2021 Primary Election: Pittsburgh City Council, District 2

Pittsburgh City Council candidate Jacob Williamson

Jacob Williamson (click photo for more info)

Pittsburgh City Councilperson Theresa Kail-Smith, District 2

Theresa Kail Smith (click photo for more info)

The two Democratic candidates for Pittsburgh City Council District 2 are incumbent Council President Theresa Kail Smith and her challenger Jacob Williamson.

District 2 comprises the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Banksville, Beechview, Chartiers City, Crafton Heights, Duquesne Heights and Mount Washington, East Carnegie, Esplen, Fairywood, Oakwood and Ridgemont, South Shore, Sheraden, West End, Westwood, and Windgap.

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?

Smith: I introduced the legislation to create urban farms and transform vacant lots into community gardens in every district in the City of Pittsburgh. It passed. We are now ready to begin implementation in our area. I also negotiated with property owners in District 2 to allow use of their land for urban gardens, open air produce markets, and more.

Williamson: Hunger and food insecurity are complex problems caused by the breakdown in the systems of leadership, infrastructure, and relationships.  I agree with the FeedPGH report which illustrates that food insecurity is not only a proximity to grocery store issue but also an inequality issue.

I will support policies that aim to eliminate inequality and make it attractive for grocery stores and purveyors of fresh foods to sell their goods.  Specifically, I will work to ensure that the neighborhoods in District 2 have a food action plan.

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?

Williamson: I will push to enact many of the goals conveyed in the FeedPGH report specifically making sure that every person has access to healthy food; ensuring that residents, especially low-income residents have opportunities to learn new food skills that improve their employment; pushing forward that the neighborhoods in District 2 have a food action plan; and advocating for a change in our institutional culture regarding food.

     A. Public transportation

Smith: We are working with Mayor Peduto, Christy Porter at her Jasmine Nyree Campus, and Giant Eagle to possibly use her site as a food pickup location in Sheraden. In our area, around 90% of our residents own a vehicle. However, there could be additional challenges in terms of transportation, which is why we try to create opportunities in neighborhoods to access fresh produce and advocate for public transportation route increases, alternative modes of transportation, and walkable resources.

Williamson: Yes. Currently 96% of all land in District 2 is greater than .5 miles from a grocery store.  I will support policies that help make it easy and affordable for residents to access public transportation.  

     B. Corner stores in low-income neighborhoods

Smith:We work with our local stores to increase fresh food options at reasonable prices. Some of them are doing a great job, and we will continue working to get all local stores to do so. We have several locations now offering fresh produce, salads, and/or fruit.

Williamson: If corner store is meant to be a small-owned business that provides healthy and fresh items such as dairy, pantry items, fresh fruits, and veggies, then I will support policies that help these businesses get off the ground.  I will not support policies that bolster dollar store like businesses, which studies show do harm to communities in many ways including the selling of unhealthy food alternatives that cause negative health outcomes.    

     C. Farmers markets

Smith: A huge success story for District 2. When Family Dollar opened in Sheraden, residents and I worked with the developer to have access to a corner lot. We turned the lot into an open air market. I worked with a fantastic local farmer to arrange local farmer’s markets. She offered the market in various neighborhoods. She then entered an agreement to supply produce to a local nonprofit. She needed more land. I connected her to our amazing City Planning contact person. She is growing more produce. Plus, she is taking over a corner brick and mortar store this spring.

Williamson: I am a big fan of farmers markets not only because they provide residents with fresh local produce and other food but also because they help to create a healthy sense of community.  I am familiar with what it takes to run a farmers market as the Robinson Farmers Market is currently part of my work at Archangel Gabriel Parish.  I will recruit leaders to produce farmers markets in District 2 as currently there are none that occur.

     D. Urban agriculture

Smith: City Council passed legislation that I introduced to increase urban farms and gardens in every district.

Williamson:Community gardens and other sorts of urban agriculture is so needed in District 2.  I will support policies that not only educates the public on the benefits to growing and eating local food but also that connects local urban agriculture organizations to one another and the broader community.

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?

Smith: I not only introduced legislation to increase access to urban farms and gardens and more, I am also working with the Peduto administration and a local grocery to pilot a program in District 2. We set up delivery locations. Residents can order from the local grocery. Food will be delivered to the partner nonprofit and then delivered to those unable to drive.

Williamson: About 4% of all land in District 2 is within a half mile walking distance to a grocery store.  I will support policies that eliminate inequality and attract businesses that provide healthy fresh food.

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