The May primary is a half-year away, but already Pittsburgh City Council races are drawing interest. And 27-year-old Quincy Kofi Swatson is seeking the City Council District 1 seat currently held by Darlene Harris.
Swatson, who is founding executive director at The Door Campaign, said he is running because he thinks there needs to be a shared vision on the North Side.
“I believe that there needs to be someone here on the North Side who is working with the for-profit companies, the nonprofit companies, the foundations and government to identify shared values, identify a sure plan and someone who holds those entities accountable,” Swatson said.
“I think there needs to be more transparency,” he added. “Elected officials are elected to represent the people, so back-room deals and associations, and tax breaks for larger companies that are making a lot of revenue … we should know what the content of those types of deals are.”
Swatson said he was concerned about "a split between the haves and the have nots" in the district. “I want to make sure that we are creating a North Side for all, so that everyone benefits from the economic improvements happening on the North Side that did not occur 20 years ago.” Addressing that concern, he said, would require affordable-housing initiatives like "inclusionary zoning," which requires new developments to include housing at below market rates.
This is Swatson's first time running for elected office. But he said his experience in a nonprofit sector, where his agency focuses on STEM education, will prepare him for the job.
“My work over the last five years as an executive director of a nonprofit has uniquely positioned me as I partnered with institutions to help equip students with the tools necessary to succeed in the growing workforces in the region,” Swatson said. “I want to apply that on a [higher] level and work in city council, and work as a partner with the administration to create some shared goals and get those things accomplished on the North Side.”
Swatson has some support already. Jeff Betten, general manager of local record company Misra Records, announced in June that he was throwing his hat in the ring for District 1. Now he has decided to drop out of the race to put his support behind Swatson.
“It’s going to be a busy year for us at Misra Records, and I’m not going to have the time to pull away and to focus on politics as I had originally hoped,” he said.
“Over the last year I had really gotten to know Quincy very well and he mentioned that he might be interested in getting in the race and I offered him my wholehearted support,” Betten said.
Betten, who is a member of the Pittsburgh chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, said he and Swatson share similar visions and concerns.
If elected, Swatson will be 28 years old, but he doesn’t want his age to be the focus.
“I don’t want to create division between age or race; I want to create a North Side for everyone,” he said.