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Pittsburgh School Board president defeated

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

By Carmen J. Lee, Post-Gazette Education Writer

In what could be described as a David vs. Goliath victory, Patrick Dowd defeated Pittsburgh school board President Darlene Harris in both the Democratic and Republican primaries last night.

Dowd's win in the District 2 race virtually ensures a shift in the balance of power on the board, which for the past year and a half has been controlled by a five-member majority that includes Harris.

Patrick Dowd, left, defeated incumbent Darlene Harris, Pittsburgh school board president, for both the Democratic and Republican nominations in the board's District 2 yesterday.

More Primary 2003 Coverage
• Visit Allegheny County's election page for more details on county races.

• Download a detailed .pdf file of unofficial primary voting results for Allegheny and Westmoreland counties published in the late edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file.

Tables with primary results for Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties will be published in Thursday print editions of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

• For more reports from around the region on yesterday's primary visit our Elections page

Both candidates cross-filed on the Republican and Democratic tickets. According to unofficial results late last night, Dowd's win was solid on the Democratic side and even more substantial on the Republican side.

Harris, 50, of Spring Hill, had support from the city's Democratic Party and union establishment.

But a coalition of city residents who cast themselves as reformers wanting to end school board divisiveness proved they, too, had muscle and propelled Dowd to victory.

"This was an amazing effort by people across the district," said Dowd, 35, of Highland Park. "Hundreds and hundreds of people giving of themselves and doing all sorts of things."

He added that he believed his campaign emphasis on making student achievement a top priority resonated with voters.

"People told us, 'Don't focus on student achievement. Talk about taxes.' We didn't do that," he said. "This confirms that people want an education system that educates kids. That's what we should be focusing on and that's what we're going to focus on."

Adding to the likelihood of change on the board was a victory by Dan Romaniello, 47, of Brookline, in the Democratic race for the open District 6 seat.

Romaniello had distanced himself from Harris and Jean Fink, also a member of the board majority. He contended the two had asked him if he would vote to fire Superintendent John Thompson if he were elected. Both women denied they had asked Romaniello that question.

Eileen Papale, 49, of Brookline, appeared to be winning the Republican primary. Losing on both tickets was Jacob Minsinger, 77, a retired district principal who lives in Westwood.

In that race, political forces split as many Democratic political leaders supported Romaniello while Fink and other members of the board majority endorsed Papale.

Incumbent Mark Brentley Sr., 46, of Perry Central, easily put down a challenge by Alan Perry, 57, of Manchester in District 8. Board member Bill Isler ran unopposed in both primaries to retain his District 4 seat.

With Pittsburgh's strong Democratic loyalty, Dowd, Romaniello, Brentley and Isler are almost guaranteed board seats.

Although some of the issues and politics differed slightly in the three contested races, most of the campaigns focused on whether residents wanted to maintain the status quo on a board known to be fractious and divided in its support of the superintendent.

In the District 2 and District 6 races, in particular, Dowd and Romaniello criticized board behavior that led to three local foundations suspending their funding to Pittsburgh Public Schools last year.

Dowd, who teaches history and economics at the private Ellis School but sends his children to city public schools, characterized Harris as a major contributor to dissension that distracted school officials from focusing on student achievement. He also contended that Harris made disparaging remarks about Thompson at public forums.

While Harris supported neighborhood schools, Dowd countered that the district had too many buildings for the number of students and should include residents in resolving the problem.

What set the District 2 race apart was a coalition of residents from District 2 and elsewhere who were disenchanted with school board politics. They selected Dowd from among several potential candidates to run against Harris.

The group -- members say it grew to 1,200 people -- then joined Dowd in a grass-roots campaign to get the word out about his candidacy.

Carmen Lee can be reached at clee@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1884.

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