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Two Democrats are vying to be the new face of Pittsburgh's 9th City Council district

Khadijah Harris (left); Khari Mosley
Courtesy campaigns
Khadijah Harris (left); Khari Mosley

Pittsburgh residents living in a swath of the city’s East End will elect a new City Council member this year, for the first time in more than a decade. Longtime City Councilor Ricky Burgess is not running for re-election in a district that includes neighborhoods such as East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Homewood, Larmier, Lincoln-Lemington, and portions of Point Breeze.

While the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination this spring are both first-time candidates and have relatively similar priorities, they’re entering the political ring from completely different angles.

Khari Mosley, who lives in North Point Breeze, has long been active in local Democratic circles, having worked on other candidates’ city council campaigns, Bill Peduto’s first run for mayor and several state House campaigns. He's currently the director of 1Hood Power, an advocacy group focused on issues like criminal justice reform and affordable housing.

He's also supported the political endeavors of his wife, Allegheny County Common Pleas judge and former County Controller Chelsa Wagner. But this is the first time his name appears on the yard sign.

Mosley said several community leaders urged him to throw his hat into the race this winter. “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,” he said.

Mosley has scored big endorsements from the likes of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee as well as county and state-level politicians.

In contrast to Mosley's long wind-up to a campaign, the first word of Khadijah Harris' candidacy many people heard came when she quietly filed the petitions to put her name on the ballot.

Harris was born and raised in Homewood, and says she worked in human resources and fundraising for nonprofits. She managed a financial literacy community program before she left Pittsburgh in 2013. Since then, she has been an independent financial broker. But when Harris came back to Homewood in 2021, she said she was shocked at the state of her old neighborhood.

“We have these abandoned homes," she said. "The businesses — if they're here — they’re barely functioning."

She also noticed a dramatic rise in drug and alcohol addiction, which she said motivated her to step into the race.

Harris said the city should help stabilize struggling neighborhoods by doing more to teach residents about fiscal responsibility.

While Harris' campaign has not drawn the kind of establishment support Mosley has, she said she wanted to run an independent campaign. She said this will keep her “accountable to my constituents.”

Changing of the guard

This is the first time since 2007 that District 9 residents won’t see Rev. Ricky Burgess’ name on their ballots. Burgess has held the seat for 15 years, winning reelection in part because he faced multiple primary opponents who split up votes against him.

Burgess for months declined to disclose his plans for 2023. Confirmation of his decision not to run came only after he declined to file campaign paperwork in March. He has yet to publicly acknowledge his decision, and his office said he would not be available to comment on this story.

Mosley and Harris both say their decision to run was independent of Burgess' political retirement. Mosley announced his run months before it was clear Burgess wouldn’t be running.

Neither candidate criticized Burgess’ accomplishments in office, but both pledged they would be more available for constituent calls and emails and attend more community events.

“Whether it is the houses of worship or the bars and taverns in the community. … I just try to meet everyone where they're at,” Mosley said, stressing that he wants to “infuse culture with the civic engagement process.”

Harris argued that without constant feedback from constituents, council members can’t know whether they’re doing right by their district.

“I really see it as a public-service position. Working with the community members … listening to them … about what they want to see, what their needs are,” she said. “There's no way to help if we don't talk to them.”


Both candidates cited the need for affordable housing as the top issue for District 9. While the district includes some wealthier neighborhoods like Point Breeze, it’s also home to some of the poorest.

“I don't know if there's a council district that exemplifies the tale of two cities [more] than District 9,” Mosley said. “I think the challenge is to ensure that the communities that have been left behind for far too long begin to experience that prosperity.”

Residents in Larimer neighborhood fiercely opposed a recent plan to erect more than a dozen, mostly market-rate duplexes along East Liberty Boulevard. Most units would be priced at $750,000 with fewer than a half dozen set aside as affordable units. Residents claimed the units are out of reach for people in the neighborhood.

Mosley argued that while development is important to the district, it can’t come at the cost of displacing longtime residents.

Harris said some are already feeling pinched by housing costs. “People are literally taking one paycheck in some of the other just to pay rent,” Harris argued, adding that the condition of some units are unacceptable. “These families are so desperate for housing, so they'll just take it,” she said.

Harris argued the city should aggressively pursue a landlord registry to keep property owners accountable. A lawsuit against such a registry between the city and landlord groups remains tied up in court.

Mosley and Harris both said development must involve the input of current residents to avoid breaking up communities. They had different takes on how to increase homeownership in their district.

Mosley argued the city should prioritize stabilizing available property by way of recycling “vacant, blighted and abandoned properties, bring them back on,” and salvage properties when possible. “It’s not just building new homes... it’s also rehabbing existing housing,” he said.

He said he would support “limiting the amount of new construction we have to do by balancing it out with the amount of rehabs that we can do, which come at it at a lower ticket price than new builds.”

Harris stressed that a missing piece of current housing policy is financial education. During her time as a financial literacy educator, she said, she witnessed how gaining those skills can encourage people to pursue homeownership.

The city, she said, should run financial literacy programs in city rec centers. “The lack of education and the lack of opportunity and resources being funneled here equitably is a major problem."

Public safety

WESA spoke to Harris and Mosley before Mayor Gainey announced his nomination of Larry Scirotto as the city’s next police chief. But both candidates stressed no matter who serves in the role, they must be willing to partner with City Council on public safety initiatives.

Mosley argued the new chief should serve as an “ambassador” to the community on behalf of the bureau and the city.

“It's just so critical for us to really get to where we want to be from a public safety standpoint,” he said. “To rebuild that trust so that we're working together in tandem as allies to make our streets safer, but also to have a priority on accountability.”

The issue is personal for Mosley, who had a run-in with police in Detroit during a trip with his wife. Mosley was cleared of charges; Wagner pled to a misdemeanor.

“The thing that it really taught me is that unfortunately, the way our justice system works, if you are of a certain means and have a set of resources, you can fight your way through the system to clear your name," said Mosley. "But unfortunately, everybody doesn't have those resources.”

As for Harris, she said, “We have to have really high expectations for this police chief. We're talking about really helping our residents and really moving our communities forward because the police can play a big role.”

But she also stressed the importance of community rec centers to public safety. She views them as a “safe space” for kids to grow up with positive role models able to intervene in conflict.

“I grew up in one of those rec centers!” she said. “The services that were there when I was a little girl literally shaped my life.”

A voice for Black Pittsburgh

District 9 is one of the city’s two majority-Black districts. That makes the council representative a significant figure for the city’s Black community. Both candidates said they take that responsibility seriously.

A 2019 study by the Gender Equity Commission ranked Pittsburgh as one of the worst cities in the country for Black women, citing high poverty rates, death rates, unemployment rates and other factors.

Harris said as a Black woman herself, she brings firsthand knowledge about what people like her need to thrive in Pittsburgh.

Mosley said his policies would be informed by bringing Black women to the table and valuing their input. But he added it’s up to city government and the community at large to recognize that uplifting the most disadvantaged helps everyone.

“All Pittsburghers should be concerned, should be allies, and be supportive of ensuring that the African American community in Pittsburgh thrives,” Mosley said. “Our fates are inextricably tied together."

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.