An Interview with Mayor Marita Garrett


Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

Earlier this month, Wilkinsburg’s Marita Garrett completed her first year in office as mayor of the borough. As Wilkinsburg begins to revitalize itself, take the chance to learn more about her work and Wilkinsburg today from an interview we did with Mayor Garrett this summer.

Daevan Mangalmurti: As Wilkinsburg works to revitalize itself, what do you see as the most important factors affecting the future of the community, whether positive or negative?

Marita Garrett: The most important factors affecting the community are our perception issues and making sure that as we revitalize, we are a healthy and thriving community for all.

DM: One person I spoke to recently said they thought of Wilkinsburg as being, “economically blighted, often unsafe, high potential.” How would you respond to each of those ideas?

MG: I would respond that they haven’t been to Wilkinsburg lately, or at least a community event recently. As recently covered in a WPXI news story, the Borough has demolished over 100 blighted properties within the past 18 months with many more scheduled for demolition. Also, our crime has significantly been on the decline over the past 10 years.

DM: To tie in to that, Wilkinsburg has seen a steady decline in crime for several years, but negative perceptions of it remain. What do you see as the best method of changing those preconceptions?

MG: One of the reasons I ran for Mayor was to use this platform to spread the positive and good news about what is happening in Wilkinsburg. The more I can highlight the positive and use my position to make sure Wilkinsburg is well represented then you see those perceptions change, because people now are interested in visiting Wilkinsburg.

DM: Wilkinsburg is home to plenty of small businesses, especially along Penn Avenue. What is your administration doing to support those businesses and potential entrepreneurs in the neighborhood?

MG: We work with the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation and Greater Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce to empower business through educational resources, programming, and connecting them to funding opportunities to ensure their sustainability.

DM: Like East Liberty and Larimer, Wilkinsburg is a working class, mostly African-American community. As those communities gentrify, is Wilkinsburg studying them?

MG: Absolutely. It’s a learning lesson of what not to do. Hence, why I’ve coordinated many initiatives to promote community and civic engagement among residents to make sure they are actively engaged and know the power in their voices.

DM: Wilkinsburg began sending its middle and high school students to Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 as of last school year. In your personal opinion, does secondary education have a future in Wilkinsburg proper?

MG: To clarify, Wilkinsburg School District is in partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools, so that our Grade 6-12 students can also attend magnet programs/schools, not all students go to Westinghouse. Through this partnership, the School Board provided opportunities for our students that they could no longer do. If you’re asking if Wilkinsburg will ever get a high school again, I can’t say. But we did what was best for the students right now.

DM: You were only sworn in as mayor this January. What has been your proudest moment so far, and what is your central goal for the rest of your term?

MG: I was sworn in as Mayor in January this year, but served on Council for 4 years prior to 2018. I can’t say I have one specific proud moment, but that every day I’m grateful that the residents of Wilkinsburg voted, elected, and trusted in me to be their Mayor.

Goals will continue to change over the course of time, but currently one of my main goals is to change the perception of Wilkinsburg. In addition to what I stated previously, working with our public safety departments to ensure safety within Wilkinsburg to keep us on the decline of crime we’ve experienced.

DM: In addition to your duties as mayor, you are also one of the hosts of the Shattered Glass podcast. What inspired you to help create that project?

MG: The outcome of the November 2016 Presidential Election. We want to highlight other extraordinary women who are shattering the glass ceilings in their field. Although, we didn’t get the first female President elected in 2016, we will in the near future and they are amazing women running things right now!