Monday, April 23, 2007

Interview: DaMon Macklin

DaMon Macklin is desperate not to be pigeon-holed as the African-American candidate for Controller. It is true one of his central campaign planks is to "demystify" the bidding process for city contracts, and to be far more pro-active in encouraging qualified minority-owned businesses.

But it seems more accurate to pigeon-hole Macklin as the youth candidate.

He received a Bachelor's in Finance from Slippery Rock University in 2005. He got a job as a loan officer for the North Side Community Development Fund, but after a time, he got laid off.

He applied to many companies, and got called back to second and third interviews -- but never crossed the finish line. He tried opening his own company, but Pittsburghers thus far have been resistant to trust the new kid on the block.

"This is an old city, pretty much run by an old guard." he says. "People tell me, go to another city, you have these credentials, you're feisty!"

"We have some of the brightest minds in this city, with all the colleges and universities," Macklin laments, "but when you graduate, it's like, Happy Trails!"

Stubbornly refusing to abandon the city that he still loves, he decided to channel his emotion into politics.

He admits that on the campaign trail, people are leery of voting for someone they see as running for a job. But he's hard on "lifetime politicians" who aren't performing -- let alone political dynasties. "You're telling me your family is the only one that knows how to think?"

"Look around the city, you see blight, despair, no hope. I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on."

"If you look at the qualifications of the people who are in office..." Macklin frequently reminds audiences of his finance degree. "You talk about experience -- but we're moving backward."

Macklin sees doesn't see public office-holding as a career. He thinks people should be popping in and out of the private sector more frequently. "I want to do a service, lay a foundation, and pass it on."

"I want to help Ravenstahl -- if he fails, that's a hindrance on me."


Macklin plainly states that "small businesses are getting murdered." That's the focus of his reform measures, in terms of seeking out and awarding city contracts -- he wants to cater to smaller businesses, minority-owned or otherwise.

"We invest heavily into structures," Macklin asserts, by which he means buildings of all kinds. "What I want to do is invest into people." He wants to have a person in the Controller's Office that specifically deals with community issues.

On fiscal policy, Macklin is a pragmatist. He says the biggest problem we face as a city is a declining tax base, and so would recommend lowering some taxes and offering phased tax-incentives to attract big business.

At the same time, with the budget crunch we face, Macklin says we need to utilize the tax base we do have to generate more revenue. "Take a look at the occupation tax -- it should be on a graded scale."

He also recommends a commuter tax, and cites Philadelphia as an encouraging example.

Macklin is also a big one for government transparency. "No one likes an auditor -- but every city council person needs to open their books." He also wants to watch closely that the city gets its fair share of revenues from the new casino.


Despite his veiled threat to skip town if the May primary doesn't work out his way -- remember, every time a young professional leaves Pittsburgh, an angel dies -- Comet readers should be pleased to hear that Damon Macklin scored a local job in his field. He acknowledges his underdog status in this race.

"I put myself into the fire," he explains. "I wanted to learn, and to experience. Pittsburgh does sort of have a mentoring problem," which he looks forward to addressing, either way.

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