertarian candidate who is against the "militarization of local police forces" and often cites the police response to the G-20 protests.

"We have too many officials sitting at North Shore at headquarters pushing paper," Ceoffe said. He proposes moving more police officers into the field and replacing them with civilian administrators.

Each candidate said he supports maintaining the city's residency requirement for police officers.

Ceoffe's pitch centers around his experience with community organizations like Lawrenceville United and Friends of Arsenal Park, affiliations he says prove his ability to listen to constituents.

Powell promises to uphold his fiscally conservative and socially progressive brand of libertarianism, while Fallon touts his experience in city council, and working for now State Sen. Jim Ferlo.

On UPMC, Fallon said he'd rather get the healthcare giant "back to the table" instead of pursuing litigation, as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has done with a lawsuit challenging its tax-exempt status.

Wudarczyk directly challenged that notion, arguing a legal challenge is the only realistic option. He took a more populist rhetorical stance, saying he wouldn't make phony promises and has no interest in professional politics.

Powell said his approach to UPMC is tied into a more systemic reform, requiring a "land-value tax" that he said "will take care of the revenue problem we have with such a large part of the city owned by non-profits" and shift away from subjective property value assessments.

Each of the candidates addressed the need to revitalize parts of the district, while working to deter nuisance businesses.

Ceoffe said he'd support businesses that want to set up shop in his district, but would meet with community groups to establish "conditional licensing agreements" that would require them to adhere to community standards.

Taxicab reform was Powell's suggestion, arguing that drunk driving could be reduced if regulations were dropped on taxi operators.

And while the forum gave four candidates a chance to speak directly to several dozen community members, they took the chance to point out that Gross, the Democratic nominee in the race, didn't show up.

"How can we vote for somebody if we don’t know what they stand for?" Ceoffe said.

Wudarczyk called her absence "un-American." (His own credentials as an American are beyond reproach, judging by the posters he distributed of himself clasping the flag).

In a statement, the Gross campaign said she would participate in forums organized by community groups, not political rivals.

Ceoffe acknowledged Gross has built some institutional backing, but he said he's relying mostly on a ground-game until the election, which will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

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