Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross has a Democratic challenger for the 7th district council seat in Deirdre Kane.
Kane works in marketing at Highmark insurance and has served on the board of Lawrenceville United. A lifelong resident of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Lawrenceville, she said she would push harder than Gross has for affordable housing.
Last week Gross introduced legislation that would require developers in Lawrenceville to include affordable housing in their projects. But Kane said that was too little, too late.
“It's not that I don't think she's not doing it,” Kane said. “I just don't think the fight was strong enough … the development [in upper Lawrenceville] went so quickly we could barely get our heads around it. So I don't think the pivot – the reaction – was timely enough for the needs of the community. ”
Kane said she will also work to create more community green spaces in the district.
Kane said she aligns herself with national candidates like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
“That is the kind of vision that I believe for our country, our city our neighborhoods, our communities [and] our people,” Kane said.
She said she’s always been interested in politics – she volunteered for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run, and for every Democratic presidential candidate since– but she was discouraged by the financial barriers of launching her own campaign.
“I’m from a working-class family, and there’s no rich aunt or uncle that can float me money to get started,” she said. “So I just felt like … ‘I can’t really think of this for myself anymore.’” But after seeing candidates like state Representatives Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato run successfully last year, Kane was inspired.
“That sort of sparked that in me again,” she said. “I’m friends with Sara [Innamorato] … [S]he was just like me, from a working-class family.”
In January, at the suggestion of a close friend, Kane decided to run for City Council. Her bid surfaced in February when she filed for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s endorsement. The endorsement reflects the support of committee members in advance of the party’s primary, though voters can and often do ignore it.
Kane is getting assistance from one name that will be familiar to District 7 voters: Tony Ceoffe Jr., who lost to Gross in a bruising 2013 special election that involved a legal fight over the party’s backing. Kane said Ceoffe was “someone who I will reach out to, just to say, ‘OK, what do I do next?’”
Kane, 45, grew up in Lawrenceville, and has lived in Pittsburgh all her life. She attended Pittsburgh Public Schools, and commuted to the University of Pittsburgh as an undergrad while living at home.
She’s worked at Highmark for 20 years, and opened the 52nd Street Market in 2014, later selling it to new owners last summer. Kane said she and co-owner Dora Walmsley prided themselves on being a healthy corner store for neighbors of all socioeconomic backgrounds in their community.
“We got to know so many neighbors we never would have known,” Kane said. But Kane said gentrification led to a shift in their customer base. “I don’t mind hustling to help others, but when I’m just hustling for people to buy organic kombucha, it wasn’t as passion-driven,” she said.
They sold the business last year, for a number of reasons. Since then, Kane said, she’s been looking for another way to serve her community, and hopes she’s found it in the city council race.
“I just know that's the kind of stuff that fills me with joy. I don't have any kids. Like, what's my purpose? It's not just to sit behind a desk.”
District 7 includes Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Polish Hill, Stanton Heights and the Strip District. The Democratic primary is May 21.