Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Perception at Issue in South Hills Race Councilwoman Rudiak Says City Area Better; Opponent Disagrees

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Perception at Issue in South Hills Race Councilwoman Rudiak Says City Area Better; Opponent Disagrees

Article excerpt

Residents of Pittsburgh's South Hills have long held the notion that they've been forgotten, written off as merely neighborhoods to traverse on a workday commute and consequently left out when it comes to public reinvestment.

Four years ago, after Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak won the Democratic primary and faced no opposition in the general election, she pledged to change that.

She believes she has. On a recent afternoon at her council office on Brookline Boulevard, she listed several projects she said her office helped get off the ground, speaking over the din of jackhammers that banged outside on a street renovation.

She shepherded $3 million in public money to build a community center in Beechview. She pushed for a quarter-million-dollar renovation of the Brookline Community Center. And she urged Economic Development South, a community development corporation that can leverage public funds, to expand its territory to include Overbrook and Carrick.

She also said she played an important role in ensuring her constituents' ideas were heard concerning the renovation of Brookline Boulevard, now under way right outside her office door.

"I know that south Pittsburgh has seen an unprecedented level of development over the past four years," she said.

Her challenger for the Democratic nomination in the May 22 primary, Johnny Lee, who recently retired as a supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service, sees things differently. He said he believes the South Hills continue to be shortchanged, and he blames Ms. Rudiak, 33.

He said neighborhoods in District 4 -- which includes Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Carrick, Overbrook and one voting district in Mount Washington -- have lost out on development because she has taken positions in opposition to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during her time on council, aligning herself with the mayor's opponents.

"You see the development going on in East Liberty ... why can't that kind of development happen in Beechview?" he said. "The mayor dictates where the money goes."

Within council chambers, Ms. Rudiak said, it's true that she sometimes disagrees with the mayor. After a record-breaking snowstorm in 2010, she subpoenaed public safety Director Mike Huss to question him about snow removal. And she and five other council members opposed the mayor's plan to lease the city's parking assets to raise money to fund city pensions, ultimately sinking the proposal.

But she terms as ridiculous the idea that her district has somehow been penalized for her opposition to the mayor's policies. Much of the mayor's base lives in her district, she pointed out.

"I haven't seen specifics to back up that argument," she said. "I think that the idea that somehow the mayor's mad at me and so he's holding back projects is absurd."

Mr. Lee has never held an elective office, but he believes his reputation in the community and his ability to build relationships will pay off for the South Hills if he becomes councilman. …

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