Pittsburgh’s District 9 contains some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. While areas like East Liberty have seen recent redevelopment and renewal, other areas like Homewood, East Hills, Lemington and Larimer continue to struggle.
As a resident of the Lincoln-Lemington area, District 9 city council candidate Phyllis Copeland-Mitchell knows in order to improve the district as a whole, she must first tackle the issues in her own neighborhood. Like the bible says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
“I have a lot of roots here and I would like to see better leadership. Where I live is just really bad,” she said. “I would write legislation once I’m in office. I would tap into whatever funding is out there. This is a new arena for me, I’m not a politician. You have to work with what you have.”
The planks in the eye of Copeland-Mitchell’s community include abandoned housing, vacant lots and the remnants of boarded up businesses. She said the solution to these problems is Community Development Block Grant funds, which are designated for areas like District 9.
Currently, District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess has given power of CDBG funds to the POISE foundation. Copeland-Mitchell said she would return control of these funds to her district.
“I think we need to get more businesses in our area. There’s no stores here, there’s nothing in the community. And there are a lot of empty lots and houses that are in poor shape and we need to fix those houses,” she said. “I’d focus on getting businesses started in the community. We have to work on buildings that are no longer in use.”
With more than 20 years of work in social services, including programs such as the Young Mother’s Program at the Hill House Association and the nationally renowned GAPS Initiative Program, which was a precursor for welfare-to-work programs around the country, Copeland-Mitchell has a history of helping children and families. In her plan for District 9, she sees children as a key component to reducing violence and crime.
“There’s nowhere for the children to really play. I believe that if we had programs for the children, this can help with the crime because if you can get a child when they’re young and have programs for them—it takes all of us to raise a child,” she said. “Technology seems to be the way of the future now and I’d like to have some recreation center where the children can really be educated.”
While not quick to criticize Burgess, Copeland-Mitchell did echo the concern of some in her area who say Burgess doesn’t meet frequently enough with the community.
“I would be a little more visible to the people. I don’t want to run a negative campaign, but I would make sure I was visible to the people,” she said. “I don’t believe in participating in something half way. I would be realistic about the times I can meet with them. I wouldn’t say, ‘I will meet with you every week.’”
Though Copeland-Mitchell admitted she was not very familiar with her fellow challenger Lucille Prater-Holliday, she said Prater-Holliday has run for several government offices in the past.
“I do know she has run for a lot of offices and I don’t think that shows stability. I think I’m a stable individual,” she said. “I don’t think I would put my hat in the ring for every position that comes open.”
Despite her lack of experience in politics, Copeland-Mitchell said she would use her interpersonal skills to work cohesively with other members of city council.
“I’m sure I can work with them. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. Me being a more positive person, I think I can bring them together,” she said. “My work is more so community based. A lot of people know me in the community as being hands on. I want to make sure we are focusing on the community—that is going to be my intent and my goal.”
Other neighborhoods in District 9 include Point Breeze, and Garfield.