McKeesport votes Diggs first Black council VP

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Last week’s controversy between McKeesport Mayor Regis McLaughlin and McKeesport City Council overshadowed an important milestone for the city’s government. On Jan. 4 Councilwoman Loretta Diggs was elected as the first African-American vice president of McKeesport City Council.

“I got unanimous votes and I couldn’t believe it. It feels good. Whenever I ran for council I was the first Black ever endorsed in this town,” Diggs said. “I’m not a ‘yes’ person. I had a lot of problems because I was so aggressive. I worked very hard for this and evidently it paid off.”

milestone
MILESTONE—After 40 years in politics, Loretta Diggs became the first African-American woman to serve as vice president of McKeesport city council. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Council elected Diggs, 77, to the position of vice president by a 7-0 vote. As she begins her third term on council, Diggs said her newly appointed position would give her greater power to affect change for her district and the city of McKeesport.

“The council rules the city. In fact we’re over the mayor to a certain degree,” Diggs said. “Since we have five of us who are really together we have quite a lot of power.”

Former council president McLaughlin took office after the resignation of James Brewster who was elected to the state senate. McLaughlin will have to run for reelection in the May primary and November elections.

The most recent controversy between the mayor and city council came as a result of Mayor McLaughlin’s dismissal of Solicitor Jason Elash. Several members of city council opposed the interim mayor’s action and are now working to reinstate Elash.

Although, Diggs’ shares her fellow council members’ disproval of the mayor’s actions, she hopes the issue will be resolved as quickly as possible. She declined to comment on the city government’s current feuding, stemming from a looming mayoral election.

“What’s important is how long this is going to be before this is resolved. We have a new interim mayor so things of course are going to change. We hope things change for the better,” Diggs said. “Everybody doesn’t have to like you, but everybody who doesn’t like you, doesn’t have to hurt you.”

Instead, Diggs’ top priority is keeping McKeesport out of Act 47 status, a designation that would label McKeesport as financially distressed and limit the city’s ability to obtain government funding. To counter the city’s financial instability, Diggs is promoting a partnership between the city and a pair of pioneering investors.

The pair, Jerry Magnelli and James Smith plan to invest more than $1 million in McKeesport. Their current projects include an internet-based television station, radio station and a number of restaurants.

“It’s a lot of money, millions of dollars coming into this town. They want to put McKeesport on the map. They need support. We can’t afford to let them slip through our fingers,” Diggs said. “We did get them introduced to the city of McKeesport and hopefully they will stay.”

Diggs hopes this influx of development will also help combat the rampant drug trafficking and violence she sees handicapping her district and the city as a whole.

“My district, they’re cleaning it up. Every district has their bad points, but in all these areas they have a lot of drugs, they have a lot of killing. You’re looking at four or five generations of drug users,” Diggs said. “I see a lot of hope but we have to work and we have to work fast.”

In the past 30 years Diggs has served in local politics, she has seen many representatives come and go. Today she is hopeful for the resurgence of a younger generation of politicians and their interest in improving their communities.

“I’m a wise old lady. I’ve been in politics ever since I came to McKeesport and that’s been 40 years,” Diggs said. “My grandparents were in Georgia and they fought really hard to get the right to vote so this has always been important to me.”

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