In the space of a little more than a year, Kevin Acklin will have gone from Republican stalwart, to independent mayoral candidate, to Democratic committee member.
As reported here late last week, while the upcoming May primary will be dominated by races for Senate and governor, there's plenty of action on the undercard as well. In the South Hills, for example, former city council candidate Anthony Coghill is using elections for the Democratic Party committee to challenge political heavyweight Pete Wagner.And there's another familiar face running for a committee spot out in the 14th ward's 21st district: Acklin's.
Newly minted as a Democrat, Acklin is seeking to represent his Squirrel Hill neighborhood on the Democratic Party's county committee. And he's facing much better odds than he did running as an independent for mayor last November: This time around, Acklin is the only guy on the ballot.
"I've finally found a race I can win," he jokes.
Acklin, who shifted from the GOP to independent this time last year, registered as a Democrat in January. So did his wife -- which, as Acklin notes, translated into "one fewer signature I had to get for my nominating petition."
Acklin says his party change reflects a mix of pragamatism and political philosophy. Echoing critiques he made in 2009, he says that he's found himself increasingly at odds with the GOP -- largely because of its hardline position on social issues like equality for LGBT citizens. And he's found Democrats to be more accepting.
"One thing I've learned -- and I didn't fully realize this before -- is that the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh is not monolithic," Acklin says. "It's much more diverse than the Republican Party. And locally, the Republicans have given up on the city anyway. To the extent that I want to create change in the city, it's about taking hold and getting involved in the local Democratic Party -- and there are already people in the party trying to do that work."
Acklin was recruited to the Dems by 14th Ward chair Barbara Daly Danko. ("I let Kevin know he would be welcome, and I gave him a safe place to land," she says.) And he cites East End progressives like Bill Peduto as examples of serious reformers. "I talked to a lot of people about this," he says.
But as a committeeperson, he hopes to reach beyond the usual suspects. "I'm surprised by how little the various committees talk to each other," he says. "When I was running citywide, I found a lot of people in the South Hills who had the same kind of concerns of people in Squirrel Hill." And changing the city, he says, "means not just being content with having a councilman or two from the East End."
On a personal level, he adds, changing to a Democrat means that "in some way, I'm going back to my family roots." A city native whose relatives have served as city firefighters, Acklin grew up in a Democratic household. And whether it's at family gatherings or political functions, "I don't have to be the guy in the room with the asterisk by his name any more."
Is this a step toward a future run for office? Well ... maybe. Acklin says that he might run again someday, but for now, "I really don't have any current plans. I'm back making money" -- Acklin recently returned to private practice as a lawyer -- "which is something my wife and family are very happy about."
There's one race he says he won't run for. Although Acklin lives on the periphery of Doug Shields' city council district, Acklin says he will not be running for the seat should Shields step down.
Shields, who relinquished the city council presidency at the end of last year, is widely rumored to be planning such a move, in order to run for a magistrate district judge seat. It's also widely believed that Corey O'Connor -- son of the late and lamented mayor -- is interested in that seat. Acklin appears to be content to let him have it.
"To run for office, you have to dig a well, metaphorically speaking," he says. "And after my run for mayor, my well is pretty dry."