Coghill, Deemer compete to represent South Hills on council
There is only one contested Pittsburgh City Council race in the May 16 primary, but there’s enough drama in District 4 to go around.
Candidates Anthony Coghill and Ashleigh Deemer live in the same Beechview neighborhood but see the world through different lenses — and the contest to replace outgoing Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak has split even some former allies.
The district includes Beechview, Brookline, Overbrook, Carrick and some adjoining neighborhoods. And Mr. Coghill, as he never fails to tell voters, “was born and raised in Beechview and lived here my entire life. … My message is simple: It’s back to the basics.”
Wielding photographs of graffiti-marred walls and trashstrewn gutters from around the district, he pledged, “If I’m the city council representative, this won’t happen. I will paint this myself if I have to.”
“As a council person, you can’t go out and paint the graffiti by yourself,” countered Ms. Deemer. “If you personally handle every request, that’s all you’ll ever do.”
As Ms. Rudiak’s chief of staff, Ms. Deemer handles community concerns and frequently represents the office at community gatherings. She’ll continue appearing at such gatherings if elected, she said, while pledging to continue work on some of Ms. Rudiak’s signature issues, such as providing early education to city children.
“We’ve had our hands in preK education from the beginning,” and with the city studying the financial and other challenges of such a program, that work will continue into the next council term, she said.
Such advocacy won the support of groups like the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. “Her work on early childhood
education has been great,” said PFT president Nina Esposito-Visgitis. While Mr. Coghill was “very personable, Ashleigh has the track record of working with us.”
“I’ll advocate for that, but I’ll be focused more on the basic things I see here,” said Mr. Coghill.
The 50-year-old roofing contractor came up through the rough-andtumble of Beechview politics, having lost three previous races for the seat but winning a protracted fight with a political ally-turned-foe: Pete Wagner, the longtime chair of the Democratic Party’s powerful 19th Ward.
“I’ve been tried and tested,” said Mr. Coghill, who replaced Mr. Wagner as ward chair in 2014. He hails his stewardship of the often-fractious committee as proof of his ability to bring people together. “I’m a proven reformer, based on what I’ve done there.”
“Anthony provides a kind of leadership we didn’t have before, and a sense that everybody is welcome,” said Rob Frank, a longtime committee member. He also hailed Mr. Coghill’s focus on “basic services. … Instead of having the council seat be a pulpit on bigger issues, he’s going to drill down on the dayto-day work.”
Both campaigns had roughly $15,000 on hand by the end of March, according to financial reports. Mr. Coghill has won the endorsement of Democratic Party leaders and support from officials including Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Sen. Wayne Fontana.
Ms. Deemer has garnered the backing of progressive organizations including the Sierra Club, and politicians including Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.
Ms. Wagner, a former state House representative for the area, said she was backing Ms. Deemer because “she’s well-prepared and very intelligent.”
And Ms. Wagner said she was “compelled to support strong, promising female candidates.” Too often, “individuals claim they want to see strong women candidates, but you don’t always have their support.”
“Myself and some of the other people who are being categorized as the ‘old-boys network’ have supported Natalia before,” along with Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Senate candidate Katie McGinty, replied a bristling Mr. Fontana.
“I have nothing against Ashleigh,” he said. “But my experience with the office is that many times things weren’t being dealt with in a timely manner when it came to the basics Anthony talks about: potholes and graffiti and blight.”
“If this were a legitimate complaint, I feel like he would have picked up the phone,” said Ms. Rudiak, who said she and Mr. Fontana have had a “productive and successful” relationship.
“I’ve been going door to door, and Ashleigh has high name recognition because the office has been so responsive,” Ms. Rudiak said. By contrast, she said, “I’ve never seen her opponent at a graffiti cleanup or a litter pickup in the past eight years.”
“I run a roofing company and the Democratic committee here,” said Mr. Coghill, who added that he’d done pro bono roofing work for his church and a ball field. “But when this is my job, you bet I’ll be there.”
“South Pittsburgh neighborhoods are fiercely loyal” with families staying for generations, said Megan Zirkel, a 30-year-old Brookline native active in community groups. But although that creates a strong sense of community, she said, residents sometimes perceive Ms. Rudiak as being “too East End.”
Ms. Zirkel herself regarded Ms. Rudiak’s tenure positively and said newer families are moving into the area. Ms. Deemer, she said, was “an incredible advocate.” But she’s also a Cranberry native, and Ms. Zirkel said “people are going to have to look past that [she’s] not from here.”