As it’s the last year of my term and it’s been a while since 29-year-old me was sworn in as the youngest mayor in Braddock History. I’ll never forget being whisked into council chambers and being briefed about all things Braddock Affairs. There was an array of conversations all at once. The police department oversaw itself for quite a bit, Act 47, officer retention issues, pending litigations, and HR woes. First thing on the list was picking a chief of police. My first idea was to open the job up externally and was immediately shrugged off as soon as it came. I could recommend a chief or an idea but council had the last say as Braddock is a weak-mayor system.
I knew a bit about government as I’ve always been a news junkie. Ever since watching my pap read the newspaper every morning, I too read the news every day. This by far was the most intense civics lesson ever.
What have I learned about being mayor?
I can have dreams and wants for my community but if council isn’t behind it, the majority of it will not get done. Braddock has been in Act 47 (financial distress) for over 30 years. We’re finally exiting as it’s more than time. For $100 a month (that’s how much the mayor makes) I held meetings with constituents at local restaurants and even in the plaza as the last administration didn’t want an office so the mayor’s office became storage. I answered questions, called landlords, hosted teen roundtables, wrote judges, and even officiated a few weddings.
Another takeaway is that I can’t please everyone but that doesn’t make me hopeless. I change what I can and accept what I cannot. (I’m looking at you proposed regional policing)
What have I accomplished?
With the help of AHN and Greater Valley, we organized a vaccine clinic. I bugged all the right people to get grant funding for a functional boat dock. The thing that might be my proudest moment is I inspired change. Some people hold doors open and I got rid of the walls. We created transparency where there was none by utilizing social media to inform constituents. Every share and every comment is the result of that. I even started a digital community letter.
We learned how to pivot during the height of the pandemic and created a delivery system for peeps who needed food but couldn’t get to the food pantries. And last but not least, we banded together to scream for accountability and clean air. North Braddock Residents For Our Future is such a great group of people from all over the Mon Valley who are fighting for the future of everyone. When fracking came up, we all agreed that it wouldn’t make our community better. Community engagement at its core is adding value to the community and not just in dollars. The people are the most precious asset to any community.
What have I failed at?
When I heard about regional policing, I wanted in. The plan to make a plan died from all angles because people wanted “more information.” I remember there was going to be a vote on if we should continue studying the idea of regional policing and the public knew nothing about the idea it was only right that me and a few other council members called for a press conference for the sake of transparency. Now months later with no other idea in sight, I can’t say we’re any better off.
Three out of the four people I ran a campaign for, won their municipal primary. Those are great odds for the first time running someone else’s campaign.
Would I do anything differently?
Absolutely not! This has been a learning experience. If I hadn’t written my press releases, cold-called grocery chains asking for a small market, or handpicked awesome people to run for council, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Highlight to being mayor?
One of my most recent highlights is a business owner hugging me with tears of joy because she was able to get the vaccine in the community.
Finding out fracking wasn’t going forward made me want to cry tears of joy.
Running my mom’s campaign and watching her win a council seat over a current council person who has been on council for five years and pushed back on so many progressive ideas, sparked joy.
Least favorite part?
My least favorite part was seeing the frustration in people’s eyes when they had housing problems during a pandemic.
Making recommendations to council and watching them go nowhere. One day I think when the Home Rule Charter can be changed, that term limits should be a thing. Also, maybe check out all the duties of the borough manager. I was on the Home Rule Charter Committee and asked for some things but I know not everyone gets everything they want. Government is knowing how to compromise.
Why I’ve endorsed the people I’ve endorsed?
I endorsed the local municipal officials I selected because they are amazing individuals who already do things in the community. Me and my mom was participating in community clean up day before I was an elected official. I remember knocking on her door with a t-shirt and gloves. I pestered her. “You only get the shirt if you’re doing the work.”
I endorsed Malcolm Kenyatta for Senate because he’s a team player, he has so much fight in him, and he knows how to switch from leader to follower. That last one is so important in any leadership position. If I’m leading all the time, I am not leaving any room for me to grow. Also, we’ve had more conversations in these last couple months than I’ve had in years with his opponent.
Would I run again? What’s next?
I didn’t run for mayor this go around as in a weak-mayor system I get all the complaints and can’t do much beyond calling people’s landlords, connecting them to legal services, and food. I’ll continue to do those things on committees and holding people in the community accountable for all of the actions. Before I was mayor I was volunteering and I’ll keep volunteering just not as Mayor.
As far as what’s next? Next is decompressing. After decompressing is to see what I want to do next. As the sky is the limit and running for office isn’t out of the question it just won’t be on such a minute municipal scale.
“My mother told me that I could be anything I wanted. She never said I couldn’t be all the things at once.” – @justdae