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Independent Hopefuls Seek To Join City Council Races This Fall

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
District 9 incumbent Ricky Burgess may once again face a divided field of challengers

Voters in the city of Pittsburgh may face a surprisingly crowded ballot – for a November off-year election, at least – when they head to the polls this fall. 

More than a half-dozen independent candidates filed petitions to run for City Council by the Aug. 1 deadline. The races for City Council districts 1 and 9 – where the incumbent either lost or showed weakness in the spring primary – may be especially complex.

Independent candidates are long-shots in Pittsburgh, a heavily Democratic city where municipal races are all but decided in the primary. Even so, Distict 1 Democratic nominee Bobby Wilson faces three challengers after defeating incumbent Darlene Harris this spring. Malcolm Jarrett, Chris Rosselot, and Quincy Swatson all filed petitions to run. District 3 City Council incumbent Bruce Kraus, who easily turned aside two challenges in the spring, now may square off against Jacob Nixon. And most notably, in District 9, incumbent Ricky Burgess faces no less than four challengers: Barbara Daniels, Prince Matthews, Randall Taylor, and DeNeice Welch.

Some of the challengers are relative unknowns, while others are not a surprise. Both Swatson and Rossilot pledged that they would run as independents, after withdrawing from a primary fight where they faced legal challenges to their petitions that would have removed them from the ballot.

But it is District 9 where the field may draw the most attention. Much to the frustration of his critics, while Burgess has struggled to crack 50 percent in his re-election bids, he has been able to win with a plurality thanks to divided fields. That happened again this spring, where he garnered less than 40 percent of the vote but still was the top vote-getter in a field of five.

The new District 9 hopefuls either could not be reached Thursday evening or declined comment. But the crowded field is a bitter irony for Taylor, who originally challenged Burgess in the primary but withdrew because of the crowded field. He had hoped to have a one-on-one matchup with Burgess, but could be part of a field as a large as the one he sought to avoid.

Told the size of the field on Thursday night, Taylor chuckled ruefully.

“I’m just proud to be part of the process,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to get here, and my job now is to tell people that of the people who turned out in May, 61 percent of them voted for change.”

Was he disheartened to find himself in a crowded field again?

“I think the voters of the 9th District are savvy enough to know how this works.” Taylor said he didn’t even know some of the candidates who had entered, but the fact that Burgess always seemed to benefit from a split field “is going to raise questions” about the motives of those running.

It is not yet certain that all those names will appear on the ballot. Rivals have one week to challenge the legitimacy of their petitions in court, and successful challenges will remove candidates from the race.

But if even a fraction of those names remain, it will be an unusual amount of ferment in November elections that are ordinarily foregone conclusions for the city.

In 2017, there was only one independent challenger on the fall ballot: Cletus Cibrone-Abate lost handily to Democrat Anthony Coghill in District 4. The same was true in 2015, when Dave Schuilenburg lost to Darlene Harris in District 1.