City Council members discuss politics over pancakes at Pitt

By Gretchen Andersen

City Council member Doug Shields is calling for all Pitt students to get involved in local… City Council member Doug Shields is calling for all Pitt students to get involved in local politics.

“You are the catalyst,” he told an audience of more than 60 people gathered in the Lower Lounge of the William Pitt Union yesterday morning.

His remarks were part of Pancakes and Politics, an event that included breakfast and banter between City Council members and Pitt students. The event, hosted by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Student Government Board, also included Council members Patrick Dowd, who represents District 7 and is a Pitt alumnus, Natalia Rudiak, who represents District 4 and Shields, who represents District 5.

Daniel Jimenez, president of GPSA, organized the event. Jimenez hoped that “by bringing politicians onto our campus, our world, students and politicians would be better informed.”

This is the third Pancakes and Politics event at Pitt. Congressmen Mike Doyle and Joe Sestak spoke as part of the series in the fall, discussing hot topics such as health care and foreign policy.

Jimenez decided to organize another Pancakes and Politics event because of the solid turnout in the fall and the recent tuition tax, which closely affects students. However, this time Jimenez arranged for seven Council members to partake in a Q&A session. Council members Theresa Kail-Smith, Bruce Kraus, R. Daniel Lavelle and Bill Peduto were also slated to come. Most said they could not make it because they were tending to weather-related or personal issues.

Jimenez spent three months planning the event, for which the Lower Lounge of the Union transformed into a breakfast buffet, with catered food from Sodexo and hotcakes from Pamela’s Diner. City Council members walked around and introduced themselves to students during the breakfast.

Gwen Watkins, president of the Pitt’s Staff Association of Council — which serves as a liaison between University staff and administrators — attended the event. She said she hoped it taught both students and Council members how each other work. Addressing the tuition tax, Watkins said, “We recognize the city has a need, but don’t lay it on the students … students have enough to deal with.”

During the Q&A session City Council members answered students questions’ regarding how oil dependency would affect Pittsburgh in the future.

Dowd said he hopes to make the city more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

“An investment today certainly helps down the road,” he said.

Rudiak said living in the city is “very sustainable.” Shields said Pittsburgh has an advantage compared to other cities in regard to being less dependent on oil.

The Council members often shared personal stories and jokes, causing the audience to laugh. They also discussed the students’ connection to Pittsburgh’s finances, mentioning the ill-fated tuition tax.

“This is a city that draws people. You are a part of that Pittsburgh family. A tax is one idea, a short-sighted, short-term idea,” Dowd said.

Shields said politics can be difficult, that legislators must make tough decisions between what different groups want. Furthermore, Shields said how he appreciates when people step up to the table and present ideas.

“We’re your local politicians. You should think about your future here as a citizen,” Shields said, speaking to the audience.

Patrick Dowd addressed how CONNECT — a group of representatives from Pittsburgh and neighboring municipalities — are trying to work on “large” Pittsburgh city issues such as infrastructure, transportation, water and sewer, without forgetting “more simpler issues — such as plowing through boundaries.”

Dongliang Yang, a graduate student who has been living in the United States for a year and a half, attended the event.

“I come from China, and I have an interest in politics. I came to see how the students interact with City Council members,” Yang said.