I started the chat with the same question I start all my candidate chats, "How's the campaign going?"
"Pretty exciting, so far." he said. And we were off. By the end of the campaign, he said he's planning on knocking on 9,000 doors. Ouch.
From the beginning of the interview, Dowd took (for me at least) a unique approach to answer the question "what ails the city of Pittbsurgh?" For him, the biggest issue facing the city is its population loss. That's the main issue he's looking to address and it's from that problem most of the city's other problems (tax revenue, urban renewal and so on) flow. Coincidentally, this came the same day it was reported in the P-G that:
The Pittsburgh region has lost more residents since 2000 than any U.S. metropolitan area except New Orleans, but there's no hurricane responsible for it dropping 60,309 people.Dowd's general plan (and this is in the broadest sense) is to build a city that will be more attractive - more attractive so that young people will stick around AND non-Pittsburghers will want to move here and then stick around.
In order to do that, for example, the problem of the city's 15,000 vacant and abandoned houses will have to be solved. The problem here, he said, was the drain these houses placed on their neighborhoods. "People worry" about what's going on in them. They're a sign of decline as well.
He's looking to solve it via tax incentives for people to reinvest in those houses, rather than boarding them up and tearing them down. He's looking for a way to boost property values - this leads back, for Dowd, to his idea of building up an attractive city people won't want to leave.
Another issue, public transportation, also plays into Dowd's general plans. He's less than satisfied with the City Council's work on this issue. He says they've "done nothing" for Pittsburgh public transportation.
When I asked whether it's in fact the council's responsibility, considering the bus system is county-wide rather than city-wide, he answered that while that's true the system is county wide, the City Council could be a bully pulpit for city residents in this matter. It could be pushing for a restructuring of the system, driving for change on public transportation. The city, he said, is the hub of the region , the majority of those taking public transportation are city residents - so it is a council responsibility. Dowd added that there are legislative tools available to the council and they should use them.
In the face of public transport cuts "what has the City Council done?" he asked rhetorically. "Nothing." he answered back.
In terms of the functioning of city government, he's looking for a greater transparency (for example in terms of the City Council's discretionary spending) and a greater reliance on solid data from which any city program would grow. He said he'd start by finding out exactly what the city is doing - how many manhole covers does it have? How many does it replace in a given year, that sort of thing - in order to better utilize the city's resources.
Throughout our chat, he emphasized his ability to form broad coalitions around issues rather than labels. He's looking to find the middle of the city council, and build a coalition there around anyone willing to work seriously about the issues facing the city.