City leaders say Dem newcomers could unify McKeesport council
With three first-time candidates earning support in the Democratic primary for McKeesport council seats, city leaders are looking for unification through change.
Jamie Brewster-Filotei, Jim Barry and LaWana Simmons — endorsed by the McKeesport Democratic Committee and Mayor Michael Cherepko — said they believe city business is being hindered by in-fighting and bickering.
A campaign mailer distributed by the Friends of Mike Cherepko said continued arguments among city officials will not solve problems.
“Every opinion should be respected, every good idea explored,” the mailer reads. “But when a plan of action is established for more jobs, improved safety and better neighborhoods, we need to resolve our differences for the good of the city.”
“It's critical that we get a council that is committed to working with our administration to overcome the obstacles and challenges we face in McKeesport,” the mayor said. “People need to put self interests and vindictiveness aside. We need a council that is totally involved in this community.”
Brewster-Filotei referenced a commitment to McKeesport that she said she learned through her father, state Sen. James R. Brewster, who served as a McKeesport councilman and mayor.
“My father and Mayor Cherepko share a great vision for this city,” she said. “I want to be here to support that.”
As a teacher, coach and advisor to volunteer organizations, Brewster-Filotei said she is concerned about the children and teens growing up in McKeesport.
“I'm worried about our youth,” she said. “Council isn't working as a team, and they're losing sight of the things that really matter — McKeesport's children and their future.”
Barry, who serves as director of LaRosa Boys & Girls Club, said he knows first-hand from working with at-risk youth the importance of the city's stability.
“Cooperation is a must,” Barry said. “The way thing are right now, McKeesport is dysfunctional.”
Barry said councilors need to brainstorm with the administration about financial strategies to keep the city afloat.
“Our financial stability and a commitment to public safety will help make McKeesport a better place to live,” Barry said. “We need to focus on that while eliminating blight and cleaning up litter.”
Simmons said she is seeking a council seat to be a part of McKeesport's solution, rather than participating in seemingly endless conversations about the city's problems.
“We know that the biggest problems are violence and the economy,” Simmons said. “We need to get out in the community, reduce crime and encourage redevelopment. We have great schools, and we need to have unification — not only with our city council, but between our city and our school board.”
Incumbent A.J. Tedesco, endorsed by International Association of Fire Fighters Local 10 of McKeesport along with Brewster-Filotei and Barry, is seeking a second term because he said McKeesport's taxpayers need a voice to ensure the most efficient use of their funds.
“For the last three and a half years, I've been that voice on council,” Tedesco said. “If I'm re-elected, I will continue to be that voice.”
Tedesco said crime and unemployment are prevailing issues that should concern everyone.
“It's not just McKeesport. It's anywhere you look,” he said. “Where you have high unemployment, you are likely to find high crime. And where you have low crime, you'll find higher rates of employment. That's something we need to address on both ends, because one directly affects the other.”
Tedesco said a more efficient use of city funds could free money for use in public safety or community programming. He said modernizing the city's computer system was a step in the right direction.
V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery, also pursuing her second term, said problems with violence and blight are obvious focal points in city government, but she wants to see changes in the process for how solutions are found.
“We need more transparency in our government,” Walker-Montgomery said. “We need to have discussions on these issues in public. We need a clear process on demolition and how houses are chosen.”
Walker-Montgomery has been active on the city's Home Rule Charter committee, serving as vice chair, with Tedesco as chair. She is a part of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport board, recreation board and McKeesport Downtown Business Authority.
Arla Payne-Stinson and Patrick Chiaverini are seeking their first terms on city council, Payne-Stinson making her second run and Chiaverini trying for the first time.
“I think the city needs someone new and exciting who is interested in doing something,” Payne-Stinson said. “It's someone else's turn.”
Saying that she wants to learn about city government and be active in making laws and policies, Payne-Stinson said she wants to bring urban planning to the forefront in McKeesport — not only to tear down blight, but to replace it with something that can be used by the community. She suggested parklets and community gardens.
She also wants to see more family-oriented programs in McKeesport that are geared toward mentoring not only the youth, but parents.
“If we have a positive place for mothers and fathers to go, they can learn to be good parents,” she said. “Their children will learn by example.”
Chiaverini said council needs more than a change in faces, noting that the political game needs to stop.
“I'm not doing this for me,” he said of his candidacy. “I'm doing this for the city of McKeesport. I'm not out shaking hands. I'm a regular person who wants to make a difference.”
Active in youth baseball, Chiaverini said he is concerned for city youth. He wants them to have more choices in activities that can keep them off the streets by appealing to everyone's interests.
Chiaverini also is pushing for a lively business community that will encourage young people to stay in McKeesport in their adult lives with decent jobs that can support families.
“Until big business sees small businesses being successful here, they're not coming to McKeesport,” he said.
Also on the ballot in McKeesport are Harry Walsh, who is Democratic committee-endorsed and unopposed in the primary, for the controller's seat. He will face incumbent Ray Malinchak, an independent candidate, in the fall. Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi is unopposed.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.