Bellevue mayor: Fodi vs Marburger

On Nov. 7, Bellevue voters will elect a new mayor, choosing between Democrat Emily Marburger and Republican Tom Fodi. Both ran as Democrats in the spring primary, with Marburger winning the Democratic nomination and Fodi picking up enough votes to take the GOP nomination.

Prior to the primary, The Citizen ran biographical information on both candidates. That article remains on our Web site, and we encourage voters to review that information. For this article, we asked the candidates to get specific about their views and plans. All responses are in the candidates' own words, and have not been edited.

What qualifies you to be mayor of Bellevue?

Fodi: The home rule charter describes the Mayor as first and foremost, the chief executive of Bellevue responsible for overseeing the general affairs of the borough, ensuring the borough's laws are enforced, preparing and managing the borough's budget, and overseeing the police department. I am qualified to be mayor because I am an experienced leader, dedicated community servant, and have a demonstrated track record of achieving the absolute best out of every facet of an organization. My professional career has been one of creating, leading and managing organizations big and small through various stages of their organizational life. Whether it be a non-profit organization, a professional business, a military unit, or a local government, I have created, led, and/or managed organizations with annual budgets ranging from $100 to $10 million. I have never shied away from holding departments, managers, supervisors, and employees accountable to the high standards expected by the organization as a whole in order to ensure a culture of excellence is maintained. I have a history of thinking outside the box to affect change and promote growth. Finally, I have made serving others, especially my community, a commitment since I was young. Having served in the military for 8 years and having deployed to support the ongoing War on Terror, I know what it takes to put the needs of others above my own. I have served on the board and as the one-time president of Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization. I have chaired and volunteered for numerous committees and service projects throughout our community. I am a current member of Bellevue Council, the Bellevue Finance Committee, and a delegate representing the borough with the Quaker Valley Council of Governments, CONNECT, and ALOM. I have never missed a meeting of Bellevue Council since my election to office in 2015 and despite not being a member of the committee, I voluntarily attend every Public Safety Committee meeting. I grew up in Bellevue. I graduated from Northgate High School. I am fully and entirely committed to Bellevue and its future.

Marburger: I bring to the role of mayor years of experience in management, with an earned reputation of moving into underperforming bank locations in low-to-moderate income areas and making them profitable. I consistently accomplished this level of success by completing the same tasks: setting achievable and measureable goals, listening to customer's needs, building a positive and respectful team and working with community organizations. These are methods I gained through my work experience and while earning my M.B.A. in management from Point Park University. I plan to bring these same tactics to Bellevue Borough, along with my desire to do what's best for the community.

From the moment I submitted my petition to run for mayor, I have been in it to do what is best for the place I've proudly called home for the past seven years. I have continued to prepare to take on this role with that goal always in mind.

If elected, are there specific issues you would like to address, and how would you go about addressing them?

Fodi: If elected, my intention is to raise the bar in Bellevue in every conceivable area. Bellevue suffers from a culture of mediocrity. Few in our community expect excellence in Bellevue which often results in Bellevue getting anything but excellence. Few of our government services are held accountable for their performance or lack thereof. Our infrastructure is suffering and goes years without repair. Citizens and businesses are frequently left feeling unappreciated, disrespected, even outright ignored. Access to government records and government procedures remains unbelievably limited. When interacting with residents the complaints I hear about Bellevue are empty store fronts, blighted or abandoned properties, concerns about public safety and crime, and high taxes. These are all symptoms of a greater disease called mediocrity.

My intention is to begin developing a culture of excellence and accountability with our local government services. Residents, businesses, and visitors to our community must be able to trust they will be heard and served professionally by those who are paid by our tax dollars. Every department from code enforcement, administrative, public works, police department, etc must be held accountable to the highest standards possible to ensure the work is being done professionally, timely, and consistently.

From there we must begin raising the bar in terms of how we market our community to the entrepreneur and investor community. Entrepreneurship is an enormous movement in our region. More people are starting businesses in our region today than they have in decades. We need a vision and a strategic plan to bring these new businesses to our business districts both on Lincoln Avenue and Ohio River Boulevard. Our business district is the lifeblood of our community and until we do everything it takes to build it up, our community will continue to struggle.

To further encourage this growth, we need to be cognizant of our investment in public safety. Our police department is struggling with low staffing and under resourcing. Bellevue must be a safe and inclusive community in which to live and do business if we are going to sustain the diverse growth we are pursuing. I intend to look to our neighbors in the North Boroughs to further pursue regional police work in order to exponentially increase our access to public safety resources, personnel, and funding.

Finally, we need to address our short-sighted budget issues. Currently the annual budget is written like an annual wish list rather than structured by a long term, visionary plan. Our tax rates are based on what we want to do that year rather than where we want to see our community in 5, 10, even 20 years. We must get ourselves out of more than $6 million in debt our predecessors stuck us with to further invest in our infrastructure and professional staff. We need to do everything in our power to make doing business and purchasing a home in Bellevue attractive to those seeking a walkable community with easy commutes in and out of Pittsburgh, that includes reducing taxes wherever possible.

Marburger: After months of speaking with residents, there are five issues that routinely come up in conversation: economic development, blighted properties, a lack of government transparency, Bellevue's youth, and the opioid epidemic. I plan to focus my attention on these issues.

One of the reasons I decided to run for mayor is to help Bellevue reach its unmet potential in our business district. Lincoln Avenue needs to be built into a thriving business district that exemplifies Bellevue's population and caters to its needs.

I have been working on how to plan this development. After speaking with so many residents about what they feel is missing, I have begun matching potential businesses (i.e. a Mexican restaurant, a performance venue, a gaming store, a brew pub, etc.) with empty storefronts. From that point, I can determine things like zoning conflicts and infrastructure setbacks, and then gather data on demographics and cost projections. The next step will be to begin marketing to potential investors.

My second issue is blighted properties. This is one of the of the top complaints I receive from people because it affects their property values, attracts pests, and creates a negative impact on the neighborhood. I was happy to see a representative from the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group present in front of Bellevue Council with resources for acquiring vacated properties through conservatorship. I had a follow-up meeting with her to discuss specific points she believes will help Bellevue and hear success stories of properties that experienced revitalization through conservatorship. Along that same thought process, I have been working with a Duquesne Law student to gather research about how other boroughs and municipalities handles negligent property owners. I believe that through a simple restructuring of the borough's code enforcement efforts, we can move toward a more thorough and consistent enforcement of code violations.

I will also encourage community engagement and organizational efforts to help residents who have grown unable to care for their properties, for a myriad of reasons, tend to their properties before they reach the point of blight.

My third issue is to creating a safe and engaging community for Bellevue's youth. This is vital to our community's future success and the general health and well-being of our youngest citizens. I plan to work with organizations like the YMCA and The Shepherd's Door to expand their current after school programs. Leaders from both those organizations tell me that a lack of space is a current hindrance to their ability to offer programs. Creating safe locations and finding meeting spaces for Bellevue youth will be high on my priority list. So many of Northgate's students need a safe place to go after they leave our schools. These spaces need mentors, activities, resources and support for these kids. Bellevue's children deserve the absolute best and I know we can figure out ways to provide them with more.

My fourth issue is to create government transparency and foster engagement between elected officials and Bellevue citizens. Bellevue first needs to make a concerted effort to update its website to be more user-friendly, have all the information a resident could need and have a better-functioning borough calendar. This site needs to contain live streams of council and committee meetings for citizens who would like to attend, but cannot. I would like to see the borough commit to being able to record these meetings with proper audio and visual. I will also see to implementing active social media accounts for the borough, to help keep Bellevue information in our residents' daily lives. Most importantly, I promise to continue to be open and honest with any resident who is interested in hearing about a topic and my opinions of it.

I will also encourage all of our elected officials to be open, accessible and honest with all of their constituents.

My fifth specific issue concerns our local opioid epidemic. I plan to continue Mayor Cusick's drug task force, which partners with the school district, police department and other local organizations to take a four-pronged approach to eradicating drugs from Bellevue. Those prongs are: Education, Prevention, Treatment, and Law Enforcement. I have seen our officers in action responding to a heroin overdose and I have heard our officers speak about their plan of attack in removing known dealers from the area. Our police department is passionate about focusing on shutting down drug deals in Bellevue, and understands the opioid epidemic affects every race, religion and economic status, and that addicts need our help.

Through continuing Mayor Cusick's task force, we can come together as a community to fight this head on. This is by no means isolated to Bellevue, and by no means is Bellevue the epicenter of the problem. We need to pull together our resources with other communities to support each other and face this issue head on.

How have you prepared yourself to be an effective mayor if elected?

Fodi: I have prepared myself to be an effective mayor by being intimately involved in nearly every facet of our community. I am thoroughly invested and experienced in the political and government sector as a result of serving on Bellevue Council the past couple years. As a member of the Finance Committee and voluntary attender of every Public Safety Committee meeting, I have a deep personal grasp of the challenges facing our next mayor. I am an active member of the non-profit, church, and volunteering community in Bellevue as a result of participating in the monthly Fellowship of Ministries meetings and leading non-profits and community service projects in our community for many years. I am personally invested and well known among the Bellevue business community as a result of launching and managing two businesses in Bellevue. I know the challenges entrepreneurs face when attempting to start up in our community. I have been an active resident of Bellevue and have personally lived in three distinct neighborhoods in Bellevue throughout my life, helping me understand the needs and perspectives of those who live throughout our community. Finally, I am a champion of Bellevue and have been for decades. I believe this town has enormous potential and I have invested deeply in doing all that I can to help Bellevue discover that potential.

Marburger: Mayor Cusick has been an invaluable resource as I've prepared myself to become the next mayor. He has shared with me the ins and outs of his experience as mayor and has listened to my ideas and answered my questions. We are working on a smooth and peaceful transition of power, should I be elected. I am proud to have earned his support and his endorsement in this general election.

Since the mayor position includes heading the police department, I've had several meetings with Chief Sentner to foster a strong and productive working relationship with the police department. So far, I've been on two ride-alongs with officers, something I plan to continue as Mayor. These ride-alongs provide me with experience, hands-on connection to daily issues in the community, and exposure to the different policing styles of the officers to help me determine effectiveness of approach. These efforts have been invaluable in helping prepare me to take on a management role.

I have dedicated an immense amount of my time to speaking with residents, to make sure I am prepared to come to the table, ready to represent their best interests. I have met with community leaders to discuss what their organizations offer the community and what holds them back from accomplishing more. I have spoken with experts in the fields of blighted properties, law, local economy and drug addiction, to name a few, to ensure that I am as knowledgeable in those topics as possible. I have networked with fellow candidates and elected officials from inside Bellevue, as well as, all over Pennsylvania to learn from their experiences.

I have read books about economic theory, political leadership and drug addiction. I have studied legal cases and opinions regarding municipal code enforcement and Air BnB. I have stayed up-to-date on current events and recent studies, as they pertain to Bellevue. I have attended council and committee meetings to make sure I am informed and ready to go on day one.

Specifically, how have you been involved in the community?

Fodi: I have been involved in nearly every facet of the community since I was young. I am a product of the Northgate School District. I am an active volunteer and former board member/president of Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization. I have led numerous community groups but most notably Liberty in Bellevue which championed transparency and accountability in local government for many years. I have worked for numerous businesses in Bellevue and have launched two of my own. I was elected to Bellevue Council in 2015 and serve on the Finance Committee. I am a representative of Bellevue to the Quaker Valley Council of Governments, CONNECT, and ALOM.

Marburger: My husband and I purchased our home in Bellevue 7 years ago. Since that time, we have been active members of the YMCA, I have been a member of Vital Glow Yoga (formerly Yoga on Fremont), and our dogs have been Bellevue Dog Woods patrons. We have benefited from being able to shop local, whether it be grabbing a pizza from Luigi's on a busy night, getting home project supplies at T & M Hardware, or grabbing a missing ingredient from Kuhns or the Farmer's Market. And, we have always been happy when we have been able to donate financially to Bellevue institutions, such as Andrew Bayne Memorial Library, Bellevue's volunteer fire department and Lutheran Service Society, to name a few.

Recently, I have become the co-troop leader of the local Girl Scout Troop, where I have been able to help pass on the invaluable lessons I learned as a Girl Scout. I was appointed to the Bellevue Dog Woods Board of Directors, and have been able to help as the organization restructures and moves forward with fresh ideas in recent months. I enjoyed participating in Improve the Vue for the first time this year. I was able to sponsor the weekly community meal at the Centre of Bellevue once over the summer, which is something I can hopefully do again in the near future.

I was excited to be able to help the Bellevue 150th Committee with the various activities they planned for the community this summer. I helped direct vendors to their street fair locations, I helped sell shirts and buttons outside the carnival, I served refreshments at the picnic, and joined the 150th Club. I've attended the borough's Memorial Day Service, served dinner at the Center of Bellevue, organized a trash pickup event, helped call bingo at Bellevue's Fourth of July Celebration, and the list goes on.

Any other statement you would like to make?

Fodi: Bellevue is a community with immense opportunity. To achieve the dream of a stronger and healthier community, we need to chase a cohesive vision and create an expectation of greatness. During the Quaker Valley Council of Governments' Annual Dinner this year, delegates from the region heard a speech offered by Donald Carter, founder of the Remaking Cities Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Carter reflected on his experience helping to lead Pittsburgh's revitalization efforts. He said repeatedly that the key to a renewed community is a bold, cohesive vision. When Pittsburgh was struggling after the steel industry left, no one believed that the city would one day become an epicenter for technology, robotics, and medicine. But as far back as the mid-1980s, that is precisely the dream a core group of city planners and leaders were chasing. It took 20-25 years to realize the fruits of that dream, but today no one can deny that the dream has been achieved and continues to develop into a vibrant, healthy metro region. Bellevue is not suffering on the scale the entire City of Pittsburgh suffered. But, we are suffering while many communities around us are thriving. To realize the vision of a stronger, brighter, healthier Bellevue, we must put the petty political squabbles aside and lead our community boldly to a brighter future. We must develop a strategic plan and stick to that plan for community growth and development. We must raise the bar in all areas of our community and expect greatness in Bellevue for all our residents and businesses.

Marburger: I genuinely want to thank everyone who has made my experience of running for mayor so fulfilling. Whether you answered your door when I knocked, attended one of my campaign events, took the time to reach out to me, or simply gave me a nod on the primary election day, you have kept me burning the midnight oil.

I promise to remain positive and engaged. I will continue listening to your thoughts and concerns about the borough. I will always pour my heart and mind into this borough. I will continue to bring attention to Bellevue--and showcase its appeal within the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

My vision for Bellevue is a diverse and prosperous community, having regular block parties and a flourishing business district with new restaurants and specialty stores. I want to see our children and their families flourishing. I envision a community where we take care of one another, a community filled with friendships, happiness, and positivity. Where we come together and work hard to solve problems. I'd appreciate your vote on November 7th to help make this vision a reality. I will be honored to serve as your next mayor.