Olivia Bennett, a Manchester native who now lives in Northview Heights, and who works as an administrator for the director of the cancer virology program at the Hillman Cancer Center, has announced her candidacy for the Allegheny County Council seat currently held by Denise Ranalli Russell.
She is the only Black female in the race and, should she win, would be the first Black female to serve on the council since attorney Amanda Green Hawkins stepped down from the same seat in 2015.
“Diversity in politics is an issue,” Bennett recently told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “Currently there are no Black women on council. So, there’s a vacancy—I’d like to fill it.”
Bennett, an activist and advocate for several social justice causes, said frustration with council’s lack of leadership and general invisibility led her to run.
“I am tired of seeing elected officials being more about self-interest than the people’s interest,” she said. “Council, as a whole, is not very present. As I’ve been out knocking on doors, I found a lot of folks who don’t know they have a county council representative, or who it is. If you hold public office and people have never heard of you—to me, that speaks volumes.”
Though she said the challenges faced by residents in Allentown may not be the same as those in Lawrenceville or the North Side, there are broader issues that affect the entire district and beyond that she feels county council can address.
“I’m involved with community activists on several issues—one being the move to have a county Civilian Police Review Board—that’s key. There’s also the issue of how members of the LGBTQ community are treated as inmates in the Allegheny County Jail,” she said. “My platform is based on my experience as an activist. I want to be the voice for marginalized people and communities. I’m not going to say, ‘I’m your person, here’s what I’ll do.’ I’m going to say, ‘I’m your person, what do you need me to do?’”
Bennett was also instrumental in the Pittsburgh police and Buhl Foundation and the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to open a Public Safety Center in Northview Heights in December 2018.
“Sgt. (Joe) Lewis and I have ongoing conversations about how the officers can be more a part of the community. I’d like to see them do some mentoring in the community. I think it’s an important part of the reason they are there,” she said. “The fabric of policing isn’t going to change until we can groom young Black kids to see policing as a viable career option.”
Bennett earned a BS in business management from Carlow University in 2018. She has been recommended by the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, and has the personal endorsements of McKeesport mayoral candidate Fawn Walker-Montgomery, Pittsburgh City Council candidate Leon Ford and Brandi Fisher, executive director of the Alliance for Police Accountability.
District 13 includes Bellevue and the city neighborhoods of Downtown, the Strip District, Polish Hill, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Garfield, Stanton Heights, South Side Flats and Slopes, Allentown, Beltzhoover, Manchester, North Side, Troy Hill, Spring Garden and Fineview.
Bennett said she has already met with the mayor of Bellevue and she began gathering signatures on her nominating petition, Feb. 19. She needs 250 before the March 12 deadline, but plans to get 500, just in case they are challenged.
“Other than that, I’m just going to try to get myself in front of as many people as I can—attend events, be a social butterfly,” she said. “All I can do is tell my story and let people see me as a person not just a candidate.”
In addition to incumbent Councilwoman Russell, the race also includes Jacob George of Summer Hill and Daylon Davis from Allentown. North Side activist Khalid Raheem has posted that he is running on his New Afrikan Independence Party website, but has not formally declared.
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