PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — While the city of Pittsburgh was making budget cuts, public works crews were busy near the home of City Council President Darlene Harris.
Harris admits she pushed for the work, but at the same time denies she is benefiting from any kind of special treatment.
Harris used her microphone at council chambers to blast KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan’s report as sensationalized journalism and she maintained that work done around her home was done not for herself, but for the neighborhood.
A defiant Harris reacted strongly to the story that questioned why city workers had done so much work in the immediate vicinity of her Spring Hill home – work which the investigation found totaled $108,406 in just the past three years.
“It’s just awful funny how when you service your neighborhood and service all neighborhoods for 35 years, that they come up and say, ‘Well, you did this,’” Harris said.
The work included the paving of 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 also 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 10 steel beams at a cost of $22,043.
What’s more – 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 it and graded the lot just eight months later at a cost of $8,275.
Harris says she requested the work for the good of the neighborhood and took a jab at KDKA’s Andy Sheehan.
“I don’t work on my own property with city merchandise or city vehicles or city equipment and I don’t fix my property though that,” says Harris, “and I just wanted to say for Andy Sheehan, he also had his street paved two years ago. He didn’t put that on television.”
Of her colleagues on council, only Bill Peduto offered this criticism of Harris, but blamed the work on a system which rewards political friends of the mayor’s administration.
“Of course it’s political,” he said. “This administration uses asphalt for political purposes. It uses public projects as ways to penalize council members or to support them.”
Harris says since opposing the mayor’s parking lease plan, she is now on the outs with the administration and said that’s why this story has come to light.
“I am just being punished like the rest of council that don’t go along with the program,” she said. “People voted me into this office to speak for the people and that’s what I intend on doing.”
Harris is an elected official and her constituents will have to decide whether she has done anything wrong.
For the record, Andy Sheehan does live in the city and his street did get paved two years ago, but he made no request to anyone at the city to have the work done.