By Juliet Martinez
The special election for the District 5 city council seat is November 8. Two candidates are running without the support of a major party. Matt Mahoney of Greenfield is running as an independent, and Robert McCune of Hazelwood filed his party affiliation as “Rob for Council” because only one candidate can file as an independent.
I spoke with both candidates about their decisions to run, their campaign strategies and where they stand on some of the big issues.
Matt Mahoney: “Balanced leadership”
If you have been at the park or on your porch, you may have met Matt Mahoney, who is biking around the district without yard signs, talking to voters about his run as an independent.
The Greenfield resident has worked in the renewable energy sector since 2013, currently as director of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Solar Center and Sustainable Pittsburgh. When we spoke in October, he said running for office comes from the desire to be of service that has motivated his career choices so far.
“This seems like a natural step,” he said. “I’ve worked in some of the most difficult situations: homeless, unemployed folks; kids, youth who are having difficult times finding jobs. And then I’ve worked in very complex, difficult, technical, policy-oriented spaces.”
Mr. Mahoney said he has developed the ability to bring parties with different viewpoints to the table and move difficult conversations forward.
“I think folks are looking for balanced leadership, not polarized politicians,” he said. “Not shaming and blaming, no mud throwing, especially at the local politics level. Local government shouldn’t be that way. We need to meet people exactly where they are, and that’s why I’m running the campaign like I am. This is not a state-level campaign, this is my neighbors next door and down the street.”
He said his transportation up and down the hills of District 5 is an old Italian racing bike his dad pulled out of the trash. It could be seen as a metaphor for the job of city councilperson.
“It’s not a real glorious job,” he said. “It’s a tough, down and dirty job, if you ask me.”
Mr. Mahoney emailed me his stances on some of the pressing issues of this campaign. His answers have been lightly trimmed.
Housing: As councilperson, I will ensure we listen before we develop, and we will leverage every single incentive program available and maximize the use of the Inflation Reduction Act and Pennsylvania's Whole Home Weatherization programs. Our neighbors deserve it.
Public transportation: District 5 is poised to define what it means to have safe, affordable, accessible, clean urban residential transportation. We need a collectively developed plan that recognizes the need for innovative transportation options supporting disadvantaged neighbors, seniors, families, working professionals, and everyone!
Commercial development: When narrow interests have the potential to overpower our disadvantaged, overburdened and under-resourced neighbors, we must work stronger, smarter and harder to ensure corporate social responsibility and build stronger connections. We need to explore in good faith and implore our large and small neighbors to work better together.
Traffic calming: All our neighborhoods deserve equitable access to resources, especially measures that secure community safety. I believe if we work harder and smarter together, we will find solutions that protect everyone, including our bicycle riders, walkers, runners, dog walkers, family strollers, bus riders, drivers and everyone else that shares public roads.
Robert McCune: “If you build it, they will come.”
Robert McCune wants to reinvigorate Hazelwood. He told me he remembers when Second Avenue was vibrant and thriving.
“When I came back, I said this is nothing like the Hazelwood that I once knew,” he said when we spoke in October.
Mr. McCune moved to Hazelwood from East Liberty two years ago. He started putting on cookouts for his neighbors at Hazelwood Towers and then at the Burgwin Spray Park, supplying all the food and doing all the cooking. He said these neighbors encouraged him to run for office.
“This community needs it, it needs uplifting,” he said.
Mr. McCune had a 10-year military career that ended in 1995. After retiring from the Army, he took community college classes, but left school to become a cook and support his family. Now retired, he works part time at the Rite Aid in Squirrel Hill.
"There is a cloud of disparity over the community,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m going to do my part to get the community together.’”
His campaign strategy consists mainly of talking with small groups of neighbors and putting up flyers on bus shelters and telephone poles.
Mr. McCune blames partisan divisions for what he sees as government’s inability to solve serious problems, saying people accept that this is normal but it should not be.
“They’re feuding back and forth, and in reality ‘we the people’ are the victims. We’re being victimized. There comes a time when the people have to step in and say ‘no more.’ Democrats are fighting with Republicans and nothing gets solved.”
He said people should vote for him because of his perspective as a person who has experienced poverty.
“I’m a regular person,” he said. “My family’s poor. I know just what the people want and what they need. And what they need is community people to step up and get involved.”
These are his stances on what he sees as important issues in this race:
Economic revitalization: Second Avenue needs a grocery store and more restaurants; the neighborhood needs more affordable housing, he said, adding his motto, “I believe that if you build it, they will come. Affordable housing, that’s a start toward rebuilding a community.”
Law enforcement: Mr. McCune wants to improve relations between law enforcement, first responders and the community, by showing the community’s appreciation for what they do. “You give them respect they give you respect,” he said. “You have to build a relationship with them.”
Transportation and infrastructure: Broken crosswalk buttons and the hazards of crossing Second Avenue, especially for older pedestrians, are a top concern for Mr. McCune. “How can these seniors go to and fro?” he asked. “The seniors are being neglected.”
Traffic calming: Mr. McCune said cars speed on Tecumseh, where he lives. He said the painted rumble strips are not enough to make motorists slow down, so speed humps are needed.