Councilmember Darlene Harris is running for mayor because she wants all Pittsburghers to feel as safe as she does walking in her district and to improve “low morale” across the city.
A lifelong North Sider, Harris has long been active in the community from her start in volunteering to her current mayoral bid.
Her council work has ranged from finding ways to add to the city’s pension fund through parking tax revenue in 2010 to a spay and neuter program for stray animals in 2012. Often vocal on council, Harris has strong opinions on bettering the city, which largely added to her decision to run for mayor.
The Incline met Harris on Wednesday in her office in the City-Council Building in Downtown. Every corner and wall of her fifth-floor office is filled with pictures and mementos. There’s a collection of pug statues in the corner — her favorite dog — and maps of her district throughout history on the walls. A carved wooden eagle, a gift from her time on the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board, perches atop a bookshelf.
The first in a nine-part series, this Q&A with Harris kicks off a chance for you to learn more about Pittsburgh’s council and your neighborhood’s representative. From the table in the corner of her light-filled office, Harris chatted about District 1, what she’s learned from public service and her tips on getting involved.
Darlene Harris 101
First elected to council: 2006, in a special election after then District 1 councilmember and Council President Luke Ravenstahl became mayor following the death of Mayor Bob O’Connor. She later served as council president from 2010 to 2014.
Harris had long been active in the community through the Spring Hill Civic League and as a founder of the North Side Leadership Conference and the North Side Public Safety Council. She also was active in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union with her husband, John.
She served on the Pittsburgh Public Schools board from 1995 to 2003, including as board president from 2002 to 2003.
Next city council election: 2019.
Harris is currently in the 2017 mayoral race. Leading up to the March 7 nominating petition deadline, questions swirled about her possible candidacy as she all but said she would run and sought the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement for mayor. Harris met the deadline for filing her nominating petitions and entered the race last month.
District 1 includes: Allegheny Center; Allegheny City Central; Allegheny West; Brighton Heights; Brightwood; East Allegheny; Fineview; Northview Heights; Observatory Hill; Spring Garden; Spring Hill-City View; Summer Hill; Troy Hill & Washington’s Landing. See the map.
Contact: Call the District 1 office at 412-255-2135. Send this form.
Q: What are District 1’s biggest issues right now?
A: “Getting ShotSpotter in the neighborhoods,” Harris said. “The North Side was supposed to get it next.”
But the plan to expand the gunshot detection system has stalled, she said. Harris added that the lack of redevelopment of the Garden Theater and the surrounding block is also disappointing, and that area needs to be saved.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about District 1?
A: “When you hear about it on the news, they will say ‘North Side,’ ” Harris said. But it’s not just one neighborhood; it’s comprised many different neighborhoods that make up the North Side. “It’s just not right,” she said.
Q: What should every Pittsburgher do in your district?
A: “Well, they already come here for the games,” Harris said with a laugh. But she added that the district is starting to attract visitors from across the city for its restaurants and the arts.
“We’re a district where the neighborhoods are coming back, and we like to save stuff like East Ohio Street or the houses in East Allegheny. All they needed was love and care,” she said.
Q: What is your favorite part of living in District 1?
A: “I’ve always lived in the district. It’s home,” Harris said.
She said she has no problem walking down the street and grew up going to different neighborhoods of the North Side. “I used to play in Northview Heights and go swimming in Troy Hill,” she said.
And there’s one way to know if someone is from the North Side, she said: “You say Norside without the t-h.”
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your time in public office?
A: Harris said her time in public office started long before city council — she’s been volunteering for 30 years and was on school board for eight years before she was on council. There’s one thing, though, that she learned at the start and still sticks to: “Never say no to somebody who wants to help.”
Q: Why did you enter the 2017 mayoral race?
A: Harris said she didn’t plan on running for mayor, but wanted to doing something about the things she was seeing, mainly what she said is low morale among city employees and across the city itself. She’s also long been critical of the number of trips that Mayor Bill Peduto has taken while in office.
“I don’t think someone should be making so many trips,” she said.
Q: What is the biggest issue in the city?
A: “If you have a safe city, people want to come here,” Harris said, adding that keeping the city clean, also goes along with public safety. As WESA reported, violent crime went down 7 percent in 2015.
“I think that starts with having enough police, firefighters, EMS and animal control. … Once you hire the staff, you’re able to get the work done,” she said. Improving overall city morale can start by improving the working conditions and wages of city employees, she said.
Q: What is your advice for people who what to get involved in their community in District 1?
A: Start going to community meetings, Harris advised.
“Or contact me. I can always find something for them to do.”