These are uncertain and often stressful times, and people value honesty and integrity in their leaders above a story meant to idolize a few individuals and their antiquated values. This is especially true when we consider that those “bootstraps” folks are never self-made, but actually quietly or publically supported by both generational wealth and different kinds of community wealth and support. I think today’s voters are looking for real solutions from real people, not the same old song and dance from an out-of-touch generation that believes the struggles of their young adult lives are the same struggles that young adults face today. This is simply not the case.
The next post in our 2023 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
Sam Schmidt came to my attention after Carl Redwood announced his candidacy for County Council and when current District 13 Councilor Liv Bennett announced she would not be running again. I live in District 13 so I’m particularly interested in this competitive race. The reality that Sam is part of the LGBTQIA+ community is important because change is often coming from those of us who have been oppressed and marginalized moving into leadership roles.
Your Name: Samantha “Sam” Schmidt
Your Pronouns: any/all
The Office You Seek: Allegheny County Council District 13
How do you describe your identity?
I am a queer, gender non-conforming/non-binary white person.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
District 13 is expansive and encompasses many different parts of the Pittsburgh area, so it has so many beautiful spaces to explore. From my home borough of Bellevue all the way to Morningside and the South Hills, District 13 includes more than 98,000 constituents. One hidden gem that folks might not know about is the Manchester community garden, which is run by community gardeners and distributes beautiful fresh produce to countless northside families. With grant funding from Grow Pittsburgh, they’ve been able to support their community with abundant access to free, healthy foods.
How has redistricting impacted your district?
District 13 gained the 30th ward (Knoxville) in the last redistricting.
County Council can help protect our LGBTQ youth and adults by guaranteeing a right to shelter, protecting against discrimination in the process of getting housed, and creating more accessible healthcare for all, including for the unhoused.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine.
It’s hard to say who the first LGBTQ person in my life was, because I grew up in a place and time when people weren’t really categorizing themselves as such, mostly for our own safety. My first girlfriend in high school was probably the first, though maybe at the time we didn’t realize we were part of this community, because we didn’t have community support back then. She taught me a lot of things, but mostly how to live more authentically, to follow my heart, and to not be afraid to exist as I am in the world. She was also a disciplined athlete and sparked my 20 year passion for fitness, particularly long distance running. She was an amazing influence on my life at a particularly dark time, when I had just left home and was finishing high school while working full time. We met while working together at a local restaurant.
Tell us about the LGBTQ community in your district and the region.
In my district and the region, we have a very proud and robust LGBTQ community and culture. I’m proud to say that my district hosts the annual pride parade, as well as an abundance of queer-friendly and inclusive events throughout the year. The LGBTQ community in my district is extremely diverse, but overall, we love to create safe communities for those transitioning and those who don’t feel safe or included elsewhere in the world. In the district, we have some organizations that are doing great work for the LGBTQ community, including Central Outreach Wellness Center, the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, TransYOUniting and Proud Haven. We also have community groups like SisTers PGH and others who help protect and care for trans youth and adults, which is great!
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for County Council? How will you respond to those priorities?
I would say that for the county, the biggest concerns for the LGBTQ community are access to healthcare and affordable housing. This is particularly true for black and brown LGBTQ youth, who experience disproportionate rates of violence and homelessness. County Council can help protect our LGBTQ youth and adults by guaranteeing a right to shelter, protecting against discrimination in the process of getting housed, and creating more accessible healthcare for all, including for the unhoused. For those with more stable housing situations, another major concern is protecting the rights of same-sex couples, particularly in an era when states are rolling back basic human rights protections for women, and attempting to censor the narrative around the LGBTQ community. We should also be offering legal aid for those individuals in the community who need legal name changes in order to live as their authentic selves and to be able to navigate legal and other systems that get hung up on legal names vs. name changes.
Your website repeatedly references mutual aid. How do you define mutual aid? Please explain how mutual aid fits into political and governmental work.
I define mutual aid as the community meeting its own needs, with the shared understanding that the systems we have in place are not working. It can be summarized by the slogan “we take care of us,” and it centers community bonds above government organization.
Mutual aid fits into political and government work in that the government can seek the wisdom of those already meeting the needs of their communities when it fails to produce meaningful solutions to our problems. Often, mutual aid volunteers and members of the community inspire government and nonprofits to model their actions off of what’s actually working for the people. Mutual aid can be a great way to engage the community in coming together to create tailored solutions to each community’s unique challenges. Collective engagement like this could be a powerful tool for government, if local government officials took interest in true and equitable democratic models. Politicians are just regular people, though typically they are those among us with the most privilege and access. Were they to look at our challenges from a lived experience, or as solutions in practice instead of in theory, we would be able to better understand and meet the needs of our communities.
If we implemented a housing-first approach and considered renters therein, that would have a few different benefits for renters. For example, I would love to give renters the right to counsel during eviction proceedings. I would also like to protect renters who want to organize their buildings, in the same way I hope to enhance protections for union organizers. We’d need to establish a tenants’ bill of rights, among other solutions. And in the event that a renter does become evicted, a housing-first approach would mean they wouldn’t have to spend a single night on the street. That’s the goal.
Housing is an area where you differ markedly from mainstream Democratic politics that focus on reducing the underlying causes. You advocate for a housing first approach to create more available beds for homeless neighbors and reduce corporate control of single family units. Does a housing first approach work with regard to affordable rental housing.
First, to clarify, I do believe that we need to address the underlying causes of homelessness and housing insecurity, each of which can be followed upstream to our current socioeconomic model. As long as we employ a for-profit model for housing, homelessness will always exist.
This is where a housing-first approach comes in. Designating housing as a human right guarantees all citizens the right to access that cannot be denied intentionally or through the failures of government. Because government is already failing to house so many, this is why we need an immediate expansion of the number of beds, and a housing-first (with wrap-around services included, and immediately following) approach.
In terms of rental housing, the term “housing first” doesn’t apply as much as “right to shelter,” but both concepts are essentially saying the same thing. That is, as long as you are here in Allegheny County, you have the right to housing. If we implemented a housing-first approach and considered renters therein, that would have a few different benefits for renters. For example, I would love to give renters the right to counsel during eviction proceedings. I would also like to protect renters who want to organize their buildings, in the same way I hope to enhance protections for union organizers. We’d need to establish a tenants’ bill of rights, among other solutions. And in the event that a renter does become evicted, a housing-first approach would mean they wouldn’t have to spend a single night on the street. That’s the goal.
Your platform is “informed by socialist values and protections for the poor and working class.” What gives you faith that Allegheny County residents are prepared to add socialist values to County Council?
One thing that gives me faith is Pittsburgh’s growing and active community of socialists, leftists, and others who are not only ready for change, but are driving it. From my experience working and volunteering in the communities nearly daily for the past two years, people are clear about what they need. People are seeking transformative justice, and a more equitable approach to society and economics that doesn’t completely, repeatedly exploit the ⅔ of Americans that are barely squeaking by financially. We are tired and we are ready to create the future we want for ourselves. I think people are ready, energized and organized for this, and you saw a lot of that this year through labor organizing. Even those who don’t “identify” as socialists are still ready for and deserving of guaranteed access to food, clean air and water, housing, and healthcare. We can all agree that we all deserve those things, and this generation is less interested in titles than it is in solutions for the many symptoms of capitalism (homelessness, hunger, a need for healthcare access, exploited workers, etc.)
Allegheny County rescinded domestic partner benefits in 2015, citing the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality. Fast forward to 2022 and the undermining of Roe v Wade legal arguments that underpin the marriage equality rulings. Additionally, Pennsylvania still has a so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ on the books in spite of the SCOTUS rulings legalizing marriage equality. How would you propose County Council revisit domestic partner benefits for all employees, both same sex and opposite sex to protect workers?
Revisiting domestic partner benefits for all employees in Allegheny County, regardless of their sexual orientation, is a complex and sensitive issue. To do so, the County Council should approach the matter with careful consideration of both legal and ethical factors. County Council could consult with legal experts to thoroughly review the current legal landscape in Pennsylvania and the implications of the recent developments surrounding marriage equality and Roe v. Wade. It could then engage in public dialogue and raise awareness about this potential challenge for same-sex couples, and draft a clear and inclusive domestic partner benefits policy that covers both same-sex and opposite-sex couples that aligns with evolving legal standards and is non-discriminatory.
Mutual aid can be a great way to engage the community in coming together to create tailored solutions to each community’s unique challenges. Collective engagement like this could be a powerful tool for government, if local government officials took interest in true and equitable democratic models. Politicians are just regular people, though typically they are those among us with the most privilege and access. Were they to look at our challenges from a lived experience, or as solutions in practice instead of in theory, we would be able to better understand and meet the needs of our communities.
Often conversations about the environment and County level politics focus on fracking and corporate clean air & water initiatives. You want to focus on reducing the number of lead pipes in schools and homes without undue burdens on residents. Would you say we have a drinking water crisis in Allegheny County? What will motivate taxpayers to make the hard choices to replace the lines?
Yes, there is a drinking water crisis in Allegheny County. My hope is that we can avoid furthering this crisis by addressing some of the developing issues for drinking water now. Lead lines are a serious health hazard and should not still be in the ground knowing what we now know about the effects of lead on physical health and cognitive development. There is no safe level of lead exposure, so, to me, exposing our children (particularly in poorer communities) to lead in their drinking water daily and not considering it an urgent challenge is irresponsible and unjust. Taxpayers are already motivated to replace lead lines and deliver clean, safe drinking water to their children and families, it’s the financial burden of replacement that deters them. However, most homeowners are not the original builders of their homes, nor are they responsible for the original public infrastructure in our region. Subsidizing lead line replacement is one way we can get homeowners motivated to make what would otherwise be an easy decision to make.
Some say the County’s primary job is to create jobs and stabilize the economy. How does job creation fit into your platform?
I’m excited to create jobs that align with the green initiatives in my platform. For example, by hiring more public bus drivers, transitioning to an all-electric fleet, and paying drivers a living wage this will create a better work-life balance for workers. Job creation also works its way in when we bolster CCAC funding, which I learned recently has several robust trade programs that can fill in industry gaps and help Allegheny County students access comfortable, exciting, well-paying careers. In order to create a more walkable, bikeable infrastructure, we’ll need city planners and engineers who know how to prioritize green infrastructure, and we’ll of course need lots of laborers to build said infrastructure. In bridging the gaps between social safety nets and the needs of the community, there’s lots of opportunity to create jobs for those with building management experience, experience with the unhoused, and experience with growing and harvesting food locally. Better infrastructure and meeting basic human needs will create more stable communities, which will attract business to the area or encourage entrepreneurship. There are many more opportunities for job creation, including possible jobs replacing lead lines throughout the county, creating green solutions to managing the gray water that Alcoson wants to treat and dump back into our waters, and filling the gaps in community care that police do not provide, like mental health and substance use services, are some other examples.
Your experiences working at below minimum wage jobs, struggling with housing and food security, and being in recovery resonate with politicians like Summer Lee, Sara Innamarato, and Bethany Hallam who have been upfront about their life challenges as part of their politics. Older politicians will talk about the struggles of their parents and grandparents, but lean into the myth of being “self-made” or “pulling themselves up” to describe themselves. Today’s younger politicians are much more blunt about their own struggles and reflecting on how the bootstrap and other tropes are no longer relatable, not useful. Is this a fair characterization? Why or why not?
I think those characterizations were never useful, they were just more effective tools of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism in the past than they are now. Thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, folks are now very aware that the bosses, politicians, and celebrities once so inaccessible to us are actually just living, breathing humans like we all are (but typically with a lot more privilege). We’re also much more self aware, understand ourselves and our complex emotions, identities, and abilities better, and have learned to become better communicators. These are uncertain and often stressful times, and people value honesty and integrity in their leaders above a story meant to idolize a few individuals and their antiquated values. This is especially true when we consider that those “bootstraps” folks are never self-made, but actually quietly or publically supported by both generational wealth and different kinds of community wealth and support. I think today’s voters are looking for real solutions from real people, not the same old song and dance from an out-of-touch generation that believes the struggles of their young adult lives are the same struggles that young adults face today. This is simply not the case.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
1. I’ve been a leader in the public sector (Department of Defense), the private sector (service industry) and continue to lead in the community today as an established organizer. I have the benefit of 17 years of government leadership training but wasn’t afraid to lead with integrity and risk my career as a whistleblower. I’ve been in the practice of leading equitably for nearly 20 years and plan to continue learning and growing.
2. When I succeed, I bring everyone with me. We succeed together.
3. Diversity is a priority for me and should continue to be a priority for our legislative bodies. We need leaders that represent all identities, abilities, sexualities, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. and I hope to be one of those leaders.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
Currently, organizations that have endorsed me include: Food Water Action, Sierra Club PA, Pittsburgh DSA, the Allegheny Green Party, UNITE! and Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh. I have also been endorsed by the current District 13 Councilmember, Liv Bennett, as well as County Councilmembers Bethany Hallam (at-large) and Anita Prizio (District 3), and Pittsburgh City Council members Deb Gross (District 7) and Barb Warwick (District 5). Finally, I’ve been endorsed by the Independent County Council candidate in District 10, Carl Redwood.
Taxpayers are already motivated to replace lead lines and deliver clean, safe drinking water to their children and families, it’s the financial burden of replacement that deters them. However, most homeowners are not the original builders of their homes, nor are they responsible for the original public infrastructure in our region. Subsidizing lead line replacement is one way we can get homeowners motivated to make what would otherwise be an easy decision to make.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If your readers want to get to know me while helping to serve our most vulnerable community members, I volunteer serving hot meals, hygiene products and clothing donations across the district three days per week with a mutual aid group called Food not Bombs. Readers are welcome to show up to any of our distros (a quick Google search for Food not Bombs Pittsburgh will pull up our schedule) to help keep our community members safe, included, and well-fed.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media/online?
My campaign website is https://www.peopleforsamschmidt.com
My campaign Twitter account is https://twitter.com/SamSchmidt2023
My campaign Instagram account is https://www.instagram.com/samschmidtforcouncil/
My campaign Facebook account is https://www.facebook.com/peopleforsamschmidt/
Thank you, Sam.
Other Q&A’s in this 2023 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
- Q&A with Nerissa Galt, Candidate for PENNCREST School Board
- Q&A with Todd Hoffman, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Dan Grzybek, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 5
- Q&A with Khari Mosley, Candidate for City Council, District 9
- Q&A with Alexandra Hunt, Candidate for Philadelphia City Controller
- Q&A with Deb Gross, Candidate for City Council, District 7
- Q&A with Phillip Roberts, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Matt Dugan, Candidate for Allegheny County District Attorney
- Q&A with Corey O’Connor, Candidate for Allegheny County Controller
- Q&A with Giuseppe GC Rosselli, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-3-02
- Q&A with Bob Charland, Candidate for City Council, District 3
- Q&A with Katrina Eames, Candidate for Northgate School Board Member
- Q&A with Michael Lamb, Candidate for Allegheny County Chief Executive
- Q&A with Sara Innamorato, Candidate for Allegheny County Chief Executive
- Q&A with Rachel Rosnick, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Bobby Wilson, Candidate for City Council, District 1
- Q&A with Weldianne Scales, Candidate for Magistrate District Judge 05-2-08
- Q&A with Lindsay Powell, Candidate for PA State House 21
- Q&A with David Bonaroti, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 13
- Q&A with Sam Schmidt, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 13.
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