FOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY COUNCIL

I’m a Mon Valley kid, born and bred. I remember when the Steel Mills were booming. I remember when McKeesport and Duquesne were much more than cities left behind by corporate greed.

I’m in the last generation of kids whose parents let them roam the neighborhood like free range chickens and we were only called in when it got too dark outside. I remember playing Pac Man on Atari 2600 and thinking it was the height of high tech. I remember watching ET – the Extra Terrestrial in the movie theater between my fingers because I was afraid he’d be scary looking.

My first job was at my family’s Giant Eagle in West Mifflin. I bagged groceries for working class people and heard their stories, their hopes and complaints. When I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh I became a journalist at the local paper, the McKeesport Daily News, writing about the community’s everyday triumphs and turmoils. In 2003, I went back to college to become a teacher. I soon took jobs at Baldwin and McKeesport districts before being hired full-time at Steel Valley Middle School.

As a public school teacher, I found that I could make a difference in a more personal way. I could impact the students right there in front of me and help them become the people they were striving to be. That’s why in 2011 I co-founded T.E.A.C.H., an organization that worked to stop the state education budget cuts which stole from the neediest children. A year later, I led a successful campaign through moveon.org to repeal the Voter ID law that disproportionately affected my students’ parents. And since 2014, I’ve written a nationally recognized education and civil rights blog.

Allegheny County needs elected officials who look out for the working class and as a member of county council I intend to do just that.

Why is a public school teacher running for County Council? It’s dead simple: I’m dog tired of incumbent officials barely lifting a finger for our area and then coasting to re-election every cycle. I’m old enough to remember when we voted on the home rule charter going from 3 Commissioners to 15 County Council members and one executive. The idea was to divide the power between legislative and executive branches. This has been a miserable failure. We’ve ended up with a series of kings and a bunch of rubber-stamping bobbleheads.

I am many things, but I am no one’s “yes man”. I make you this promise: if elected to County Council, I will work tirelessly to enact legislation the Mon Valley needs regardless of what the executive thinks. I won’t go it alone either. I will work to establish coalitions among other County Council members to write the laws that are important to the citizens of the county, not big business and industry.

Transparency

We have a $2 billion County Budget. Taxpayers, by virtue of the name, bankroll county government. Every citizen of Allegheny County is entitled to know and should be meaningfully-informed how their taxes are being spent.

Education

Our community colleges like CCAC are grossly underfunded. The state, county & student tuition are supposed to bankroll them in equal measure, but the state and county have always shortchanged their obligations. As a result, tuition has skyrocketed and teachers have been laid off. That’s appalling, especially in a county where one third of all residents have taken at least one class through CCAC. It’s time for the county to pay its fair share.

Transportation

Port Authority stops in the Mon Valley are nearly non-existent compared with other areas of the county. We have a $2 billion county budget. All residents deserve adequate access to public transportation. After all, if you can’t get to work, you can’t work.

Clean Air and Water

The Pittsburgh area has some of the worst air quality in the nation. And that’s before you factor in large quantities of methane emissions produced by fracking at our county parks. We need to stop allowing dinosaur industries to poison our natural resources in return for jobs of the past. We need to invest in new green jobs of the future that not only pay a living wage and provide union protections for workers but also preserve our environment.

A Living Wage for All

Allegheny County employs roughly 5,300 workers, and though they often receive some of the highest minimum wage rates in the city or state ($15 an hour), it’s not enough. Salaries have never kept up with inflation or productivity. If we really want to secure the best county services, we need the best people to provide them. We need a $20 minimum wage. On top of that, all employees deserve paid sick days.

Police Accountability

Who polices the police? I think it should be us – a countywide independent police review board to reduce bias and increase public trust. We need to ensure law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions and don’t abuse the authority lent to them by the community. No more “broken windows” policing. No military style urban pacification. Police should be of the community and accountable to the community.

LGBTQIA Rights

No one should face discrimination or violence because of who they love, how they look, or who they are. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peoples’ rights must be respected and upheld by law. I will not tolerate housing, denial of service, or other discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The County Jail

The county jail costs taxpayers $100 million a year, yet 80% of the people incarcerated there have not been convicted of any crime. They’re being held because they can’t pay cash bail, failed a drug test (often for marijuana), or violated probation or parole. That’s $100 per person per day or 27 cents of every tax dollar collected in the county to keep these people behind bars. Not only is it inhumane, it is fiscally irresponsible. Incarceration should be focused on rehabilitation, not puritanical punishment. If Warden Orlando Harper can’t figure that out, he needs replaced with someone who can.