For Erika Strassburger, an independent Democratic candidate for District 8, her decision to run is directly tied to the current federal government — she said she saw democracy at risk when President Donald Trump was elected.
“I also vowed to myself if I got the opportunity, which I thought would be years from now, if anytime, that I would run office and I would take it,” Strassburger said. “When the opportunity came in December, I had to keep that promise to myself.”
About 40 or 50 people gathered in the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh Sunday morning to listen to Strassburger and the three other candidates running for the District 8 City Council seat make their case for why they should be elected. The winner — either independent Democrat Marty Healey, Democratic nominee Sonja Finn, Republican nominee Rennick Remley or Strassburger — will be decided in a March 6 election.
Each candidate shared with the crowd what they would focus on if elected. Finn said she wants to examine the City budget, Remley is concerned with accountability and paying attention to new ideas, Strassburger stressed that listening to minority voices is key and Healey wants to unite people from different backgrounds. All four candidates agreed to focus on hearing the public’s voice.
Finn expanded on making the budget reflect the people’s values, which she said includes putting money in infrastructure and affordable housing instead of giving it to developers.
“This is what I’m worried is not happening in Pittsburgh, and I want to make sure that the money our City has to spend, the public funds, are only used for things that promote the public good,” Finn said.
Remley said he’ll bring a new perspective to City Council because of his more conservative ideology, which he said sets him apart from the others. According to him, there hasn’t been a Republican in Pittsburgh office since the 1930s.
“I speak Republican. I can work with Harrisburg. I can work with the leadership, which is something that hasn’t been done in a very long time. There’s a lot of money that comes out of Harrisburg, and we certainly don’t get our fair share,” Remley said.
After Remley, Strassburger returned to the idea of assuring the people that everyone will have a voice. She said this includes vulnerable populations, such as racial and LGBTQ+ minorities.
“How are we going to make sure the City is equitable for everybody unless we figure out ways to make sure people have their voices heard?” Strassburger asked.
Healey said he would focus on uniting different groups in the district to push for change.
“I’m not always the smartest guy in the room — in fact, most of the time, I’m not. I think my strength is the ability to bring other folks in the room for certain, specific issues — actually, most issues — and we can come in and we can work together for the right solution,” Healey said.
After the candidates spoke, the audience had the opportunity to ask their own questions. Michael Lotze, 65, from Shadyside, asked the candidates about the the new Immune Transplant and Therapy Center that Pitt and UPMC recently announced would be built in Bloomfield. All the candidates supported it, but Strassburger also addressed what she saw specifically as positives, such as raising the wage for those workers to $15, and possible negatives, such as increased traffic and need for parking that would need increasing public voice in the decision.
“It is a good thing, ultimately, but everything has unexpected consequence,” Strassburger said. “We have to make sure that people truly understand what it’s going to look like there.”
Finn said the only downside about it was that it didn’t occur 10 years ago and that she’s “very excited.”
“All the funds should be going towards [immunotherapy]. I support anything with that because it is amazing for people how they don’t have to go through chemotherapy, they don’t have to go through radiation. They can heal from cancer, it’s unbelievable,” Finn said.
Melody Platz, a Shadyside resident, said she is deciding between Finn and Strassburger. If she had to, though, she said she would choose Finn for her leadership qualities.
“I was looking to see how she would answer questions and, especially towards the end when she had a chance to answer questions, she was taking questions first,” Platz, 43, said.