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2017 City Council Preview: Democratic Governance In The Trump Era

City of Pittsburgh

This is the first in a three-part web series looking ahead to 2017 with members of Pittsburgh City Council.

Pittsburgh's nine Democratic City Council members will soon find themselves governing in an era where Republicans control not only the state legislature, but both houses of Congress and the presidency. 

Pursuing a progressive agenda is nothing new for Councilmen Dan Gilman, Ricky Burgess and Bruce Kraus. But they say in 2017, advocating for the city's marginalized and disenfranchised populations will be more important than ever.

Councilman Dan Gilman

District 8: Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, Oakland, Point Breeze

“I think individually, I’ve really had a great year in terms of legislation that protected equality (for) city residents,” Gilman said.

He pointed to a bill that made housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence illegal and to the recent ban on conversion therapy for LGBT people in city limits.

Regarding the latter, Gilman said he had heard from residents who had been subjected to the therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation through psychological treatment and spiritual counseling.

Gilman said such a ban is timely, given the support that Vice President-elect Mike Pence has shown for the pseudoscientific approach in the past.

“Legislation I’ve sponsored has taken a lead role in making sure the world knows Pittsburgh is a city for all,” he said.

Gilman said he will pursue legislation addressing pay equity and making Pittsburgh more welcoming to immigrants in 2017.

He also said it will be important to bring a social and environmental justice mindset to development in Pittsburgh in 2017, advocating for a “people-first” approach.

“It worries about the environment. It worries about the pedestrian, the cyclist, the public transit rider and the driver. It worries about our combined sewer overflow issue. It worries about energy efficiency. It worries about the workers and the building and … (that) they are earning family-sustaining wages,” he said. “As a city, we’re making sure we don’t put bricks and mortar before people.”

Gilman said he would like to see private developers who are profiting from Pittsburgh's renaissance pitch in more with needed infrastructure improvements.

Gilman said he will run for re-election next year.

Councilman Ricky Burgess

District 9: East Liberty, Larimer, Homewood, Garfield, Point Breeze, Friendship, Lincoln-Lemington, East Hills

Advancing house opportunities for low-to-moderate income residents will continue to be the highest priority for Councilman Ricky Burgess. He said he’s grateful that the city has invested in developing traditionally neglected neighborhoods like Larimer and Homewood, where more than 250 units of affordable housing are being built.

Credit Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Councilman Ricky Burgess says one of his projects in the next year will be to help encourage development in Homewood's business district. He says he could see the neighborhood becoming an "arts and cultural destination."

Reflecting on Penn Plaza, where an affordable housing complex was demolished, Burgess called the situation a “wakeup call” for the city.

“We really do have an affordable housing crisis in Pittsburgh,” Burgess said. “I hope the New Year will also see that site having affordable housing on site so that you will not just have the high-end residents there, but a mix of incomes.”

The recent passage of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund encouraged Burgess. Now he said he’s looking for ways to finance it.

“It is a Christmas gift wrapped without a present in it because there’s not funding stream attached to it,” Burgess said.

He is suggesting an increase to the city’s property transfer tax. Currently five other councilmembers are supporting the proposal.

Burgess said when the new Republican administration takes office, he will make sure his low-to-moderate income constituents are protected. He said he assumes progressive initiatives will have to come from the city level and he’s prepared to continue his work with the Peduto administration.

“If there was ever a time to prioritize those families, it’s right now,” Burgess said. “They are the ones that are at most risk at this potential administration. They are the ones at most risk of being left and cut out. So let’s double down and invest in these communities.”

Councilman Bruce Kraus

District 3: Oakland, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes, Allentown, Beltzhoover, Arlington Heights, Mt. Oliver, Knoxville, Oakcliffe, St. Clair

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus says at this time of year, he usually thinks more about past accomplishments than the future, but this year the councilman said he is concerned about 2017.

As he looked back at 201,6 Kraus said he is proud that council passed a ban on conversion therapy and voted to send additional funds to food pantries. However, he is worried about the impact a Trump administration could have on those efforts.

“A fair portion of the time will be spent to safeguard and to monitor the different successes that we have had in the [Obama] administration and make certain those are not eroded,” Krauss said.  “And if there is an attempt to do so, to craft a plan of action to stay that.”

Kraus is also worried that the Republican-dominated federal government could have a negative impact on the allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  In 2004, the city received $25 million in CDBG funds.  That slowly dropped to $12.5 million in 2016.  The expectation is for that number to stay the same in 2017 but Krauss is skeptical.

In the meantime, Kraus’s social justice agenda for 2017 also includes working on mobility and food access issues.

“The idea of one person, one car circulating for that proverbial parking space just doesn’t fit anymore,” Kraus said.  “So I think that we will continue taking a look at ride share, mass transit, walkable neighborhoods and biking.”

The councilman from the third district’s fight for justice does not stop at the human race.  He said he would continue to fight for a wild animal entertainment ban in 2017.

“We’re working with a varied list of interested parties to see how we can bring Pittsburgh into a more modern way of thinking around how we…  purposefully breed, cage, transport, (and) train animals for the sole purpose of entertainment,” Kraus said.

The ban was introduced in 2016 but failed to pass.  Kraus said he would resurrect the bill and look to drum up 5 votes for passage.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm
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