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Longtime local activist Carl Redwood to challenge Walton in county council race

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Carl Redwood, one of the city’s most experienced and best-known local activists, is stepping into a new arena: He plans to run for Allegheny County Council as an independent this fall against controversial incumbent DeWitt Walton.

“I'm running for Allegheny County Council in District 10 because I believe we can implement bold policies in Allegheny County to put people over profit and build a better future for poor and working class people,” Redwood said during a livestreamed campaign launch Thursday morning.

Redwood plans to run as an independent, and if he obtains the signatures required to do so this summer, it will be his first appearance on the ballot. But he did work as a campaign coordinator for Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential bid, and, in any case, he is no stranger to civic life.

He has been a forceful voice for, and a cofounder of, the Hill District Consensus Group, which seeks to ensure a place for residents of the Hill as the community is once again being remade by redevelopment plans. He has been active for decades in community organizing, a stalwart in the movement for racial and economic justice. A recent profile described him as “the steadfast socialist from the Hill District,” possessed of “monk-like resolve.”

His campaign announcement reflected his background as a movement builder. He pledged to press for affordable housing, more stringent environmental enforcement, and a countywide minimum wage. But he said that “the fundamental problem we are facing is capitalism. That’s why I’m a socialist.”

And while he acknowledged “the limitations of the County Council in addressing the larger problems of capitalism,” he pledged to “use my platform and position to organize a black-led working class people's assembly in the district, which would build power for the people.”

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To accomplish that, he will have to defeat incumbent Democrat DeWitt Walton, who last month just barely won a three-way Democratic primary contest with less than 39 percent of the vote. They’ll be facing off in a County Council district dominated by city neighborhoods including the Hill District, as well as some nearby eastern suburbs.

It remains to be seen how Redwood, who advocates for his causes much more assiduously than he advertises himself, does in the political sphere. His campaign kickoff had him seated in the background for his own speech, behind the sign-language translator who was sharing his words with the hearing impaired.

But Redwood won’t be fighting alone.

Carlos Thomas, who finished second to Walton in May, has already pledged his support, and in fact introduced Redwood on Thursday. “During my campaign, I asked ... for the community to come together to repair the crisis that we’ve been seeing,” he said. “Today, I’m elated to support and endorse Mr. Carl Redwood.”

Redwood will also have the support of County Councilor Bethany Hallam, who pledged “to work my ass off for him. And I know he’s already been fundraising with the support of numerous grassroots organizations.”

“Carl is a community guy and that's what this position is supposed to be about,” she added. “And when it comes to policy, you could talk to him for hours.”

Walton said he was “not surprised” to hear of Redwood’s announcement. “I’d heard that this very well might be happening. As a citizen he has the right to run.”

He said it didn’t surprise him to learn that Hallam had taken an interest in the race. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m outspoken, and I do what I believe is principled,” he said.

Redwood did not criticize Walton during his 10-minute kickoff speech, and his campaign decline to cite specific complaints with the two-term incumbent. Walton has spent a career in organized labor, mostly at the United Steelworkers, and he can be a contentious presence on County Council as well as a forceful one.

The original sponsor of a bid to create a county police review board, he spoke passionately of his own harrowing encounters with police when council passed the measure in 2021. But Hallam said he had often been “an obstacle toward the progress that a majority of council members are working towards.”

A recent case in point, she said, was Walton’s vote against a bill that would raise the minimum wage for county employees to $20 an hour. The measure was backed by unions including the Steelworkers, which represents workers in some county operations. Walton said he understood why labor backed the bill: “If I’m a union negotiator and someone comes to give a $2 increase without having to negotiate for it, I’m not going to say no.”

But he said he shared County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s belief that council didn’t have the right to set those wages. Having read the opinions of the county solicitor and an attorney hired by council, he said, “I found the solicitor’s analysis more cogent.”

Walton acknowledged that his Democratic primary win was a close thing, and said the margin underscored the need to take the challenge seriously: “Any time someone's name is on the ballot running against you, you damn well better be concerned.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.