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Harris Has Advice For Incoming Councilor

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Outgoing city councilor Darlene Harris served District 1 for 12 years.

Outgoing City Councilor Darlene Harris has a word of advice for her successor: be prepared for long hours.

"I went to all of my neighborhood meetings unless there were two in one night," she said days before her final council meeting on Dec. 30. "Then I'd get my staff person to go, then I'd go the next time. ... You should work the hours, if not more, to get things done in the neighborhood." 

Harris will step down and be replaced by Bobby Wilson on Jan. 6. Harris served for 12 years as the representative for City Council District 1, which includes city neighborhoods north of the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. She often opposed Mayor Bill Peduto, who backed Wilson's successful bid to oust her in the 2019 Democratic primary. 

Harris, who previously served on the city's school board, was known on council for her concern about animal welfare, and she was targeted by the city's advertising industry for supporting a tax on city billboards. But she said that while she is proud of much the work she has done as councilor, she took special pride in her work to shore up the city's pension fund. 

In 2010, the city was poised to lease its parking facilities to a Wall Street firm for $220 million. The money was supposed to be invested in the city's chronically underfunded pension fund. But Harris and others found an alternate solution, which involved pledging future parking tax revenues to the fund, that kept the lots in public hands. 

"The proudest moment was to help the pensions so that people would not go without a pension, a full pension," she said. 

Harris final weeks in office were contentious. They involved an allegation that she improperly took gifts given to the city by foreign visitors — Harris says the gifts were made to her personally during her stint as council's president — and a court battle over her refusal to follow a city ordinance that requires greater disclosure of campaign finances. Harris flouted the law both in an unsuccessful 2017 mayoral run against Peduto and in her reelection bid this year. 

That court fight will continue even after Harris' departure. But as for Harris herself, she said now that she will have more free time, she plans on spending it with her five grandchildren.