District 8 can expect at least four more years of Dan Gilman.
The Pittsburgh City Council member won the Democratic primary last week with 99 percent of the vote. (He was running unopposed, after all.) He’s expected to face no one this November, meaning Gilman will have another term to serve his East End neighborhoods and further his vision for a progressive city.
In his first term, that’s meant trying to close the wage gap for city employees, banning conversion therapy and safeguarding the rights of immigrants and refugees. While he’s still a relatively new member of council, Gilman served as then-Councilman Bill Peduto’s chief of staff for eight years.
Gilman said he’s looking forward to serving his district for another term. But after spending more than a decade at the City-County Building, Gilman said he knows better than to try to plot the future.
“After that, I can’t even begin to make a prediction of what could be on the horizon,” he said.
As part of our Meet City Council series, The Incline sat down with Gilman in March to talk about Pittsburgh, District 8 and more. Below is that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
Dan Gilman 101
First elected to council: 2013, taking the seat after Bill Peduto won the mayoral election
Next city council election: Technically, it’s this November. His next race that could potentially be competitive is the 2021 primary.
District 8 includes: Oakland, Point Breeze, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. See a map here.
Q: What do you think if the biggest misconception about your district?
A: Gilman said the perception that there’s a lack of diversity in his district is a far cry from the truth.
“I have one of the most diverse districts you could find: by religion, by ethnicity, by age. A lot of that is because of the universities that I represent, but my district to me looks like what I want most of the city to look like,” he said. “Basically the heart of almost every religious group is in my district. That kind of diversity is fun to represent and great, but I think it’s something people don’t think about when they hear the neighborhoods I represent.”
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your district right now?
A: Gilman’s district has seen close to a half a billion dollars of development in four years, which has had unintended consequences like “light pollution, noise pollution, traffic, shading, tree canopies, all of those issues that come with a lot of development.”
“We spend a lot of our time working with our community groups to mitigate any of the negative impacts,” he said.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing the city as a whole?
A: The challenges facing Pittsburgh are shared by cities across the country, Gilman said.
“The sad thing is the biggest challenges facing the city should be the same answer for almost every council member in every city in America. Our challenges are infrastructure, longterm financial sustainability, police-community relations, funding for public education, and this is true across the country, which is what’s so frustrating about it,” he said.
“Every city has water issues. Every single city has bridges that are deficient. Every single city major urban school district is worried about funding streams. Every major city is working hard to change the relationship between police and community. And yet, despite every city facing these same challenges and having these same priorities, we get basic silence out of Washington and our state capitals.”
Q: What has been your best moment in office? Worst?
A: Gilman’s best moment in office happened fairly recently, in January, when Uber donated $10,000 in rides to the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.
“I’d like to think that everything I do legislatively has a positive impact on people, but I don’t know if there’s anything I could point to that I’ve done that could have a more immediate, life-saving impact on somebody than that,” he said. “And to be able to pull that off and create that partnership is probably my favorite moment so far.”
His worst moment also happened within the past year: watching Donald Trump win the presidential election.
“Not just because of the negative impact on me as a person and my beliefs, but knowing what it meant for my city and for my district,” Gilman said. “It has a much bigger opportunity to cause harm on my district than anything that’s happened in City Hall in my three-plus years.”
Q: What’s your favorite thing about living in Pittsburgh and your district?
“My favorite thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s either America’s smallest big city or biggest small town,” Gilman said. “You get all the benefits of a major American city, from arts and culture to the universities to the sports teams to the incredible restaurant scene. Yet you walk down the street and you know everybody like you’re in small-town Iowa. And I love that. To me it’s the perfect-sized city in that regard.”
As for District 8, Gilman said he loves how walkable and dense it is. “I represent by far the smallest physical area of the city, because of the density, and yet I have within my district Walnut, Ellsworth, Highland, South Craig Street, Fifth Avenue through Oakland,” he said, as well as three major parks.
“There’s so much that I can do” within an easy walk from his home, Gilman said. “That’s why I love living in cities.”
Q: What is something that every Pittsburgher should do or see in your district?
A: After a long pause, Gilman landed on “breakfast at Pamela’s followed by checking out the dinosaur collection at the Carnegie.”
Q: How long would you like to serve as a city council member? Do you have ideas about what you would like to do after city council?
A: “I’ve been in city hall 13 years,” Gilman said, “and if I’ve learned anything, it’s the unpredictability of everything.”
“I watched tragedy with Mayor O’Connor and the kind of unpredictable, meteoric rise of a young council member in Luke Ravenstahl and then the end of his term. I’ve watched council members come and go for all kinds of different reasons, from running for higher office to being arrested. You get the whole spectrum, and I believe very strongly that if you govern and run your day by some sort of career path, you’re going to fail.”
Q: What would your advice be to somebody who wants to get involved in their community here in Pittsburgh?
A: Trump’s election seems to have sparked an interest in running for office among people without prior political experience, but Gilman said there are “so many ways to be involved” that don’t include running right away.
“I’m all for that investment, too, but being involved in anything from your neighborhood block watch to your community group to your schools PTO to coaching your neighborhood little league or soccer team or whatever it is, that’s what builds neighborhoods,” he said.
“That’s how you can start to have an impact on your community around you. And if your ultimate aspiration is to run for office, that’s how you build a network of supporters and show experience in your community that people are looking for. I think when you come out of nowhere to run for office it’s a big mistake. So starting in those community-based groups is not only good for your career, but it’s what makes a city a city and a neighborhood a neighborhood.”