Four years ago, City Councilwoman Darlene Harris considered a run for mayor of Pittsburgh but ultimately decided not to enter the race.
“I take care of my mother and she was ill, and I was just too worried about her,” Harris said.
Four years later, without any fanfare, Harris made a different decision. Although she never held an announcement party or even a news conference to declare her candidacy, Harris is on the May Democratic primary ballot in an effort to unseat Mayor Bill Peduto.
“I think that you should be a full-time mayor,” Harris said, “that you should be in the city taking care of business not just travelling.”
Harris was critical of Peduto’s frequent trips since taking office. In January, Peduto attended the U.S. Mayors Conference in Washington, D.C. In February, he attended a national business technology and policy conference in San Francisco, as well as a “pragmatic leaders” retreat in Orlando, Fla. According to the Peduto administration, the costs for the San Francisco and Orlando trips were covered by the sponsoring organizations.
Among the key issues in this mayoral campaign, Harris lists city services from filling potholes to collecting garbage, as well as public safety.
“Public safety is probably one of the most important issues that people have not been happy with,” she said. “Our crime in this city has been up.”
However, according to the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, violent crimes dropped by about 7 percent in 2015, the most recent full-year statistics available. Murders declines by 17 percent, while property crimes increased by 3 percent.
“I don’t know about the numbers, but I do know the facts of what’s happening in the communities. And, as you know, drugs are an epidemic out there,” Harris said. “Those are the issues that disrupt the neighborhoods. You have to have a safe city. You have to have morale up in the Department of Public Safety and that is not what’s going on.”
Peduto won the Democratic endorsement last month, but Harris pulled in about 40 percent of the votes from committee members.
“Actually, I wasn't even a candidate when I went for the endorsements,” she said. “So if I would have been a candidate, I'm sure I would have done much better.”
Harris is now officially a candidate, having filed her nominating petitions with the Allegheny County Elections Division. However, she has not created a separate campaign committee as required by city ordinance.
“That’s correct,” she said. “I have the campaign committee I’ve always had since I was on the Pittsburgh School Board.”
City law indicates that a separate committee be established so that reserve funds from one campaign aren’t automatically transferred over for the same person in a different contest.
“I’ll let them (Peduto and Rev. John Welch, the third Democrat on the ballot) decide if they’re going to go to court or not,” she said, referring to enforcement of the ordinance.
Harris claimed that Welch “was put into this campaign by Peduto” to diminish her support. Still, she acknowledged the fact that no incumbent Pittsburgh mayor seeking reelection has lost.
“If they want somebody that's going to work hard and be out there for the people not for themselves, they'll vote for me,” she said. “If not, you know, they'll keep what they have, maybe worse, for the next four years.”