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Democrats choose Barb Warwick as nominee in City Council special election

Barb Warwick plans to compete for the City Council seat in District 5
Barbara Warwick
Barb Warwick plans to compete for the City Council seat in District 5

Pittsburgh Democrats have chosen Barb Warwick as their nominee to be the next City Councilor from District 5. The seat was previously held by Corey O'Connor, who left to become county controller earlier this summer.

"This was a great learning experience," she said shortly after winning 58 of 92 votes cast by members of the Democratic Committee who live in the district. "Talking with all the folks of the committee, I learned so much all the different neighborhoods [and] what's going on on the ground."

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Warwick's win means she will face Republican Eugene Bokor in the special election, which will be included on the Nov. 8 ballot. The district includes areas that include Greenfield, Hazelwood, Lincoln Place and portions of Squirrel Hill. And its heavy Democratic tilt makes her a decided favorite in the race.

Party leaders picked Warwick from a field of four Democratic hopefuls. Kristi Heidel of Greenfield finished a distant second with 15 votes, Swisshelm Park's Jeffrey McCafferty finished with 14, and Michael Murray Jr. ended with 5 votes.

Warwick jumped into the race early — back in May, before it was even certain that O'Connor was going to get called up to the county. "I think that really gave me a leg up," she said. "I've knocked over 1,700 doors at this point, talking to people and hearing what their needs are."

She works in information technology, and became active in a fight against the Mon-Oakland Connector transit project, which was ultimately shelved in the face of neighborhood opposition. And she said that when she began campaigning for the seat outside her neighborhood, she found the same concerns: "I hear a lot of people say, 'We feel forgotten. Nobody cares about us.' I think people are really hoping to have someone listen and respond in a proactive way."

For a generation, O'Connor and his predecessors hailed from Squirrel Hill, and Warwick said having a representative from outside that neighborhood "is very significant, especially with all the development that's going on at Hazelwood Green." The site, once the home of a former steel mill, is slated for a massive mixed-use redevelopment in the coming years.

"There's a lot of opportunity coming forward in the next 5 to 10 years," Warwick said. "And I think that this will be a chance to really do it right [with] development that benefits the community."

And there was no lack of enthusiasm among Democrats Thursday night. Out of 96 committee people eligible to vote, 92 did so.

Leeann Younger, who was elected the chair of the city committee this past spring, praised the work of local ward chairs, who jointly assembled a candidates forum and kept committee people informed. "This was an example of our leadership saying we want as many people involved as possible. It was a really organic process, and I think it led to the great response that we had."

"It speaks to a microcosm of what we're trying to do all over the city, and all over the committee," she said.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.