By Juliet Martinez
The District 5 City Council seat is up for grabs after a special election filled the seat in November. Councilperson Barb Warwick took office in December, but now she and two others are back in the race to win the Democratic nomination on May 16. These are the candidates.
The Greenfield resident moved home to Pittsburgh from Washington, DC, after the Tree of Life shooting in 2018.
“I just decided, I want to go home. I want to help,” she said last month. In 2020 she became a CORO fellow, a program for aspiring public servants.
“That’s when I really decided that my passion and resourcefulness and various cultural identities would be really good for the District 5 seat,” she said.
Next she consulted for Councilperson Erika Strassberger and started a master's program in public policy. In graduate school she has focused on local issues like racial and economic segregation.
Ms. Brillman said the way cities make infrastructure decisions can either create or bridge racial and economic divides.
“Even things that seem non-moral, like infrastructure, like where we’re building bridges, where we’re building highways; I think that is policy that promotes integration, promotes interaction and makes people feel less disenfranchised from the process,” she said.
Policies promoting interaction can help address and prevent bias like what drove incidences of antisemitic harassment in Greenfield in January, Ms. Brillman said, but small changes like good lighting around synagogues make them feel safer at night.
“A lot of [the problem] is infrastructural concerns that make people feel like they can yell at Jews because nobody’s going to do anything about it,” she said, adding that community leaders can and should condemn this behavior.
She also wants tighter gun laws. Last May, the Commonwealth Court upheld a lower court’s ruling against a gun control ordinance City Council passed after Tree of Life. But Ms. Brillman said she hopes the new state government will change that.
But some things should be preserved. Hazelwood's housing stock is over 100 years old on average; steep hillsides and the cost of new construction make preserving old housing and keeping it affordable vital. She praised Hazelwood Initiative, (publisher of The Homepage) for buying and rehabbing old homes in the neighborhood to sell at affordable prices to low-income buyers.
“Homeownership will make it so that any economic development that happens in the business district that might raise rents, people will be protected," she said, adding that she would also represent the community’s interests as Hazelwood Green develops to keep foundations from deciding how the neighborhood will grow.
Her connections to the LGBTQ community (Ms. Brillman identifies as queer) and friendships with Black, Jewish and vegan business owners distinguish her from candidates who, in her words, spend a lot of time attending board meetings.
“Just because somebody has a fancy title doesn’t mean that they know what’s better for the community,” she said.
Learn more at litabrillman.com.
Last fall, Matt Mahoney campaigned for the District 5 city council special election as an independent after losing the Democratic nomination to Barb Warwick. He spent his campaign riding a second-hand Italian touring bike through the district to collect signatures and talk to residents.
This spring, the Army veteran and Greenfield resident is seeking the Democratic nomination. He has a website, a committee, headshots and a campaign advisor (his brother-in-law), but he is still all about listening to residents.
“That should be the philosophy of local government, in my mind, to continuously be in conversation and discourse,” Mr. Mahoney said. “Community engagement is a primary philosophy of my campaign and my person.”
Engagement is his answer to harassment and hate as well, such as the verbal assaults on members of B'nai Emunah Chabad of Greenfield.
“We need to engage the Jewish community in what they would like to see because they are more on the ground level and receiving these threats more directly,” he said, adding that as a councilperson he would make sure constituents know harassment may lead to criminal charges.
“These incidents of antisemitic violence should be called out,” he said, pointing out that the spray-painted vandalism of a stone monument at St. Rosalia Church last month is also a kind of violence. But he lauded the symbolism of the Yeshiva School buying the former home of St. Rosalia Academy in 2021. (The Yeshiva School is renovating the building and has not yet begun holding classes there.)
“That’s the focus, that we do coexist, and we are going to continue to coexist,” Mr. Mahoney said. “We will work together for the betterment of our families.”
A clean energy advocate, Mr. Mahoney has extensive knowledge of funding resources for environmental inequalities based on District 5’s status as an environmental justice area. He listed federal grants from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.
“Railroads through communities is environmental injustice,” he said. “Big bridges through communities is environmental injustice. Landslides that are caused by lack of maintenance is environmental injustice.”
One environmental and social justice issue he wants to reimagine is public transit. He said he wants to push for more electric vehicles and a transit system built around the needs of transit users rather than spending money to run gas-powered buses empty or mostly empty. A model like Uber or Access could be expanded to residents like single mothers, senior citizens and students.
“I would love to see more modular transportation that accommodates people more specifically,” he said. “Instead of us having to adhere to the [Pittsburgh Regional Transit’s] half-hour to one-hour schedule.”
Mr. Mahoney said he sees local government directing funds and resources from the state and local levels that can help communities address environmental, social and racial injustices. He sees himself as councilperson pitching programs that could benefit the city and building support from the mayor and other council members.
“You have to bring that passion and knowledge about these programs to the table,” he said. “So that they understand the importance, not only to me. It’s to better our community.”
Learn more at votemattmahoney.com.
Community advocate, working mother, Four Mile Run resident and current District 5 councilperson Barb Warwick won the special election for the District 5 City Council seat last November. She is now seeking the Democratic nomination for a full four-year term.
She decided to run for the seat last year when the previous councilperson, Corey O’Connor, was moving to the Allegheny County controller position.
“I talked with my neighbors and some folks in Hazelwood,” Councilperson Warwick said. They decided together that given the development at Hazelwood Green, the new councilperson should be “someone from our communities that was doing work in our community, who had their ear to the ground to what was going on and what people needed.”
She took office on December 12. Since then, she said she and her team have channeled funds into district needs like updates to the Burgwin Rec Center on Johnston Avenue and a new playground in Lincoln Place. She has built a team she values and attended community meetings throughout the district.
She campaigned last fall on being responsive to her constituents.
“If you contact us, whether you email us, call or whatever, someone is going to get back to you within two to three business days,” she said.
In January, after learning about antisemitic incidents in Greenfield, she responded quickly by meeting with Chabad of Greenfield leadership, issuing a statement of condemnation and contacting the Department of Public Safety to ask for more patrols around the synagogue.
Longer term, she said investing in neighborhoods and keeping them bustling helps make them safer for everyone. A dimly-lit street with several empty storefronts can seem like a place where no one will say or do anything against harassment.
“Whether that's lighting or planting trees, or just making the neighborhood feel more welcoming,” she said, “I think doing those things can help deter those who might think that [harassing someone is] OK.”
A longtime area of advocacy for the councilperson is transit. Even though Pittsburgh Regional Transit is a county agency, Councilperson Warwick said Pittsburgh City Council can lean on the transit authority to establish schedules that drivers can manage so riders can depend on the bus arriving on time.
“It's an investment,” she said. “It takes money and political will. It just takes saying, ‘We are going to build this system so that it works and so that you can use it.’”
Councilperson Warwick enthused that serving on City Council is "hands down, the best experience of [her] life."
She said she aims to win and serve a full term but is also focused on the task at hand with a team she said she values highly.
“No matter what happens in May, you have got us 100% for 2023,” she said, “And we hope very much that people will decide that that's what they want more of for the for the next four years.”
Learn more at barbforpgh.com.
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.