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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mayoral Interviews: Franco Dok Harris

Over the past month, I took the opportunity to meet with the mayoral candidates for Pittsburgh (or in the current mayor's case, his sustainability coordinator). It was an enlightening experience and hopefully my questions will help you decide who to vote for on November 3.

Franco Dok Harris' campaign office is abuzz and in action. It's run by an excited and motivated group of people in the heart of Oakland. I'm not sure if the hand-me-down couch I'm asked to sit in while I wait is a sign of frugality or green ethics, but either way, this is clearly a campaign running on heart rather than big dollars.

Dok is a Businessman
Throughout my 45 minutes with Dok, he displayed his business background on his sleeve. He discussed light rail not in terms of its environmental impact, but in terms of its effectiveness in luring international headquarters to the city (highly effective and a necessary component of our future growth.) He feels future subways, however are way too expensive given our current infrastructure.

Regarding Port Authority, Dok says he wants "a mayor who will ride the buses not sit back in his office." He says he has ridden the buses in the past, but admitted that he is not a regular rider. (Editor's Note: I rarely take the bus, but I did ride my bike to Oakland for this interview.)

Regarding Pittsburgh's low ranking in green cities lists, Dok says there is a "lack of commitment from top to bottom." Pittsburgh has a "strong mayoral system" which requires strong leadership. He is against more legislation regarding green initiatives because that will inhibit growth. He also commented that he sees an association between "cool cities" and environmental cities. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco are making great green commitments and are very attractive to young people. Thereby, if Pittsburgh can put more focus on green initiatives, maybe we will also attract more young people and be cool?

Investing in Walkable Neighborhoods
An issue that is near and dear to Dok's campaign is walkable neighborhoods. He repeatedly mentioned ways that he wants to retain and grow our existing neighborhoods. Neighborhoods where people are walking everywhere are safer, friendlier, and ultimately greener. He wants to open a small business office as part of the mayor's office. This office would help small businesses get through all the red tape of starting a business. It would connect them with inexpensive properties in struggling neighborhoods and connect them with workers from those same neighborhoods.

Investing in Green Technologies
Lastly, we discussed Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial potential. Dok wants to match up the law students and management students at the University of Pittsburgh with the engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University. There are a lot of green technologies coming out of CMU, and with a little more venture capital and know-how, we could be a world leader.

Overall, Dok made a strong case for how Pittsburgh can prosper by aligning its business and green initiatives. While, he was short on details about programs like the Pittsburgh Green Innovators, he has a good grasp of the big green picture. Hopefully after a few conversations with Bill Peduto, he would come around to agreeing on sensible green legislation that would encourage business instead of stifling it.

For more information on Franco Dok Harris, see his campaign website.

For more information on the other candidates, stay tuned to this blog. Don't forget to vote for mayor on November 3.

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