Candidates vie for Council District 4 seat
City of Pittsburgh Council District 4 is the only City Council race in this year's Primary Election being contested with two Democrats vying to run against the only Republican candidate on the ballot, Cletus Cibrone-Abate.
Recently The South Pittsburgh Reporter sat down individually with the candidates in the contested Democratic Primary race. The conversations were limited to the neighborhoods that are in both The Reporter's coverage area and District 4: Carrick, Bon Air, McKinley Park and Mt. Washington.
Ashleigh Deemer and Anthony Coghill, candidates in the District 4 Democratic Primary, couldn't be more different in their backgrounds and knowledge of this side of the district.
Ms. Deemer graduated from Chatham University with a BA in Environmental Studies. She continued her education at Carnegie Mellon University where she will earn a Master of Public Management Degree from the H. John Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University.
She has worked in Councilwoman Natalia's for the past six years, the last five as chief of staff.
Mr. Coghill is a graduate of Brashear High School. After high school he went to work with a roofing contractor, leaving after eight years to start his own business. He has operated his roofing business for the past 22 years. This is his fourth time running for the office.
A decade ago, Mr. Coghill also worked for State Sen. Wayne Fontana as a part time constituent liaison.
With Carrick being the largest neighborhood on this side of District 4 much of the discussions centered on the community. Both candidates named drugs, crime and blight as the top three problems in Carrick.
Ms. Deemer noted many of the petty property crimes in the neighborhood are related to drugs. To address the crime issue, it's important to address the addiction issue and work with outside agencies.
"People are doing what they do to get a little money to get through the day," she said. "If we can actually address this addiction issue, this opioid issue, we can bring down these petty crimes that are decreasing quality of life in all of our neighborhoods, but especially Carrick."
She said unless the demand for drugs is dealt with, there will always be a market. It is important to work with other agencies in engaging people with addiction issues with treatment options.
Acknowledging that a lot of treatment options fall under county and state programs, Ms. Deemer believes the council office can be used to pull those resources together and tighten up regulations, particularly for under regulated half and three-quarter houses.
Mr. Coghill said a lack of detox services contribute to the problem and there is a need for more facilities and resources to take care of the people who are addicted to drugs.
"We were walking through Carrick," Mr. Coghill continued. "And it was like 'Animal House,' the movie, it was unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. There was people hanging out the window. People staggering up the sidewalk, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I was appalled by it; I couldn't believe it was even going on. I've seen things in Carrick I can't believe."
He would like to see more police patrolling the area and possibly a drug task force in the neighborhood.
"It took a long time for these neighborhoods to develop the kinds of problems they have: public safety, blight and it will take some time to bring it back," Ms. Deemer said. Citing her experience in the District 4 Council Office, she said she will be able to work on those problems from "Day One."
One area the candidates disagree on is the Dairy District project of Economic Development South.
Mr. Coghill says the Dairy District pavilion looks like a "big bus stop" and said the money spent on the pavilion could have been better spent on boarding up the old St. Basil School or other projects. He said in talking to the farmers and nearby residents that the relocated Farmers' Market there blocks E. Meyers Street and could be a problem for public safety vehicles.
"I think that was a colossal mistake, the $600,000 or so," Mr. Coghill said. "It's only used seasonally. It's only used three or four months a year. I don't think it's even used, I think it's more of a backdrop."
(Cost of the Dairy District pavilion was actually $340,000 and came from a variety of sources including the City of Pittsburgh, Urban Redevelopment Authority and private foundations.)
"I think that there are more pressing needs than putting money into a farmers' market that nobody wants," he added.
Ms. Deemer said there are people that want to pooh-pooh the Dairy District because it just looks like an open-air pavilion. She added that people should know that it's privately owned and not a lot of tax dollars went into the project. It has been and will be used for a variety of events to draw people into the neighborhood.
She wouldn't provide details, but said an announcement will be coming shortly from a company planning to locate into the Dairy District block. "I think people will like it."
"I think that is the kind of thing we can do to spark additional private investment in Brownsville Road and it's definitely needed," Ms. Deemer said.
Mr. Coghill's ideas for economic development in the neighborhood include surveying residents to see what kind of business they want. If residents were interested in having a bakery in the neighborhood, he would see about trying to recruit a bakery to open in the neighborhood.
He said even with the competition of big retailers any local business could be successful if it were started and operated by the right person.
"I'm not for someone coming in and drawing pretty pictures for us and telling us what it could be and getting the input, wasting people's time, getting them together, what they envision," he said. "I'm more of an action based person. Let's get the drug dealer off the streets before we can even do anything."
Ms. Deemer said to attract businesses to the three-mile stretch of Brownsville Road in Carrick to identify sections and do make those sections special in some way. The Dairy District is an example of that, taking an area and focusing on attracting dairy related businesses in a compact area.
"If you didn't focus, you could do 20 buildings along Brownsville Road and it wouldn't make a difference," she said. "If you could concentrate investment in specific areas, I would expect that to grow outward."
She said there are opportunities now for the area. For businesses just starting out, would they rather spend $3,000 a month to be in Lawrenceville or come to Carrick, put a little money into the storefront and attract people to their business for much less.