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District 8 Council Candidates Take On PWSA, Livability In Debate

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
Candidates for Pittsburgh's District 8 City Council seat at the first debate on Jan. 28, 2018. From left to right: Sonja Finn, Marty Healey, Rennick Remley and Erika Strassburger.

Sunday afternoon, the four candidates for the empty District 8 City Council seat, formerly held by councilman Dan Gilman, debated at Chatham University. 

Three of the four candidates identify as Democrats, and the fourth is a self-described moderate Republican, which made for frequent consensus among the debaters.

Questions ranged from "is Pittsburgh the most livable city?" to how the candidates would fix the problems of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.

Sonja Finn, the Democratic nominee, said too much time has been spent on the bureaucracy around the PWSA.

"Tomorrow, let's just start digging a hole," Finn said with a laugh. "I want to see a hole dug tomorrow to show me that we're actually starting to replace lead lines."

Finn, the chef and owner of Dinette restaurant is Shadyside, continuously stressed the need for Pittsburgh to grow in a way that doesn't forget about its low-income and longtime residents. Several times she brought up the need for the city to adopt a tenants' bill of rights. 

Erika Strassburger, who lost the Democratic nomination but is running as an independent, says PWSA is turning a corner, but to move forward it must be fully funded.

"We need to make sure we are mapping out where our lead lines are so the people know whether their house has a lead line leading to it," Strassburger said.

Strassburger is the fomer chief-of-staff of Dan Gilman, who held the seat until he left to become Mayor Bill Peduto's chief-of-staff. She has the endorsement of both Peduto and Gilman.

Marty Healey, who is also running as an Independent after losing the Democratic nomination, echoed the sentiments of his competitors, and said removing lead lines would be a priority if he were elected. Healey, a longtime Shadyside resident, is the CFO of a local construction firm.

Republican Rennick Remley elicited laughs from the audience throughout the debate, making light of his position as the only conservative vying for the Council spot. The last Republican in Pittsburgh City Council left his post in 1933.

But Remley came down hard against aspects of the Peduto administration, saying it is focused too much on big picture issues and neglecting what hits closest to home, such as lead lines.

"While we can't drink the water, we've managed to pass legislation banning fracking in the city, which is something that was never going to happen," Remley said.

The special election for the City Council seat that represents Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze will be held March 6.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.
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