Pitt student seeks write-in votes for mayoral election

By Abbey Reighard / Staff Writer

One Pitt student has combined traditional campaign rhetoric with a YouTube video and millennial vernacular to ask Pittsburghers for write-in votes.

“Four one two, I stand with you,” Scott Sauter says in his video as he stands in front of a map of Pennsylvania.

Sauter, a senior history major at Pitt with plans to eventually attend law school, is an independent write-in candidate running for mayor of Pittsburgh. According to Sauter, he decided to run to represent the college students and service industry workers of the Pittsburgh area, who he said are underrepresented by current politicians. 

“This town has so many students and yet so few policies that directly benefit us,” Sauter said in an email. “It has a rich history of proud, dedicated service industry employees, and yet we are all too often seemingly forgotten by our elected officials.”

In what’s largely considered a sure victory for Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto, a current District 8 councilman, Pittsburghers will choose its next mayor Tuesday. Josh Wander, a former state constable and security adviser who currently resides in Israel, is Peduto’s opponent in the election. 

Sauter said that while the “odds are stacked against” him, he and his campaign have the potential to inspire other young people to take part in political elections.

His campaign posters boast that he is running on a “$0 campaign budget.”

“I hope this campaign has in some small way allowed people to realize that our generation does have a voice, we just need to use it,” Sauter said.

Sauter said that if he becomes the next mayor of Pittsburgh, one of his first priorities will be to implement a legal policy exempting all college students who qualify for financial aid from paying city taxes regardless of whether or not the students’ parents still claim them as dependents.

Sauter said that although many students come from middle-class families, it is unusual to find a student whose parents pay for their schooling.

“This hard fact forces myself and many, many fellow students of mine to take out loans with grotesquely high interest rates, work while in school to pay rent, live below the poverty line and yet somehow still have our income taxed at nearly 20 percent,” Sauter said.

Sauter plans to work with the Pittsburgh Department of Finance, the Pittsburgh City Council and University Financial Officials to ensure that all Pitt students who qualify for financial aid receive tax exemptions. He said the exemption would benefit the Pittsburgh economy as well because students would have more money to spend on local businesses.

Additionally, Sauter said he would use his position as mayor to address the lack of grocery stores in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods, which he called “food deserts.”

He described a food desert as a neighborhood without an accessible grocery store within a two-mile radius.

Sauter said he wants to see more urban gardening, which he believes would increase the availability of healthy food in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. He also said this would boost local food production and reward systems for responsible grocers.

Although he may not have as much political experience as some of his opponents, Sauter said he has always “sought the advice of those older and wiser than [himself] when making tough decisions.”

If he loses his election for mayor, Sauter still intends to pursue a career in politics after he graduates from law school.

His campaign team includes Jack Thompson and John Bailey, both speech coaches; Ashley Groth, his political mentor; and Sammy T, or Sam Teele, hip-hop artist and Pitt junior economic major with a minor in Italian.

The campaign team operates without funding and instead has promoted the campaign with several rallies in the Oakland area and through social media, including Twitter and YouTube, to reach potential voters.

Michael Goodhart, a political science professor at Pitt, said that while candidates can “mobilize” voters through social media, the shift in campaign methods isn’t really transforming the election process. 

According to Goodhart, social media such as Twitter and YouTube will increase voter turnout only slightly, so by themselves they won’t change the political process.

“Money is still incredibly important as a way to build an organization, get [the message] out and to mobilize one’s voters,” Goodhart said. .

Josh Wander, a former state constable who is running for mayor as a Republican candidate, said he has visited his opponent’s Twitter page. He said he thinks it’s wonderful that a college student has taken the initiative to become involved in Pittsburgh politics.

“We have an epidemic in our country, in general, and specifically in Pittsburgh, with young people not being engaged and active in politics,” Wander said. “Perhaps it’s because they think that they can’t make a difference.”

Wander added that Sauter and other young people who step forward and attempt to influence politics will ultimately make changes. 

Sonya Toler, campaign spokeswoman for Peduto, said Peduto knew that a Pitt student was a write-in candidate, but he didn’t know who Sauter was specifically. 

Toler said Sauter’s campaign could make a positive impact on young people in Pittsburgh and potentially increase student-voter turnout. 

“We hope that Scott Sauter will raise the level of interest in local politics among his peer group, though we have experienced a high level of involvement from college students in our own campaign,” Toler said.