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Challenger Seeks To Take On Pittsburgh Council Incumbent In South Hills

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Bethani Cameron, pictured with her son Lochiel, hopes to challenge City Councilor Anthony Coghill in the May 18 Democratic Primary

The dust has yet on settle on the 2020 elections, but politicos are already looking ahead to the municipal elections of 2021, in which the mayor of Pittsburgh and four city council seats are up for grabs. And already at least one challenger, Bethani Cameron, says she intends to challenge City Council District 4 incumbent Anthony Coghill.

“We need leaders who are willing to wade into very complex problems,” Cameron said. “Because if these problems were easy to solve, we would have solved them.”

Cameron has a background in city government. She once worked for Coghill’s predecessor, former City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, and more recently worked in the office of District 7 City Councilor Deb Gross. She’s worked for nonprofits and private-sector businesses as well. But she also touts her experience as a single mother, which she says requires a special set of skills.

“We have to really be able and willing to do the hard work, and we're not going to have enough money and we're not going to have enough people,” Cameron said. “And that's kind of a specialty for single moms: [We] never have enough resources, money, time, patience. And we don't have a choice. We have to get it done anyway, so we do. And that's the kind of experience that we use on city council, especially as we're going into what could be a several year deficit.”

Pittsburgh City Council District 4 is centered on South Hills neighborhoods including Beechview, Brookline, Carrick, and Overbrook. Cameron, who lives in Overbrook herself, said residents in the neighborhood are not “getting our due.”

“It’s great to have folks who are friendly with the mayor, but it’s not going work if this is all we’re getting out of the deal,” she said. “If you look at the south Pittsburgh neighborhoods, there are a lot of hills … it’s a mess every time it snows here. When it comes to where we’re investing … we don’t have adequate staffing to get the job done to keep people safe. So, there’s accidents constantly when it snows.”

Such complaints are common in District 4, where leaders have long complained of being overlooked even as other parts of the city enjoyed a resurgence. Coghill, a Beechview resident who owns a roofing company, campaigned on similar ideas as part of his successful 2017 “Back to Basics” campaign that stressed concerns like road paving, snow removal, and graffiti. Coghill bested another Rudiak staffer, Ashleigh Deemer, to earn a first term that year.

This year, the city is facing new and often painful concerns, including the coronavirus and debates about police misconduct. In demonstrations this summer and budget hearings this fall, activists have called for council to reduce spending on the police, spending the money on social services instead.

Coghill has been wary of such a move, arguing that the city’s challenging topography and other factors mean that police cuts may make the city less secure.

Cameron, meanwhile, says that the city’s approach to public safety “is not working” for police or the public.

“Police officers are run ragged trying to be drug counselors; that's not the job they signed up for. We didn't train them to do that job,” she said.

She cited longstanding problems with opioid addiction in the district as a symptom of problems that need a different approach.

“These are issues that cause some of the greatest suffering,” she said. “We’re not using the right tools for the jobs most of the time. Don’t make a police officer be a mental health counselor. We need to invest in our people, our infrastructure so that we can make sure that people in south Pittsburgh, our kids, have the same opportunity as anybody else in the city.”

“It is time to treat the problems and not the symptoms,” she added. “We cannot arrest our way out of drug use, we can't arrest our way out of petty crime, those things are caused by desperation. A sense of hopelessness that there's no other path to provide for your kids, to pay your bills to whatever the case may be. That's what we need to solve.”

The Democratic primary will be held May 18.