by Chris Potter
As has been long foretold, Squirrel Hill attorney, and 14th Ward Democratic Committee Chair, Sam Hens-Greco announced his candidacy in the District 8 City Council race this morning. And he used the occasion to propose an initiative for deploying rain barrels across the city.
The announcement was held along a portion of Ellsworth Avenue that has been the site of flooding during heavy storms: Locals call the area "Lake Ellsworth," Hens-Greco told a clutch of supporters and half-frozen journalists. And under his "Rain Barrel Initiative," the city would subsidize the purchase of rain barrels by diverting a portion of city deed-transfer tax revenue back to the homeowner. (Current homeowners who install barrels would get a credit toward a future sale.) That would reduce the stress on city sewers during heavy storms, when rainwater often overwhelms the system.
Hens-Greco allowed that such barrels would only be "a piece of the puzzle" — ALCOSAN is working on a $3.6 billion plan to handle demand on the sewer system — and later acknowledged that many details hadn't been worked out. "I don't have the legislation written yet," he told reporters For one thing, he acknowledged that "you have to figure out the way to offset the cost" of the plan — which he estimated would be $3.2 million in revenue per year. But he hoped to encourage participation by the state and local foundations as well, and said his openness to such ideas defined the kind of councilor he'd be.
"I think I'm the best candidate [for] working on solutions to problems," Hens-Greco said. And rain-barrels represents a grassroots effort that might spawn other "green" solutions to the problem. "I believe change on a grassroots level is very, very important," he told supporters.
A native of Weirton who moved to Pittsburgh
2725 years ago, Hens-Greco cited a long history of community service and activism. Somewhat ominously, his first political experience came working on Jimmy Carter's 1980 re-election campaign. But he has also been an active volunteer at local shelters, and touts a decades-long record of support for LGBT rights, as well as a history of community service that dates back to driving an ambulance in college.
"That's the type of work ... that feeds my soul," he told his supporters, whose applause was slightly muted by layers of insulated clothing.
Though a longtime fixture on the political scene — among other things, he managed the successful judicial campaign of his wife, Katherine Hens-Greco — he may not have the public visibility of his rivals. Both Dan Gilman, an aide to outgoing incumbent Bill Peduto, and Jeanne Clark have garnered headlines by challenging Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Hens-Greco, meanwhile, described himslf as "a low-key, soft-spoken person." He may also not have the same amount of baggage if Ravenstahl wins his own re-election bid this year: Hens-Greco says he's met with the mayor twice, adding "I don't have a bad relationship" with Ravenstahl.
Like Gilman and Clark, Hens-Greco is pledging to run an upbeat campaign: All three are progressive Democrats with much in common: As chair of Shadyside's 7th ward, Clark has worked alongside Hens-Greco for years. "I'm asking for people to vote for me, not against the other candidates," Hens-Greco says.
Hens-Greco also touts his background as a lawyer as a distinguishing factor, noting that the last city councilor with a law degree was Alan Hertzberg. Though Hens-Greco hasn't represented municipalities and admits there'd have to be "a ramp-up" in his knowledge, councilors have complained that they are often at a disadvantage in discussions with the mayor — to whom the city Law Department reports directly — that involve legal disputes. Hens-Greco says he'd give up litigating if elected, though he may maintain some work on cases like adoptions; he has already temporarily stepped aside as Ward 14 chair.
There was little discussion of policy specifics at this early stage, though Hens-Greco did tell reporters he favored leaving the city in state financial oversight, at least until a new round of public-employee contracts are negotiated. And he also said that he'd be addressing both the city's pension problems and ways of raising revenue from non-profits within a month.
In the meantime, Hens-Greco will be joining other candidates at a public forum being hosted by the 14th Ward Independent Club on Sunday.
Editor's note: After this story was published, Hens-Greco notified City Paperthat he'd misspoken at his campaign launch, and had only been in town for 25 years.