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Next round in Ceoffe/Gross fight

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Antagonism continues between two of the contenders for a an open City Council seat in Pittsburgh's East End.

Yesterday District 7 special election hopeful Tony Ceoffe proposed two forums among the five candidates in the race, one Sept. 17 at the Union Project in Highland Park and another Sept. 26 at the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville. While the forums were "Sponsored by Ceoffe for District 7," he said they would be unbiased and impartial:

"The purpose of this open forum is to allow residents of the district to become familiar with the candidates running for the council seat, and to give all five candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves and present their vision for the district in an unbiased and impartial arena," Ceoffe wrote.

He also noted that Pittsburgh City Paper had "tentatively agreed" to moderate the debates just as long as other candidates were present.

Not so fast, replied the campaign manager for Deb Gross, with whom Ceoffe battled for (and lost) the nomination from the district's Democratic committee members. (He then challenged her nomination in court earlier this month, and lost the first round of that battle too.) She dismissed the forums Ceoffe organized as "staged events" instead of being driven by third parties.

The campaign manager, Nikki Lu, on Monday had issued the Gross team's own "invitation" to candidates in the special Nov. 5 race to discuss participating in up to four debates, all over the district, under rules used by the League of Women Voters. The announcement seemed out of left field at the time but became clearer in the context of Ceoffe's own invitation a couple days later.

Here's what Lu stated in full about Ceoffe's announcement:

"It is disappointing that just two days after Deb Gross invited all candidates in the race for City Council to participate in open and fair forums that Tony Ceoffe has instead announced his intention to host his own staged events—erroneously calling them 'candidate forums.' Deb Gross looks forward to participating in forums hosted by community organizations, where our neighbors have the opportunity to ensure inclusion, community input, and transparency. It is our sincere hope that Tony trusts our neighbors enough not to supplant true community forums with staged campaign events."

Ceoffe is on the board of the civic group Lawrenceville United, the son of that neighborhood's district judge, and ran for the council seat against then office-holder Patrick Dowd in 2007. Gross is a community activist and consultant from Highland Park with ties to Dowd and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto.

Stay tuned here to hear if a debate is ever scheduled on real iissues in the district among them and the other candidates for the seat,  Libertarian Party candidate David Powell of Morningside, and independents Tom Fallon of Morningside and James Wudarczyk of Lawrenceville.

Meanwhile, City Paper appears to be an innocent bystander in this latest throwdown between the Ceoffe-Gross forces. Here's editor Chris Potter:

"As we've told both the Ceoffe and the Gross campaigns – and pretty much anyone else who has ever asked -- we believe in the importance of having a robust political debate. (Also, we enjoy saying the phrase 'robust political debate,' because it makes us sound important.) If candidates can come to terms on time, place and ground rules, we're happy to do what we can to facilitate that discussion."

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