Surrounded by around 20 fellow church leaders, the Rev. Ricky Burgess announced his bid for Pittsburgh City Council yesterday, saying that a faith-based alliance must "take back our community" from what he described as "the forces of evil and destruction that are rampant."
Those forces include violence, drugs, abandoned houses and vacant lots, he said. The weapons he'd use against them are national models of crime prevention, prosecution and convict reintegration; the creation of a districtwide development agenda; and a cataloging of resources in areas like youth programming, followed by efforts to fill any gaps in services.
The Homewood pastor's announcement, at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Homewood Branch, makes him the first official challenger to District 9 Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, of East Hills. He did not criticize the incumbent by name, but fellow preachers argued for change.
The area needs "a fresh blowing of air, a fresh movement of water," said Rev. J. Earl Garmon Sr.
Neither the Rev. Burgess nor his supporters shied away from the religious roots of his bid.
"I start off as an African-American preacher," the candidate said. Asked whether non-Christians would feel alienated by his pitch, he said he's been involved in interfaith efforts, and described himself as "ecumenical, not sectarian."
Others said this could be the beginning of the emergence of more spiritual leadership into the local public sector.
"We need to come from a power perspective, not from a position of weakness," said the Rev. Garmon.
"It's about setting up a force and a movement," said the Rev. Burgess.
In addition to being pastor of the Nazarene Baptist Church, the candidate is executive director of the Concerned Citizens Community Creations Center for at-risk youth, and a professor of communications at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Ms. Carlisle may face several challengers, in part because her spending of city funds on consultants with connections to her family and campaign is the subject of a review by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
The Rev. Burgess, who ran for council and lost in 1995, has faced tax challenges since then. The county has filed eight delinquent property tax actions against him, and the city has filed two. The federal government has filed two tax collection actions against him.
"The [property] taxes are not included in our mortgage, and I've been raising four children," he said, explaining his late payments. "I've paid most of them off."
Rich Lord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.