Two years ago, Duquesne resident Nickole Nesby, in her words, told the city’s chief of police that her neighbor was selling drugs out of the home. What happened next, according to Nesby, was unthinkable.
“The chief of police told my neighbor on me and the neighbor confronted me,” Nesby told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “I was so mad at that point in time. How dare you tell on me? I was heated.”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Nesby decided to run for the mayor of Duquesne.
“To make a change in the community,” she said.
Nesby is now referred to as “Mayor Nesby,” as she became Duquesne’s first Black female mayor in January.
She told the Courier one of her first appointments as mayor was making Thomas Dunlevy, a department veteran and federal task member of the Drug Enforcement Administration, as the city’s new police chief.
In an interview with the Courier, Nesby said she found that her agenda for moving the community forward from poverty and stagnation couldn’t really begin until she addressed several lingering issues—most of them financial.
She found some curious things.
“The former mayor’s son-in-law was the city manager. His nanny was the controller. Her husband was the chair of planning commission, and her family is related to the Act 47 coordinator,” Nesby said during the May 11 interview.
“When I came in, in January, I came into years of audit deficiencies. And learned the city hadn’t paid some venders since Feb. 2017. My immediate priority going forward is cleaning up the city water which has had high levels of carcinogen present for at least five years and which test positive for E-coli. I applied for a grant to treat the E-coli but couldn’t get it because I also found the last quarter financial records for 2017 were gone.”
Though another priority for Nesby is economic development, again she said, she has so far been stymied by previous policy decisions and mismanagement.
“One third of the city’s real estate is owned by the Allegheny County Housing Authority, the Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority or the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Duquesne (RACD), and for 20 years, they’ve done nothing with these properties,” she said.
The last straw came when—just prior to Nesby taking office—the RACD board voted to transfer $1.4 million to the nonprofit Duquesne Business Advisory Corporation—whose board includes the last two mayors and the previous city manager.
“So I sued the redevelopment authority and the advisory corporation,” she said. “So that’s working its way through. In the meantime, I’ve got a full plate, I’ve been going nonstop.”
What else does she have to address? Well, in order to lure more companies to her biggest asset—the 72-acre former U.S. Steel mill site—she needs a skilled workforce. Currently she doesn’t have that.
“I have three generations of illiteracy, a poverty rate of 76 percent and 40 percent have criminal records—they’re in jail before they get out of high school,” she said.
However, after more mismanagement within the school district, Duquesne City Schools has a new superintendent, and Nesby said they have arranged for the Allegheny Intermediate Union, the Carnegie Library and the University of Pittsburgh to add additional programing to address literacy beginning in the fall.
But there is no adult education programming or training in the immediate area or easily accessible by public transportation.
“There’s CCAC in West Mifflin, but there’s no transportation—same with Penn State McKeesport,” she said. “We had a CareerLinks office, but it moved two buses away in Forest Hills. They opened a satellite office, McKeesport, but it’s a mile walk up the hill once you get there. And we have no clinics and the closest hospital is UPMC McKeesport.”
But it’s not all gloom and doom. On the bright side, she said, there is a Taco Bell opening soon, and she is negotiating with another restaurant that specializes in barbecue.
“We’re also in the running for the next round of sites for cannabis growing—again at the mill site, and we’re working to get an Austrian glass maker who would employ between 100 and 300 people, and would take a portion to Germany for training,” she said.
“We also, finally, have the Mon-Fayette Expressway coming—which means they’ll have to relocate and rebuild our baseball and football fields. And we just got the Port Authority to scrap their initial Rapid Bus plan that would have cut service and increased fares.”
Nesby said she hopes to get foundations, corporations and nonprofits to collaborate on opportunities in Duquesne. She wants to create more affordable homes for ownership to rebuild the population that was displaced when the county demolished the city’s public housing and never replaced it.
“Hey, I’m just getting started,” she said. “I’ve got three more years. I hope it works.”
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