Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller

In 1998, the city was in such a bad place fiscally that we needed to issue bonds to make our pension payments. We will make our final payment on that in 2025. We have to look ahead, maintain a healthy fund balance (also known as a “rainy day fund”), and make sure that our fiscal trajectory remains positive. 

This is the first post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth

By participating, candidates are saying that they

  • must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
  • identify as pro-choice
  • must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

Your Name: Rachael Heisler

Your Pronouns: She/Her

The Office You Seek: Pittsburgh City Controller

How do you describe your identity? I am a cis-gendered, straight female

Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? I am running to be the City Controller for the entire city.  I think the whole city is a gem, but my favorite thing that non-Pittsburghers might know is how kind and generous Pittsburghers are — they are the real gems of the city. I also love Khalil’s on Baum Blvd, everyone must try their house salad dressing!

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? I do not remember not knowing an LGBTQ person. My parents had friends who are gay. I vividly remember the conversation with my dad about gay marriage in 2004 (when the GOP put same-sex marriage on ballots across the country).  I couldn’t understand why national leaders would create a barrier for marriage equality and I carry this feeling with me to this day.

Very recently told me that a specific person in your life guided you on issues like pronoun usage. The LGBTQ community is not a monolith. The Mayor has his pronouns on his letterhead and business cards. If elected, whom would you consult on these matters, especially gender identity, to ensure your office is accessible to the entire LGBTQ community? I am constantly learning and love to listen. I pledge to have an ongoing dialogue with the LGBTQ community to both understand their issues and also ensure there are no barriers to access and equality within city government. 

How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you began working for the City? I’ve become more and more aware of the physical safety issues that have plagued our LGBTQ neighbors, and in particular, members of the transgender community.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the City of Pittsburgh? How will you respond to those priorities? Threats and acts of violence are unacceptable. Law enforcement must be screened for biases and subsequently trained to handle the public safety needs of LGBTQ individuals. 

Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work. I am board chair of my food pantry, and our work has focused on lowering stress and providing healthy, unlimited access to fresh produce to improve health outcomes of our neighbors. If we can take steps to improve health and lower stress, of food insecure families, we can help them live longer, healthier lives. 

Help us understand the difference between the City Treasurer and the City Controller. Why are both necessary? Note for readers: in the City the Controller is elected, but the Treasurer is appointed by the Mayor. On the County level, both are elected positions. The City Controller is the third-branch of city government. The administration is the executive branch, the legislative branch is council, and the City Controller is the check and balance. The City Controller is elected independently and reports only to voters. All monies that leave the city come through the City Controller’s office. 

The City Treasurer is a part of the mayor’s administration. They collect city revenue, and there is an intentional segregation of duties to avoid the same office collecting revenue and then paying bills. 

On your website you state “We must continue to diversify revenue while demonstrating fiscal prudence.” Please give concrete examples of a potential new diversified revenue source and a potential new avenue of fiscal prudence – so the typical voter can follow. An additional revenue source could be PILOT agreements the City of Pittsburgh has with the largest nonprofits in our city. We have not pursued these in a decade. Negotiating these falls to the responsibility of the Mayor, but it absolutely must be done. In 1998, the city was in such a bad place fiscally that we needed to issue bonds to make our pension payments. We will make our final payment on that in 2025. We have to look ahead, maintain a healthy fund balance (also known as a “rainy day fund”), and make sure that our fiscal trajectory remains positive. 


I pledge to have an ongoing dialogue with the LGBTQ community to both understand their issues and also ensure there are no barriers to access and equality within city government.


The City Controller “inspects and audits all engineering, architectural, construction, and demolition contracts during and after completion of projects”  What does this mean in terms of addressing infrastructure such as local bridges as well as demolition of abandoned residential properties? If the city does paving, upon receipt of the invoice, our inspectors go out and review the work to ensure city taxpayers get what they paid for. If work was done on a bridge and was paid for by city funds, we will inspect the work to ensure completeness. 

Consolidations and mergers are significant Controller issues. When the City consolidated its 911 operations with Allegheny County, City employees lost access to domestic partnership benefits because the County did not and no longer offers them. Would you commit publicly to require any potential partner for mergers and consolidations to ensure City employees do not lose benefits? City employees who are absorbed elsewhere as a result of consolidation should not have a change in their compensation or benefits. 

Does your office track the financial cost of the City Domestic Partner benefits and the registry? Could you share that information with our readers in contrast with spousal benefits? The City Controller’s office does not track this information. 

How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community? It’s an opportunity to have a conversation! Primaries allow voters to better know candidates, to better understand their platforms, and to learn about the offices they’re running for. 

What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?

  1. I will be ready on day 1.
  2. I will be independent.
  3. I have a demonstrated commitment to living my values. 

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters. We are building a coalition. I have a demonstrated commitment to good government, and voters from across the Democratic Party are supporting me. Endorsement announcements are coming soon, and I do hope to earn the support of the Stonewall Democrats, which is an organization I’ve been a member of for years. Stay tuned to my social media for upcoming endorsement announcements!

Is there anything you’d like to add? I believe in living my values. I am the board chair of my pantry, vice chair of my neighborhood YMCA board, and recently joined the board of an organization committed to helping justice-involved youth find employment. I believe in service. When I work with my neighbors, I am showing that I am  committed to leaving my community better than I found it.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media? 

Facebook: Rachael Heisler for City Controller | FacebookTwitter: Rachael Heisler (@rachaelheisler) / Twitter

Thank you, Rachael.


This is our seventh year of creating and publishing these Q&As – nearly 80 to date. If you value this work, please consider investing in our blog. Become a Patreon. Create a Steel City Snowflake. Venmo @Pghlesbian Or consider other options. Thank you.


To participate,

  • you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
  • identify as pro-choice
  • you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. 

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