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Councilor Ricky Burgess Against A Crowded Field For District 9 Seat

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA

A handful of candidates are hoping to replace Pittsburgh's District 9 City Councilor Ricky Burgess in next week's primary, but he says it takes years to make the connections he's made over the past three terms. 

And he warns that his background and expertise is what the district could lose if he isn't re-elected. 

"I think that not only do I have a proven track record, but I'm in position over the next four years that I would be able to multiply our success," Burgess said. 

District 9 includes Homewood, Larimer, Garfield, North Point Breeze and part of East Liberty. Burgess says as councilor his goal has been to reduce violence and bring more economic development to the district.

Crime has decreased citywide over the last 15 years and more economic development has happened in the district. But that has, if anything, only added to concerns about gentrification -- the replacement of long-time residents by newer, wealthier, arrivals. Burgess says going forward, new development will prioritize current residents so that they won't be displaced. Burgess says the HELP Initiative is part of that solution. The HELP Initiative is supposed to provide mixed-income communities and help avoid displacement of lower-income residents. 

"You build affordable housing first and then you bring in market rate housing," Burgess said. "By building affordable housing first, you protect your residents." 

Cherylie Fuller isn't buying it. For her, gentrification concerns are personal. She says 12 years ago her mother was pushed out when her public housing complex in Homewood was razed. 

"My mother was one of those when they brought that building down," she said. "And those seniors and individuals were told, 'We're going to bring you back'... a lot of them didn't make it back." 

Fuller is a retired Port Authority employee and the former executive director of the Homewood Concerned Citizens Council. She says she would focus more closely on housing afforability than she believes Burgess has. She also said she would work to bring livable wages to residents. 

"[I'll be] making sure that the wages are high enough that [residents] can afford the rent that the housing stock is going to become," she said. 

The field of challengers also includes Kierran Young. In 2015, his father ran against Burgess. Young said he's running because he doesn't think Burgess is available to the community enough. He said he's focusing on parks and recreation so young people will have a place to go. 

"I really do believe that when you have activities for people and other things for people to get involved in, they won't just be hanging out on a specific corner," he said. "A lot of it is young people who do not have anything else to do." 

Judith Ginyard is a familiar name on the ballot: This is her fourth time running for city council. She said the district needs loyalty, accountability and transparency. Ginyard faults Burgess for letting a local nonprofit, the Poise Foundation, help decide where to spend community development money in the district. 

"I have nothing against the nonprofit, I think they do excellent work," she said. "But we're talking about public money and public money needs to go through a very public process." 

A spokesperson from Burgess's office said the Poise Foundation screens applicants for their eligibility for  the funds. Burgess does this because his predecessor, Twanda Carlisle, pleaded no contest to charges of misspending public funds. 

Stephen Braxton does apartment maintenance at several senior living apartments in the district. He says he decided to run after a lack of response from the city after he sent several requests. Braxton said he would focus on the district's senior residents because Burgess doesn't focus on them enough. 

"He's concerned about the violence thing, and I am too," Braxton said. "But it seems like he's forgetting about the senior citizens; that's what I want to work on." 

Burgess is backed by his fellow councilor members and Democratic Party committee members. He has struggled to crack the 50 percent mark in his previous runs, but he's held the office thanks in part to a divided opposition. The primary election is May 21.