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City Council District 3: As Kraus makes his exit, two Democrats hope to replace him

Courtesy of the Bob Charland campaign; Courtesy of the William Reeves campaign
Bob Charland (left) and William Reeves (right) are both seeking to replace Bruce Kraus on Pittsburgh City Council

Residents of Pittsburgh’s third City Council district are set to elect a new representative this year. Longtime District 3 City Councilor Bruce Kraus announced in January that his current term would be his last. That will mark a change in representation for the first time since 2007 in a district that covers 12 neighborhoods, among them the South Side, portions of Oakland and southern “hilltop” neighborhoods such as Allentown, Arlington and Beltzhoover

So far, Democrats appear likely to have a choice between Kraus’ chief of staff, Bob Charland, and Latino community organizer William Reeves.

Kraus cited a desire to make room for new leadership as a key reason for his decision not to run for re-election. He claimed that “fully capable and experienced young people” were ready to step up to the plate; hours later he endorsed Charland for the position.

But his ascension is not guaranteed. Charland is expected to face 24-year-old William Reeves in the May primary.

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Reeves works as a community policy organizer for the Latino advocacy group Casa San José. Though he is a fairly recent arrival in the South Side Slopes, having lived there for the past two years, Reeves argues he would be a champion for the city’s hilltop communities.

Reeves worked for A Giving Heart, an afterschool program in Allentown, for two years. During that time, he said, he saw “a lack of investment in our youth in the Hilltop.”

Reeves would like to see the city invest in organizations like A Giving Heart and others who tutor kids and provide meals. And as a Latino and Pacific Islander, Reeves said he also wants to be a champion for those communities on council.

“A lot of the Latino community here feels they don't have a voice… a large segment of the Latino population here is not [eligible to vote],” he said. “I want to ensure that I’m able to act as a conduit for them to share their grievances.”

Charland, 34, has worked in Kraus’ office for five years and touts his experience as a key strength.

“Our community needs someone ready to do this job on day one, and I have the experience needed to serve our neighbors and build a stronger future together,” he said in his January campaign announcement.

Charland later told WESA that while working in Kraus’ office, he’s been able to see the less glamorous side of city politics and learned how to make a difference.

“I’ve been in people’s backyards looking at the tree that [fell] down or dealing with a pothole in front of their house. Getting seniors signed up for rental rebates,” he explained. “I know what this office can do, and I also know what it can’t do.”

Charland argues he’s well-positioned to help shepherd the area through what he calls a “transitional time” — a period in which suburban communities are seeing new residents while the city's population remains flat.

“I want to make sure that we're doing what we can do in city council to focus on the quality-of-life issues that will really help people … stay in Pittsburgh or to move into Pittsburgh in the first place," he said.

Charland has won endorsements from four city council members, Mayor Ed Gainey and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

The two take different approaches to a number of issues facing District 3

South Side violence

Pittsburgh has seen an uptick in violence citywide, and incidents in the South Side's East Carson Street business district tend to increase during the summer months. A contentious community meeting with residents and business owners last summer called for more police presence and tightening restrictions for young people. One outcome of the meeting was additional traffic restrictions to curb loitering along the busy corridor.

Charland said he would like to see a business district manager emerge for East Carson Street, filling a role played elsewhere by groups like Lawrenceville United. He said that while nighttime businesses have a responsibility for the neighborhood's nightlife culture, they’re not solely responsible for rowdy behavior.

“These are, in most cases, relatively small businesses that are working on incredibly thin margins. And we can't look at them as they're all the bad guy,” he said. “We can't come down with some top-down attack on them and hope that this is going to turn out okay.”

Charland would like to see South Side bar owners use the same identification scanners so that if someone is caught with a fake I.D. at one location, other bars would be notified.

Charland said he would also support the city bringing a dedicated police unit to East Carson Street.

“Having specially trained officers in the South Side and having them dedicated to this unit and not having officers that are just pulled out of [another zone] … to do overtime makes a big difference,” Charland contended.

Reeves, meanwhile, said he would rather see the city work with community groups to deploy “conflict mediators” to intervene and provide resources where necessary. He suggested the city consider expanding a pilot program launching Downtown this month that assigns civilians to help police manage non-criminal nuisances.

“A good portion of the acts of violence [on the South Side] were committed by younger offenders,” Reeves said. “We need to ensure that what’s going on [isn’t] because of a lack of resources … or a lack of someone to talk to.”

Reeves said the area's city councilor will need to bring together business owners and residents to work toward a solution.

Investment and housing in the Hilltop

Both candidates emphasized investing in often-overlooked neighborhoods to the south of the South Side. But they propose different approaches to prioritizing them.

Reeves wants to see the city buy the former Knoxville Middle School building and turn it into a community center. He describes the property as an opportunity to locate health care and educational resources in the community.

He said his vision includes "one side being a resource center where people could access services and the other side being kind of like a technical trade school." A key tenet of Reeves’ agenda involves increasing afterschool resources for kids.

Reeves said he’s also eager to put a citywide rental registry in place. Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation to create such a registry, designed to hold absentee landlords accountable, but the program is tied up in court.

For his part, Charland said he will seek to bring medical offices and a grocery store to the area. But he said the city also needs to find a way to make it easier for would-be homebuyers to buy vacant properties in Pittsburgh, specifically in Knoxville. Charland said the office hears from constituents every day about the difficult process of transferring title to long-abandoned property.

“It could take seven years for that to actually get in their hands. By the time that has passed, the roof's caved in and what they thought was going to be, you know, a $20,000 fixer-upper is now, you know, a demo job.”

The primary election will be held on May 16.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.