The two Democratic candidates for Allegheny County Council District 9 are incumbent Council Vice President Robert Macey and his challenger, Steel Valley School District teacher and public education advocate Steven Singer.
District 9 comprises the cities of Duquesne and McKeesport, and the boroughs of Dravosburg, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, Port Vue, Versailles, West Mifflin, White Oak, and the townships of Elizabeth, Forward, North Versailles, and South Versailles.
Their answers to our voter guide questions for the May 18, 2021 Primary Election are below.
1) What causes hunger and food insecurity in our city/county, and what policies will you support or implement to address this beyond support for emergency or charitable food distribution?
Macey: Prior to the pandemic there were challenges to the feed the poor and elderly, the pandemic has now worsen the problem. Food insecurity is caused by lack of local grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods, lack of access to locally grown fresh food and lack of transportation to access food from beyond local neighborhoods. Currently, emergency and charitable food distribution has been and continues to be the frontline of defense throughout this pandemic in confronting food insecurity. I have seen first hand the anxiety on peoples faces as I volunteered at the food bank. Over the past several years, I have built strong advocacy for urban farming through strategic appointment votes to the Allegheny County Conservation District. Locally grown and accessible vegetables are now more plentiful than when I was first elected to Council. I support doubling these efforts. Creating partnerships with communities and the Allegheny County Conservation District, I envision converting abandoned building sites, throughout our neighborhoods into community vegetable gardens. I advocated and was successful in obtaining more funds for underserved communities to eliminate the blight in our neighborhoods and replacing with it healthy community resources. Further, I would support a county program similar to the State Food Purchase Program and the Pennsylvania Agriculture Surplus System to work in conjunction with the State.
Singer: The basis of food insecurity is rooted in poverty. The lack of a living wage, high expenses such as housing or medical bills, and difficulty finding stable employment due to race, gender, sexuality or other vulnerable class of people all contribute to chronic hunger and a lack of nutrition county-wide.
It is right and necessary that all workers deserve at least $15 an hour, but I further support that $20 an hour is much closer to a living wage. If nothing else I will fight so that those employed by the county are paid a living wage. Additionally, I would support policies that protect vulnerable individuals from employment discrimination and help provide housing options to low-income individuals and families.
2) What will you do to improve Pittsburgh/Allegheny County residents’ access to healthy, affordable food? Should the following assets play a role? If so, what should the city government do to strengthen them?
A. Public transportation
Macey: I have championed and successfully achieved the return of some local public bus routes Additionally, I have advocated for access to bus passes for those in need. When funding for the MonValley expressway was in jeopardy I worked tirelessly with local government officials to have the money re-earmarked for this important project in the Mon Valley. Not only will this roadway provide improved access but it also creates jobs.
Singer: In Allegheny County, there is a severe disparity between those who must rely on public transportation and those who do not have to. This is a key aspect of my platform that the Mon Valley (and the rest of the county) needs more public transportation options. More buses, more bus routes, and more stops are a necessity! To ease the environmental impact of such an increase, I also support the transition of as many county properties and vehicles as possible to green energy/fuel sources.
B. Corner stores in low-income neighborhoods
Macey: I strongly support the state initiative, Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative. It supplies grants to help attract grocery stores and supermarkets to improve access to healthy food in underserved. communities. If the only way we can add grocery stores to underserved communities is through incentives, it would be money well spent. There are real health benefits to the communities when fresh food is readily available.
Singer: It is truly unjust that corporations can get tax breaks while the working class suffers. Local businesses such as corner stores can fill the role of a large supermarket while also recycling money back into the local economy. I support use of the county budget and policies to support endeavors like Just Harvest’s Fresh Corners program.
C. Farmers markets
Macey: Farmers markets are great ways to provide less expensive, fresh food during the growing season. I will work through County and Community partnerships to create incentives for expanding farmers markets and other private small local food venders.
Singer: Allegheny County residents MUST have greater access to nutritious food at affordable prices. All the better if that food is able to be sourced locally and support our growers and makers. Farmers’ markets should be heavily-encouraged and government benefits such as SNAP should be usable at them.
D. Urban agriculture
Macey: Urban farming is a key component to long term food security. I support transforming vacant lots and blighted residential sites to community gardens. I will work to have some land designated for the education of youth in the farming trade. This program could be managed by such organizations as Penn State agriculture school, the Allegheny County Conservation District or many of the other local organizations such as Just Harvest. This could be transformational for our youth and our communities.
Singer: Working with local governments and residents to engage in urban agriculture can be an incredible way to provide communities with healthy, affordable, and sustainable food sources. I would support policies that actively encourage urban agriculture.
3) What policies, if any, would you support or implement to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color are equitably served by the supermarket industry?
a. When drafting policies to ensure that communities are equitably served, I would require input from local community leaders
b. I support public and private incentives, including the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, to bring healthy food, commerce and neighborhood jobs to our communities.
c. As a matter of policy, one of the conditions of the incentives that I would support, would require local hiring priorities of the work force to come from the local neighborhood. I support policies to remove barriers to investment by the supermarket industry.
d. I would accomplish this by working with the URA and the County Economic Development Department
Singer: Fighting discrimination is one of the most important aspect to my platform both at an employment and civil level. Every community deserves access to healthy food at reasonable prices. There are two approaches I would support: incentive for existing for-profit supermarkets to set up a location in these communities; or, preferably, county support for nonprofit groceries.