Council President Harris Defends City Work Near Her Home

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — When city workers plowed her street first, it wasn’t hard to find some yelling favoritism.

And now a KD Investigation has found that was just one example of what some might call special treatment – something City Council President Darlene Harris denies.

“I work to help the people – not to help myself,” Harris said. “I’ve never taken anything for myself.”

But in 2007 when budget cuts demanded a reduction in city-wide paving, city contractors paved Buente Street in front of Harris’ house, List Street behind her house and Brahm Street leading up to her house at a cost of $86,088.

Harris concedes she lobbied to have the work done because she says runoff water was flooding the properties of her neighbors.

But that wasn’t the only work done that year.

Harris co-owns a house on List Street with her mother and in November of 2007 the city built a retaining wall just above it. The job involved 35 yards of concrete, 50 tons of stone and steel beams at a cost of $22,043.

Harris also concedes that she requested the work, but not for herself or her mother. She says erosion threatened the road and imperiled people living down the street with medical conditions.

“If community asks me about something and it’s life threatening, I am going to make sure it’s done for them,” Harris said. “This had nothing to do with my mother living down in a valley.”

Guy Costa who was public works director at the time defended the work and denied that Harris had special influence even though she was council public works chairperson at the time.

“She’s a wonderful woman and I have a lot of respect for her but it wasn’t like we did any special treatment,” Costa said at the time.

But it didn’t end there.

At Harris’ request in February of 2008, the city condemned the house next door to hers and even though it takes an average of four years for the city to tear down a condemned structure, the city demolished this one and graded the lot just eight months later at a cost of $8,275.

Still, she claims no special influence.

Harris: “I don’t hire and fire in this city and I am not over the employees, I’m a legislator.”

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “But you have influence and it appears that when you see problems right within eyesight of your house that somehow these problems have been remedied.”

Harris: “Well, if I have that much influence, then the rest of the houses in my district should be torn down.”

Which seems to be the point. Why is work being done near Harris’ home and not in other places?

Harris produced a lengthy list of houses that have been torn down in her district, but a quick tour of Spring Garden found many other condemned houses which have been awaiting demolition for years.

“Did I put that house in right next door to me? Yes, I did. Just as I put every other house in,” Harris said.

In total, the city has performed $108,406 worth of work around Harris’ house in the past three years and the current public works department director says Harris’ influence seems clear.

“Obviously being the chair of the department and putting a request in for services – I guess that has some undo influence on the decision,” Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski said.

To the end, Harris maintains that she has not benefited from her position.

“I have been honest and I have my integrity and people have known me for 35 years for getting the job done.”

About that lot next door – Harris has applied under the city side lot program to have it annexed to her property.

Under the program for annexing vacant city-owned properties, Harris would pay $200 and basically double the size of her present property.

Harris says she’s just taking advantage of a program that is open to all citizens.

  • P

    I know they wouldn’t do retaining wall work for me even thoiugh the wall is holding up the city road. I been trying for 20+ years. Sooner or later the it will fall and I will have a new driveway.

  • Ray

    The thing that shocks me is that once again this is just part of the story.
    The prices shown are the material costs only!!!
    What about the labor costs for the 20 city employees who worked for a month or so to build the wall at an average cost of $18.00 per hour? And I am sure that hourly number is very conservative….
    The labor cost is always omitted since the public officials feel the workers would have been getting paid anyway, but this means they didn’t do the work they were supposed to. And later we the people will have to pay overtime or sub contractors to do the work they were supposed to be doing in the first place…
    This is just one of the ways the millions vanish and no body can account for the losses. DO THE MATH PEOPLE

  • D not d

    What the people of Pittsburgh should be considering is to what degree Mrs. Harris is culpable. What the people of Pittsburgh ought to consider is to what degree she is culpable. She was either a) aware of her influence and actively leveraging it, b) aware of her influence but choosing to do nothing about it, or c) not aware of her influence at all. No matter the case, the issue should be further investigated and redressed quickly.

  • redrock100


  • Anthony

    She has done a great job and will continue to do so, she only has to answer to her constituents, not Andy Sheehan

  • Valerie

    Well well. It’s about time the retaining wall and paving on list street were repaired. I remember when the street caved in and swallowed a car. That was back in I think it was 1961. If the news were to check it’s archives they may be interested to see a picture in the newspaper with Darlene and I standing beside the hole. We were about 8 years old. I think 50 years is long enough to wait for any street to be paved

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  • Kim

    My 76-year-old mother lives on Schnittgen Street that extends off of List Street and I am thankful that Darlene Harris is concerned about the people who live on that street and others in Spring Hill. For many years List/Schnittgen street had been unsafe and erosion had caused a crevice to open and part of the road fell away. The drop from that road goes down a very steep hillside full of trees and over growth that end up in another neighborhood. My experience with Darlene Harris over the past 50 years has always been that she listens to concerns and acts to assist with issues that affect the community of Spring Hill. She has worked through the Civic League and with other community leaders to identify properties that were an eye sore to the Community and had them removed or restored, she helped to get street lights restored when bulbs were burned out or broken out. As far as her street being plowed, it just so happens that the street that Darlene Harris lives on, Buente Street is the main street to access East Street and 279 North from Spring Hill for the community residents. There should be more councilmembers who care about the residents of their community and take as much pride in living within their community as Darlene does!

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  • Scott

    I’ve known Harris for decades too, and she’s not known for getting the job done, but as a power-hungry busybody who likes to use her influence to slice off a little something for herself. I grew up down the street from Harris where my parents still own a house. They applied to have a vacant side lot annexed to their property as well, only when it came time for City Council to review and approve their application HARRIS VOTED NO. I’m certain that she won’t have any problems with approving the lot next to hers; however, or the conflict of interest it entails in the first place. Let’s be clear here, Harris isn’t attempting to acquire the lot next to hers for the “good of the community.” The woman is a crook, and the sooner she off City Council, the better for all of Pittsburgh.

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