District 8 Council Races Nears the End


The candidates for District 8

Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

Voters in one of Pittsburgh’s most liberal districts will cast their votes tomorrow, March 6th, in a special election that will have significant consequences for the city. City Council District 8, which covers all of Shadyside and parts of Point Breeze, Oakland and Squirrel Hill, was represented by Dan Gilman from January 2014 until January 3, 2018, when he resigned to serve as chief of staff to Mayor Peduto. Mr. Gilman was previously chief of staff to Mayor Peduto when Mayor Peduto himself represented District 8 on City Council.

The four candidates in this special election are Democrats Sonja Finn, Marty Healey, and Erika Strassburger, along with Republican Rennick Remley. Ms. Finn and Ms. Strassburger are widely seen as frontrunners in the race; Mr. Healey failed to garner any votes from the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, while the deep-blue history of District 8 renders Mr. Remley’s chances extremely low.

Ms. Finn is the chef-owner of Dinette in East Liberty. She succeeded in winning the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s endorsement over Ms. Strassburger, 27-20, which was a bit of a surprise at the time. Ms. Finn has billed herself as a “proven progressive leader,” and her platform focuses on transparency, the PWSA, education, urban planning, and quality of life for all residents. Ms. Finn graduated from Allderdice, left the city for several years, and returned to found Dinette in 2008. Dinette’s opening marked the beginning, in many ways, of the serious renewal of East Liberty as food hub and a bustling neighborhood, though it also brought concerns over gentrification to the fore. Ms. Finn has discussed preventing displacement in the city in during her campaign. Ms. Finn has been endorsed by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Local 66 Operating Engineers, Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, County Controller Chelsea Wagner, and former Mayor Tom Murphy. Ms. Finn has raised $31,000 to finance her campaign since January.

Ms. Strassburger was Mr. Gilman’s former chief of staff and is well known within District 8 for her work with Mr. Gilman. Ms. Strassburger is currently running as an independent after losing the Democratic endorsement to Ms. Finn. Ms. Strassburger’s campaign website focuses on education, clean water, sustainable growth, safe streets, and getting things done for voters. Ms. Strassburger also has a reputation as a tenacious environmental activist. She spent 9 years working on the improvement of clean air and water standards, and has used her activist past to refute accusations that she is too cozy with prominent Democratic leaders. Ms. Strassburger is originally from San Francisco, but now lives in Squirrel Hill, where she identifies herself as a leader in the community. Ms. Strassburger has been endorsed by Penn Environment, Clean Water Action, the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce, the SEIU, Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1, the Fraternal Order of Professional Paramedics Local 1, Sheet Metal Workers Local 12, Iron Workers Local Union No. 3, the Laborers’ District Council of Western Pennsylvania, Mayor Bill Peduto, Dan Gilman, County Exec. Rich Fitzgerald, Council President Bruce Kraus, Councilwoman Theresa Kail Smith, Councilwoman Deb Gross, Councilman Corey O’Connor, State Rep. Dan Frankel, and School Board Director Lynda Wrenn. Ms. Strassburger has $143,000 in her war chest.

Of the other two candidates, Mr. Healey is a Shadyside businessman and LGBTQ+ activist who has been recommended by the Steel City Stonewall Democrats. His platform focuses on inclusion, community priorities, and social justice, He has said that he is depending on proxy conflicts between pro- and anti-Peduto Democrats for a path to winning the election. Mr. Healey has raised $13,000 for his campaign.

Mr. Remley is a moderate Republican who works for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and has criticized the Democratic administration of the city for failing to maintain water and transportation infrastructure. He has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh. Mr. Remley was nearly unable to run when two District 8 constituents claimed he had not been resident in the district for long enough to campaign for the city council seat. If Mr. Remley is elected, he will be the only Republican on City Council.

As time ticks down for tomorrow’s election, candidates -especially Ms. Strassburger and Ms. Finn- have redoubled their last minute attempts to solicit votes from constituents. Ms. Finn and PPS Solicitor Ira Weiss have made calls to households in the district for Ms. Finn’s campaign, with Mayor Peduto doing the same for Ms. Strassburger. A victory for Ms. Strassburger would serve in many ways as a stamp of approval for Mr. Peduto’s administration. If either Ms. Strassburger or Ms. Finn are elected, it will be the first time that a woman has represented District 8. Low voter turnout is predicted, so if you live in District 8 and are registered to vote, make sure you head to the polls as soon as you have the chance. Stay with us here at the Eagle as we continue to report on tomorrow’s results and what they mean for the city.