The new Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 20 talks with The Northside Chronicle about her plans for the future of Pittsburgh’s Northside.

By Emery Malachowski

Emily Kinkead won the Democratic primary against incumbent Adam Ravenstahl, making her the Democratic Candidate for the Pennsylvanian House of Representatives District 20. Kinkead reportedly had 55% of the vote while Ravenstahl had 45%, with 97% of precincts reporting.

Kinkead, along with State Representative Summer Lee, 30th State House Democratic Candidate Lissa Geiger Shulman, and Jessica Benham of the 36th State House District, are only some of the progressive women who have been recently chosen over more moderate candidates in Allegheny’s Democratic primaries. Kinkead sees this as a demonstration of how Pittsburgh is “hungry for change.” 

Kinkead, a Brighton Heights resident, spoke with The Northside Chronicle on June 11 about promoting diverse neighborhoods, increasing low-income housing, and addressing racism in the criminal justice system. She says that there is a “continual feeling in the Northside that we don’t get what we put into things. We pay our taxes and we do what we’re supposed to do, and the investments that we make in our region through our tax dollars doesn’t come back to us in any way.”

Kinkead is optimistic that Democrats “are returning to old school democratic values of the FDR era where we take care of everybody and we support everybody. We can ask for more of our government, we can ask for more of our leaders. We can fight for real change other than playing defense.”

Emily Kinkead is the new Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 20. Photo courtesy of Kinkead

Kinkead hopes to work with community groups in the Northside, who she says are adept at advocating for their neighborhoods and identifying their needs. One of the needs she wants to address is increasing affordable housing. Kinkead’s methods include expanding Pittsburgh’s inclusionary zoning, which requires new developments to include both affordable and low-income housing, and to create “intentionally mixed-income neighborhoods.” 

Diversity, she says, reduces the isolation of low-income neighborhoods. She says this isolation makes it easier for elected officials to ignore residents’ needs, and increases the risk of those neighborhoods not having access to resources other neighborhoods might, such as good transportation options or adequate funding for schools. She points to Northview Heights as an example of a neighborhood providing adequate housing for low-income Pittsburghers, but becoming isolated and a “community unto itself.”

A lack of diversity in neighborhoods, Kinkead notes, also allows us to miss the chance to grow greater empathy for those unlike us economically or racially. She says that Pittsburgh is “a very segregated city, and we need to build understanding and cross boundaries and borders.”

Kinkead would also like to set up an additional fee for those who buy market-price houses in the Northside for the first five years of their residence. This fee would contribute to neighborhood funds that would allow residents to make structural repairs to their homes, such as fixing roofs, which do not always increase the resale value of the house but are still necessary, and which predatory developers take advantage of by reporting ordinance violations. This is particularly to facilitate the flow of funds from people flipping houses in the Northside toward long-term residents.

Apart from infrastructure and housing, Kinkead wants to fight segregation by achieving “not just equal but equitable investment” in schools that “have been traditionally left behind, and bringing them up to be at least on par with the schools that have had the most advantages.” She notes that this has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity to conduct remote learning, which she says is easier for more wealthy neighborhoods, whose schools have the funding to ensure that every student has the technology they need. 

In regards to Pittsburgh’s recent protests against police brutality, Kinkead believes that it is “well past time that we addressed the absolute disparity in our system, in every aspect of our system.” She says that we will need “all hands on deck” to address systemic racism, including police, legislators, judges, and lawyers, and that they should be trained in anti-racism tactics.  

Kinkead and campaign manager, Schuyler Sheaffer, volunteering at Cityview Church. Courtesy of Cityview Church

Kinkead wants to require independent citizens commissions to review police misconduct, as well as require the state to conduct “real-time” data collection on the impact of criminal justice policies on people of color. 

She believes the police shouldn’t be expected to deal with mental health crises or drug abuse issues, and instead should be focused on our “most serious crimes.” She also wants to address policies in schools like truancy, which currently requires parents to go to a criminal court. She believes it should be the purview of social services and that we should be “supporting families, not punishing them” and addressing the root causes of why students are not attending school.

In response to the protests themselves, Kinkead says that “50 years of studies have shown that if you put police in riot gear on the street monitoring a peaceful protest, you are far more likely to end up with a violent protest. Just the presence of police in gear that anticipates an escalation to violence can lead to an escalation to violence.” 

She would instead like to shift to legal observers, who would call in the police if situations got “out of hand.” She believes that protestors should not be allowed to hurt other people, but notes that property damage is a different situation. She says that we should acknowledge that most businesses have insurance to cover property damage, and it is “not worth harming people to protect property.” 

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