By Juliet Martinez
Four candidates vie for the District 5 council seat vacated in July when Corey O’Connor became Allegheny County Controller. Barb Warwick, a community organizer from Four Mile Run announced her campaign in late May (see page 20 for Ms. Warwick's answers to reader questions). Former District 5 Councilman Doug Shields of Squirrel Hill launched his campaign in July but bowed out of the Democratic primary in August. Whether he will run as an independent or Republican remains to be seen. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Four more candidates entered the race for the Democratic nomination in August, but one, Bob Cunningham of Greenfield dropped out, saying the field was too crowded. The special election to fill the seat will be held on the day of the general election, Tuesday, November 8.
But the first hurdle is the Democratic nomination vote on September 15. These are the contest’s newcomers:
Kristi Heidel: “Represent the needs of community members.”
Kristi Heidel was a drug and alcohol counselor before realizing she wanted to make a bigger difference. She went to law school and then spent several years with the city Office of Municipal Investigations, sitting on the police and citywide domestic violence review boards.
She told me on a recent call she has wanted to run for political office for years. She first got involved in the Greenfield Community Association, serving as president for several years. She worked on building the organization, getting to know people in the community and learning how to get things done based on what the community needs.
“We need a leader that will work with the community and stakeholders instead of against... them to get things done,” she said. “Your job as a council person is to represent the needs of your community members,” she said. “And I feel like I can do that very well.”
Ms. Heidel said she cares deeply about the work she did on the domestic violence review boards. Combined with her legal and social work backgrounds, the experiences also focused her on issues of public safety and policing.
“There's a big divide between police and the community, and I would like to... try to repair that,” she said, noting the Pittsburgh Health, Safety and Violence Prevention Initiative launched in 2021 is a good start. The program dispatches social workers to answer some emergency calls, which Ms. Heidel said better serves community mental health needs.
J. Mac McCafferty of Swisshelm Park: “Fix what can be fixed.”
J. Mac McCafferty is a former history teacher, former bouncer at Froggy’s, and soon-to-be former bar owner. He said on a recent call he is selling his bar in Carrick, Hooples, for reasons that connect with his decision to seek public office. He tried to buy the lot next door, but the bureaucracy proved impenetrable.
“The process is so difficult, and I’m betting this isn't unique,” he said. “It shouldn’t be this hard trying to get tax delinquent properties back on the tax rolls.”
Mr. McCafferty has been the chairman of the Saint Patrick’s Day parade for seven years. He said he has focused on making decision-making and finances more transparent.
Through his work on the parade, he has gotten to know people in city government. Nobody’s perfect, he said, “But the city does a lot of things well. People are ready to bash them for things they don’t do well but that’s anywhere. They’re trying to fix what can be fixed.”
He said his organizational skills and experience working with both kids and adults are two reasons he would be a good councilperson, along with his love of Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh has a lot of small-town qualities with big-city amenities,” he said. “We have some problems, but city council fixes things that can be fixed.”
Reverend Michael Murray of Hazelwood: “Success through partnership”
Rev. Michael Murray is pastor of McKees Rock’s Second Baptist Church, chair of the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative, and longtime 15th Ward Democratic Committee person. He said on a recent call that although past mayors Ravenstahl, Murphy and O’Connor encouraged him to seek public office, it is finally time to do it.
“This is the best time I've been inspired to do so,” he said.
His other motivation is the revitalization happening in Hazelwood. But Rev. Murray, who retired after 39 years working outdoors for Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, said talking to people across the district taught him people want a lot of the same things.
“I’ve talked to people and listened to their complaints,” he said. “People want better paved streets, better sidewalks. Snow removal. Blighted homes and buildings torn down. Lots cleaned up,” he said. He added that people need safer communities, business opportunities and youth job opportunities. “And they need their fair share of the revenue.”
The Democratic committee people in District 5 will nominate one of the candidates Thursday, September 15, at the Firefighters Union, 120 Flowers Avenue in Hazelwood.
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.