By Juliet Martinez
The District 5 city council race has narrowed to two main contenders: Republican nominee, Eugene Bokor of Lincoln Place, and Democratic nominee, Barb Warwick of Four Mile Run. Ms. Warwick won the Democratic nomination on September 15 with 63% of the 92 votes that District 5 committee members cast. Ms. Warwick received 58 votes, Kristi Heidel of Greenfield received 15, J. “Mac” McCafferty received 14 and Rev. Michael Murray received five.
The special election for the council seat on November 8 will coincide with the general election.
Eugene Bokor: "The people of Pittsburgh should have a choice."
The Republican nominee and I spoke by phone in late August. He said he decided to run because he wanted people to have a choice.
“The last election, it kind of ticked me off because [former District 5 Councilman] Corey O'Connor ran unopposed,” he said. “I think the people of Pittsburgh should have a choice.”
A longtime resident of Lincoln Place, Mr. Bokor retired in 2020 after 37 years as the director of finance at Catholic Charities, followed by three years in the same role at Focus North America, an Orthodox Christian charity. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Point Park University and a master’s in business administration from Indiana University.
Mr. Bokor said his background makes him a good candidate for city council because he wants more transparency in city government finances. For example, he said, the bike lanes installed under Mayor Bill Peduto eliminated a lot of on-street parking and parking revenue. He wants to know how much was lost and how it is being recouped elsewhere.
Mr. Bokor also supports rigorous bridge inspections and maintenance. He said basic upkeep is essential.
“If you see a bridge rusting, you go after that rust in order to prevent it from deteriorating more,” he said, acknowledging that funding shortfalls interfere with preventative maintenance.
Mr. Bokor objects to attempts by city council to create municipal gun ordinances or amend the home rule charter to limit gun ownership. “I do not feel Council should be expecting taxpayers to foot the bill for lawyers to take away our second amendment rights,” Mr. Bokor wrote in a follow-up email. “If council wants to do this let them try on their own and dig into their own pockets to pay the lawyers.”
The Republican nominee emailed that he favors legal immigration and a path to citizenship. He wrote that undocumented immigrants transported from border states might be housed in shelters, saying those resources are needed by people already living here.
Mr. Bokor suggested addressing homelessness and the housing crisis by getting the private sector involved in developing the Pittsburgh Land Bank, a program designed to address blighted properties. CBS Pittsburgh reported in August that the Land Bank has not produced a single rehabbed home in nine years since its inception.
On the topic of traffic calming, the Republican nominee supports a combination of speed traps, flashing lights and rumble strips. He also said he supports taxing new buildings constructed by colleges, universities, hospitals and other nonprofits.
Mr. Bokor served as the treasurer of the 31st Ward Community Action Group at one time and still sits on its board. Ryan Herbinko, the group’s president, called Mr. Bokor “a great person to work with.”
“We never had an issue finance-wise with him,” Mr. Herbinko said when we spoke last month. He said Mr. Bokor was, “Never an impediment, but rather a good steward and made sure everything was accounted for and properly spent.”
Political newcomers dominate the race
Whoever wins the special election, the District 5 seat will be held by a political newcomer for the first time since Bob O’Connor was elected in 1991. His chief of staff, Doug Shields, succeeded him, and his son Corey held the office from 2012 until leaving to become the Allegheny County Controller in July. Both Ms. Warwick and Mr. Bokor are new to public office.
“What’s beautiful about that is you don’t know what you’re not supposed to do,” said city Democratic committee chair Leeann Younger when we spoke at the nomination event. She said newcomers can value history and tradition, but, “It doesn’t stop you from thinking about the role of your office in a different way.”
“The big advantage will be coming at the job from the resident’s perspective,” Ms. Warwick told me the morning after the nomination. “Coming in with a fresh eye is going to make it a lot easier to look at ‘how things work’ and ask how they might work better.”
Ms. Warwick said she is focused on knocking on as many doors as possible and listening to residents’ concerns, not only as a campaign strategy but in order to serve the needs of District 5 residents.
A writer and editor at an IT company, Ms. Warwick got her start as a community organizer against the Mon-Oakland Connector. At the September 7 Democratic candidate forum, she said, “That fight was about more than a shuttle road through a public park. It was about big money special interests being prioritized while the needs of residents were going unmet. That’s why I’m running for city council, to meet those needs.”
Find past articles on the District 5 council race here.