If we really want to serve our residents AND attract new ones, we need to fix the fact that most people can’t go 1.5 miles in Pittsburgh without getting in their car. So, what’s the answer? More buses, more bus drivers, more routes, better bus stops, and dedicated bus lanes. No fancy technology required (although an all-electric fleet would be great). All it takes is money and political will.
Our next 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
I first met Barb at the City Council Post-Agenda with the LGBTQIA+ Commission (disclosure: I’m a co-chair on the Commission.) I knew she had won the Special Election to fill Cory O’Connor’s seat on City Council, but I did not know much about her. During that interaction, I was impressed by how many questions she asked and her obvious willingness to accept new information and/or alternative perspectives. I learned quite a bit about her district by reading this Q&A. I hope you will, too.
Your Name: Barb Warwick
Your Pronouns: she/her
The Office You Seek: Pittsburgh City Council, District 5
How do you describe your identity? Hetero, cis, white female.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
District 5 is really unique in that it’s a microcosm of the whole city. We have (literally) some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Pittsburgh as well as some of the poorest and most vulnerable, and everything in between. In addition to these economic disparities, there’s a huge range in our constituency for everything from race, religion, orientation, and political beliefs. I kind of consider my own neighborhood – The Run – to be a hidden gem. But I think most people know about us because of the bike path between Oakland and Downtown and also Big Jim’s. As far as truly hidden gems, I would say Duck Hollow. I also want to give a shout out to Negril Curbside – our Caribbean food truck in Hazelwood. Please check them out and grab a coffee at Hazelwood Café as well.
How has redistricting impacted your district?
It hasn’t really. We picked up one precinct in the 14th Ward.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine.
That’s a great question. I can’t remember if he was the first LGBTQIA+ person I met, but I have to say my friend Chris. We’ve known each other since 7th grade, when he was my best friend’s boyfriend. His best friend (who is also now gay) and I “dated” as well. For the most part, it was the four of us talking on the phone and occasionally hanging out at school dances. Anyway, fast forward to high school and Chris and I became very close. He came out around that time and was always his totally unapologetic self – so smart with this amazing style, wit, and charm. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the courage and strength that took. He was just Chris. But it was pretty exceptional – especially in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Now, he’s a designer, making one-of-a-kind jewelry. You can check out his work at https://chrisdaviesnewyork.com/.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you took municipal office?
My team and I have been in place a little over two months. In that time, I’ve heard from constituents about issues surrounding domestic violence and housing insecurity that are specifically compounded by their LGBTQIA+ identity in ways that I would not have been aware of before. Having the chance to sit at the City Council table with Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ commission was also an extremely helpful and eye-opening experience. Not only was it an in-depth and personal conversation with leaders from across this community, it also helped identify some very concrete things we can do right now to support. For example, our city lifeguards are not being trained on how to make our pools safe and welcoming spaces, and there’s a lack of communication to parents about LGBTQIA+ celebrations and other events specifically for kids. These are things we can fix immediately, while also working on longer-term, deeper-dive efforts with the county, the state, and other organizations to make sure that Pittsburgh is a healthy, safe community for all residents, regardless of gender, identify, or sexual orientation.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the City Council? How will you respond to those priorities?
My understanding of the top LGBTQIA+ concerns in the city of Pittsburgh are to ensure:
- Equitable access to jobs without discrimination in hiring or discriminatory treatment as an employee
- Support for affordable housing that takes into account the specific needs of LGBTQIA+ residents, especially seniors who do not necessarily have extended family and children to help them navigate the difficulties of aging
- Healthcare that is specific to LGBTQIA+ needs, in particular the needs of the Trans community
- Schools and rec centers that are safe and welcoming spaces for LGBTQIA+ kids, where they are safe and encouraged to be themselves by educators and their peers
- Social services that are tailored to the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ residents
- The freedom to access, enjoy, and feel safe in any business and public space/facility
As a member of City Council, the first step in addressing any of these is to identify leaders and/or liaisons within the LGBTQIA+ community to work with the office and ensure clear and open lines of communication. As an elected official, I always remind people that I don’t know what I don’t know. And when it comes to the unique issues facing LGBTQIA+ residents, I’m not an expert. This is why it’s so critical to have an open door – to be accessible and available. As I mentioned earlier, there’s so much that we learned in a single two-hour session with the LGBTQIA+ Commission. Imagine how much better we could be doing for the community – how many things we could identify and communicate to the various city departments, how many connections we could be making – if we had those conversations on a regular basis.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.
Working with Pittsburghers for Public Transit and examining how we fund and prioritize mobility in Pittsburgh has played a major role in informing my understanding of discrimination across race, gender, income, age, and physical ability. When we spend city resources and political capital on high-tech mobility gimmicks like autonomous vehicles, e-scooters, and private shuttles, we are catering to the needs of a privileged few while leaving many of our most vulnerable residents no reliable way to get to work, school, healthcare, the grocery stores, etc. In turn, this lack of focus and investment on transit infrastructure signals to other government authorities – the county, the state, PRT – that we don’t care about transit or the people whose lives depend on it. This includes Black and brown communities, women and children, the elderly, and the disabled. We see this same disregard for equity in the way we have rolled out street safety and pedestrian access across District 5, with wealthier neighborhoods getting millions of dollars in bike/ped infrastructure improvements, while lower-income, predominantly Black and brown communities see little-to-no investment. I know it may be hard to hear, but a lot of this is a result of the bike-centric advocacy that we saw throughout the Peduto administration. This notion that if we focus our street planning around the vision of a 100% bikeable city, we would solve everyone’s mobility problems. But this bike-centric viewpoint leaves so many people out. At the end of the day, we should have a vision and policy for mobility infrastructure that focuses on the public good – that means everyone.
Please give an example of when another person has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
Honestly, I have to say that this happens a lot. I make it a point to hear people out – to understand where they’re coming from, especially when we don’t agree. I think that if you’re strong and confident in your core values, you can allow yourself the room to listen and hear how others might see a particular issue or problem differently. For example, when I first started getting involved with organizations doing after school programming in Glen Hazel, I’d get on calls with various university groups wanting to come in and do this or that activity with the kids. I’d think, “Great! Let’s do this!” But then things would fall flat. That’s where I really learned that you can’t just come in and expect people to conform to fit whatever program or service you want to give them. You need to take the time to learn how they operate – how their day and their program works – then offer something that can be integrated into that.
You ran in the Special Election to fill the vacancy created when Corey O’Connor left Council. Please explain how the Special Election term works and what is happening with the upcoming Primary Election.
The Special Election was to fill the remaining year on Corey’s term. First, I ran for and won the Democratic Committee nomination (making me the Dem on the ballot). I then won the election in November, was sworn in on Dec. 12, and will be in the seat through 2023. Now I’m running in the Democratic primary for the full four-year term. That election is on May 16, and whoever wins will run as the Democrat in the general election in November. I actually started building my campaign back in Jan. of 2022, so I’ve essentially been running for this office for a year+. It’s been a long slog, and it’s especially challenging now that I’m in the office and running at the same time. But I knew that was the deal going in. And I love this job. So, it’s 100% worth it.
Affordable rental housing is a significant concern in Pittsburgh. Please tell us about rental housing in your district. What are the barriers and challenges? What are your plans to ensure affordable, safe, and accessible housing options for renters, from students to lifelong residents?
Not only are rental prices skyrocketing, there are very few rentals available in many parts of District 5, especially in Greenfield and Greater Hazelwood.
In the long term, we need to build more affordable units. Part of that effort is going to be through inclusionary zoning, where a fixed percentage of units in a new housing development must be reserved as affordable. We have seen this work in Lawrenceville, and I would like to see it in District 5 as well. Another long-term solution is going to be to breathe life into the Land Bank. The funding is now there to get this effort off the ground, and I’m hoping to launch a pilot program with them in Hazelwood to get abandoned properties into the hands of local community members, with the idea of gifting the property when they turn it into an affordable unit.
In the short term, we need to improve landlord outreach at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. Right now, there are folks losing their vouchers and getting thrown back on the waiting list because they cannot find a place to rent. We need to recognize that much of the stigma of Section 8 is unfairly blamed on tenants and actually lays with the difficulty landlords have interacting with the HACP. Then, when landlords do learn to navigate that system on a large scale, they’re not held accountable for keeping their units safe and livable for tenants and neighbors. Outreach also needs to improve at the URA – and I know they’re working on this – so that the dollars we’re investing in the Housing Opportunity Fund and other programs are getting to the people who need them most.
As the Councilperson, working with Citiparks and our local PTOs and sports leagues is my favorite thing to do. So, in addition to practical protections, like training lifeguards to understand the needs of Trans people at our pools, I’d like to bring kids and families together from across District 5 and really go all out to make our LGBTQIA+ kids feel safe, seen, and celebrated.
You do not seem to be a fan of scooters. Given how many I see dumped on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, it seems like a class action ADA lawsuit waiting to happen. I also struggle to see the utility of the scooters in The Run or Glenn Hazel. What are some practical transportation solutions that would serve residents of your district?
Please don’t get me started on scooters…they are, IMO, just another mobility gimmick intended to make Pittsburgh seem hip, when in actuality, we continue to ignore the fact that great cities have great public transit. If we really want to serve our residents AND attract new ones, we need to fix the fact that most people can’t go 1.5 miles in Pittsburgh without getting in their car. So, what’s the answer? More buses, more bus drivers, more routes, better bus stops, and dedicated bus lanes. No fancy technology required (although an all-electric fleet would be great). All it takes is money and political will. I have high hopes for this upcoming County Exec race. With the right person in that seat to work with Mayor Gainey, I think we can see it happen in the next 4-8 years. This is real legacy-level stuff. And I’m here to support however I can. As for a quick win? Extend the 75 over the Hot Metal Bridge into Hazelwood, which would create a much-needed connection to the Southside and Oakland.
When Bruce Kraus leaves office, there will be no out LGBTQ members of Council, depending on this election cycle results. That’s a significant loss for our community in terms of representation. Does it matter for a City like Pittsburgh to have a Council that’s entirely cisgender and heterosexual?
Yes, it certainly matters. We want our government to reflect who we are as a city – and City Council is not there yet. Obviously, one of my opponents identifies as Queer, which is a compelling reason to vote for them. It would be disingenuous of me to imply that it isn’t. As activists, we ask voters to focus on a single issue all the time, especially in primaries. So, as a cisgender candidate speaking here to a largely LGBTQIA+ audience, I just hope that folks will take the time to look into my campaign as well.
In September 2022, City Council recognized the first ‘Protect Trans Kids’ Day in Pittsburgh with a proclamation written by trans teens. Please review the proclamation and offer some concrete policy or program solution you would consider championing in response to their priorities.
As a mother of four elementary-school aged kids, I have to say that I’m encouraged to see how far we’ve come in bringing LGBTQIA+ lives and experiences into the fold of the collective experience. But I’ve also overheard enough schoolyard comments to know that we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Here in Pittsburgh and across the country, Trans kids are under attack in our communities, in our schools, and in our sports leagues. With that in mind, I would like to see more youth-oriented education and celebration around LGBTQIA+ awareness/history months and holidays at our city facilities. As the Councilperson, working with Citiparks and our local PTOs and sports leagues is my favorite thing to do. So, in addition to practical protections, like training lifeguards to understand the needs of Trans people at our pools, I’d like to bring kids and families together from across District 5 and really go all out to make our LGBTQIA+ kids feel safe, seen, and celebrated.
Potential mergers or collaborations with the County creates a dilemma for City employees who would lose access to domestic partner benefits. The County briefly offered them to same sex, non-unionized employees before rescinding them in 2015. The City offers domestic partner benefits to all employees. The former City 911 employees lost this benefit when merged with the County 911 Department. Would you commit publicly to require any potential partner for mergers and consolidations to ensure City employees do not lose benefits?
Yes, I would absolutely commit to this.
We need to recognize that much of the stigma of Section 8 is unfairly blamed on tenants and actually lays with the difficulty landlords have interacting with the HACP. Then, when landlords do learn to navigate that system on a large scale, they’re not held accountable for keeping their units safe and livable for tenants and neighbors.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Pittsburgh is a Democratic town, so these primaries are what decide how our city will be run. They are also an opportunity to shape the Democratic Party overall, as we saw with so many ACDC seats flipping to progressives last May, especially in the 15th Ward. And as stressful as it can be to campaign and fight for your seat, it’s an important mechanism for keeping elected officials accountable. At the end of the day, we work for the residents, so I like to think of it as the ultimate performance review.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
- Ours is a platform grounded in economic, housing, food, and transit equity and justice and in understanding where all those things must intersect across every one of our communities. The work I did as a community advocate before being elected reflects that, as does the work that my office continues to do now. We have a lot in the works – from protecting parks and greenways to expanding transit and food access to working to reshape public safety agencies to better serve our collective needs. But we’re only getting started – and one year is not enough.
- My team and I work really hard to let every community in District 5 know they matter. In just 2.5 months, we’ve held meetings in every neighborhood and answered hundreds of constituent calls and emails – making sure that people who have been underrepresented for decades have the kind of service and access to City Council that has been historically reserved for those with political connections and influence.
- Winning this seat last November as a first-time candidate from The Run is important. What started out as neighborhood fight to get flood relief and stop a private shuttle road from being built through our local park, turned into something much bigger. It grew into a coalition of residents from Greenfield and Hazelwood, public transit and disability rights activists, environmentalists, and more, who came together to stand up to the big-money special interests and career politicians that have been running Pittsburgh for so long; who created their own alternative plan; who persisted in their fight for six years until they won; and then who used that moral victory and momentum to win a seat on City Council. In the end, this election is not about me. It’s about all of us – about the work that it takes to prove that the people in power are never stronger than the power of the people.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
Mayor Ed Gainey
City Councilmember Deb Gross
City Councilmember Bobby Wilson
County Councilmember at Large Bethany Hallam
Steel City Stonewall Democrats
Young Democrats of Allegheny County
Is there anything you’d like to add? No response
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Barb.
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
- Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Lita Brillman, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Kate Lovelace, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Valerie Fleisher, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Barb Warwick, Candidate for City Council, District 5
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