On Jan. 3, Dwan Walker, Aliquippa’s first African-American mayor, took office after a hard fought two-year campaign. His journey began in 2009, when 14-year-old TiQuai Wallace, was struck and killed by a 17-year-old drunk driver, an incident that forever-changed Walker’s outlook on the community where he was born and raised.
“There was a death of a young man in 2009. Our families were close. Everybody took it hard,” Walker said. “It was one of those things that changed the landscape of Aliquippa, it changed the way people looked at things.”
|ALIQUIPPA MAYOR—Dwan Walker accepts a 2011 50 Men of Excellence award from the New Pittsburgh Courier. (File Photo by J.L. Martello)
Tragedy struck Aliquippa again that same year when Walker’s sister, Deidre Walker, was killed in a murder suicide. It was ultimately the death of Walker’s sister, his strongest supporter, that led him to run, alongside his twin brother Donald Walker, on the One Aliquippa ticket for city government.
“My sister was the one who told me to run. She said the city was ready for me and if you tell me to run, I’m going to do it 1000 percent,” Walker said. “As I was preparing to run, my sister was murdered. To get that call at 3:30 in the morning, it hit me hard. It was surreal. My sister had a dream before she died. She told me I could do it.”
Two years later, Walker, 36, beat incumbent Mayor Anthony Battalini in the May 2011 Democratic primary, setting him up for an easy victory in the November election where he ran unopposed. Battalini, who lost the election with 805 votes to Walker’s 1,604, had served three consecutive terms. Walker’s brother, Donald Walker, also won a seat on city council in the primary with 1,135 votes. Blacks compose 35 percent of Aliquippa’s population.
“It’s crazy for you to beat the incumbent in Aliquippa. The Aliquippa Democrats told me I couldn’t win, and you never tell a kid from Aliquippa you can’t win. They ran my name through the mud and I just fought the good fight,” Walker said. “When they read the numbers off, they said we won two to one. When I say we, it’s because it was a team effort. If God didn’t want this to happen it wouldn’t have happened.”
Now Walker has his sights set on revitalizing a struggling city, still reeling from the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s. Most importantly, Walker said his primary focus would be to reduce crime and uplift Aliquippa’s youth.
“You have to change the vision of Aliquippa. We have to change the landscape of what the youth see. Now that I’m mayor, it’s getting through to the kids, what they could be.”
Despite Aliquippa High School’s stellar athletic history, which has seen former players go on to the NFL and the Major Leagues, Walker said the city’s youth have few opportunities available to them. As a coach for the Aliquippa Youth Football League, Walker said reducing crime among the city’s youth is about providing them with a strong education and job opportunities.
“The violence problem is simple. You have young people doing stupid things and the only reason they’re doing stupid things is because they have nothing else to do,” Walker said. “Our schools need to make them ready for college and if they’re not going to college, because not every kid is, we have to get them a trade. Back in the day when I was in school they had woodshop and everything.”
Walker’s second priority will be rebuilding Aliquippa’s infrastructure. Primarily, he said recent issues with flooding in the city’s Downtown business district have kept developers from bringing in new businesses.
“We need to build up the infrastructure of Downtown,” Walker said. “We’ve had some flooding down there and we do have some problems with crime. But we need to change the image of Aliquippa. We have to figure out a way to get that flooding to stop because in the past couple years we’ve had two.”
Walker who is the father of two daughters ages 14 and 7, graduated from Robert Morris University with a degree in sports communication. He is currently an account executive at Fedex.