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Khari Mosley launches primary challenge against Burgess for Pittsburgh City Council's 9th district

Khari Mosley speaks to a crowd of supporters at his campaign launch event in East Liberty on Jan. 5.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Khari Mosley speaks to a crowd of supporters at his campaign launch event in East Liberty on Jan. 5.

Five seats on Pittsburgh City Council will be up for grabs this year, and the city’s 9th Council District has at least one primary challenger to incumbent Ricky Burgess. Khari Mosley, a mainstay in Pittsburgh's Democratic circles, launched his official bid for the seat Thursday before a packed crowd of supporters at Blue Sky Kitchen and Bar in East Liberty.

“We are in the midst of the most transformative moment in our city’s political history since David L. Lawrence and Robert L. Vann turned Pittsburgh blue in the early 1930s,” Mosley said, referring to the former Pittsburgh mayor and the publisher of the city's legendary Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. “For the first time in recent memory, the people are at the center of the political agenda.”

District 9 is one of two majority-Black districts. It encompasses portions of the city’s East End including East Hills, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar and Point Breeze.

Mosley is the director of 1Hood Power, a nonprofit advocacy organization connected to 1Hood Media. He also manages civic engagement projects for 1Hood Media. He has decades of experience in the political campaign realm. Among the campaigns he's worked on are state House bids for Jake Wheatley, Bill Peduto’s first run for Pittsburgh mayor in 2005, campaigns for Pittsburgh City Councilors Bruce Kraus and Daniel Lavelle, and state Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty.

Mosley has also supported the political endeavors of his wife, Allegheny County Common Pleas judge and former County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

But he said he started to consider throwing his own hat into the ring last fall, after being encouraged by some community leaders.

“I have often kind of been the person behind the scenes running campaigns, advising candidates, executing campaign plans,” he said. “I just had a lot of voices in the community and around the city saying … it was really time for me to step into a different role in leadership and use my experience.”

Mosley already has the support of several local political activists including Jasiri X, co-founder of 1Hood Media, former mayoral candidate Rev. John Welch and Brandi Fisher, founder and CEO of the Alliance for Police Accountability. Fisher serves as Mosley’s campaign manager.

Public safety reform is one of three major issues at the heart of Mosley's campaign, along with affordable housing and improving infrastructure.

Those, he said, "are really the issues that I think most Pittsburghers, not only in District 9 but around the city, are really focused on,” he said.

Mosley said the city should do more to empower residents to participate in police reform efforts.

“So much of the conversation is around strengthening law enforcement. And we definitely need a strong and robust law enforcement department,” he said. “But we also need to have more involvement from community organizations, social service agencies, the health department and other entities, as well as the private business community.”

As for the city’s affordable housing opportunities, Mosley said he’s open to working with developers to find the right solution. But he argues community members must play an equal role in decisions about how their neighborhoods are developed.

He supports establishing more mixed-income neighborhoods as one path toward more affordable housing. Other ideas, like rent control, could require lobbying the state legislature, something Mosley said he would be eager to do.

The goal, he said, is “to figure out how do we not become San Francisco — you know, how do we not become a city that's just totally unaffordable for people that are of a certain level of wealth? That's an issue that that really concerns me.”

Incumbent Ricky Burgess is widely expected to seek a fifth term as District 9’s representative, though he has not yet publicly announced his plans. Burgess won his last two primaries without having received more than 50% of the vote, thanks to facing multiple candidates who split the opposition.

The same could happen this year. Randall Taylor, an East Liberty native who last ran for the seat in 2019, said he’s considering another go at it. He told WESA that he intends to make a decision about whether to run in the coming weeks.

Mosley recognized that having multiple challenges might make it harder to unseat Burgess. But he argued he's built “a diverse coalition across District 9 that I think this district hasn't seen before.”

And after reapportionment added more of Point Breeze into District 9, there are new voters up for grabs.

Mosley said he’s not focusing his race on how he disagrees with his opponents. Instead, he hopes to connect with district residents.

“We’re at a time where cynicism is at an all-time high and people don't believe government can get the people's business done anymore,” he said. “I'm really passionate about restoring that faith again.”

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.