It will be difficult to beat the District 6 City Council race for sheer drama and bad vibes. The perennial complaint -- no different this year -- is that the incumbent is either unable to bring much-needed resources to the district or indifferent to constituent needs.
In the May 19 Democratic primary, the voters of District 6, which encompasses Downtown, the Hill District, Perry South, the North Side, the Strip District and South Oakland, will decide if Councilwoman Tonya Payne, who is backed by the Democratic Committee, deserves a second term.
Her challengers for the nomination are real estate agent Robert Daniel Lavelle, 31, of Schenley Heights and Pittsburgh school board member Mark Brentley Sr., 52, of the North Side. Since there is no Republican on the ballot and the district is heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary is likely to be elected to council in November.
Both Mr. Lavelle and Mr. Brentley have criticized Ms. Payne, 45, for being a frequent co-sponsor of other council members' legislation, but never authoring her own bills.
Ms. Payne counters that Mr. Lavelle, the former chief of staff for state Rep. Jake Wheatley, is a proxy candidate for the legislator and her ex-boss, Sala Udin, the man whose council seat she occupies after defeating him in the last election. Mr. Lavelle counters that Ms. Payne's "inaccessibility" and paltry legislative record spurred his decision to run. Mr. Brentley warns that the only way to get beyond what he calls the "Sala-Payne-Wheatley feud" is to vote for a candidate unaffiliated with either clique -- him. This is Mr. Brentley's second run for the council seat.
All three candidates are strong-willed personalities, but what the district needs is a focused, accessible, strategic thinker who understands the cooperative nature of politics. Such a candidate must be willing to be an aggressive advocate for this diverse and sprawling section of the city.
Mr. Lavelle, who is also a former assistant to Mr. Udin, strikes the right balance between political pragmatism and the kind of righteous indignation that gets things done. He believes that the office should become "a clearinghouse for jobs and construction" in a community that is erecting a new arena.
In calling for a "greater leveraging of resources," Mr. Lavelle insists that Ms. Payne hasn't done nearly enough to secure federal dollars for the district. He also faults her for failing to enforce the conditions of the Community Benefits Agreement hammered out with the Penguins last year as part of the arena project. Vowing that he'll be proactive on the economic front, Mr. Lavelle has made himself a student of the city budget. He disagrees with those who believe the city has outgrown the state's fiscal oversight provided by Act 47.
In rejecting the incumbent, it isn't fair to say Ms. Payne has been AWOL; she actually was at the forefront of the neighborhood development fight between the residents of Oak Hill and the University of Pittsburgh. As for Mr. Brentley, he is easily the most passionate of the three and his school board record guarantees that he would be a caustic, confrontational force on council.
But City Council deserves more light than heat these days. That's why Robert Daniel Lavelle and his energetic, intelligently focused service would be a good fit for District 6.