Legal challenge filed against Republican seeking Pittsburgh’s vacant city council seat

The filing says Rennick Remley is ineligible for the office — and goes to court Jan. 30.

Courtesy Remley campaign

Updated, 6:14 p.m.

A legal challenge has been filed against the sole Republican seeking the District 8 city council seat vacated by former Council Member Dan Gilman late last year, officials confirmed today.

The challenge filed Monday says that Republican District 8 candidate Rennick Remley hasn’t lived in District 8 for at least two years and lied in declaring himself eligible for the office. (In Pittsburgh, council members must be residents of the district they serve for at least one year before taking office.)

Two District 8 electors, Helen Cupelli and Joseph Cupelli of South Aiken Avenue, argue in the challenge that Remley lied in declaring himself eligible for the office on official campaign paperwork. The complaint says Remley changed his voter registration from one District 8 address to another the same day he was announced as the Republican Party’s nominee. The complaint alleges Remley had not lived at the previously listed District 8 address — or within the district at all — for at least two years.

“Filing a false affidavit is a fatal defect to a candidate’s filings to appear on the ballot,” the challenge reads. It says submitting false information on a statement of financial interests, for example, would be a violation of state law (unsworn falsification to authorities) and the Public Officials and Employee Ethics Act. The filing includes copies of Remley’s statement of financial interests and other campaign paperwork, all listing a District 8 address.

Reached by phone this afternoon, Helen Cupelli declined to answer a series of questions about the filing. “I’d rather not,” she said.

Republicans were quick to point to the involvement of Leechburg attorney Chuck Pascal, who’s representing the Cupellis in their filing and who is also a member of the state Democratic committee.

In a conversation with The Incline on Tuesday, Pascal said he handles many election law cases each year and that “when people have them, they give me a call.” He added, “This is what I do.”

Asked if this is how he came to represent the Cupellis, Pascal said, “I got a phone call from a third party who told me about the case and connected us.” He declined to identify the intermediary, adding, “I’m not going to say who the third party is. It’s not relevant.”

Pascal referred to the Cupellis as “just random electors in the district.”

Asked what he expects to happen in the case, Pascal explained, “I think the outcome is obvious. The question here is where did Mr. Remley live during the year prior to the March 6 [special] election. We believe we have sufficient witnesses to show that he did not live anywhere in that district.”

He added, “You know there are very few people who drive across town to vote when they can vote in their own neighborhood.”

In response to Monday’s filing, Remley campaign representatives said the following:

“The petition is poorly researched and another example of the dangers of the kind of single-party-machine rule that has held Pittsburgh back for generations. We are confident that once a judge hears all the facts in this matter, the petition will be dismissed and Rennick will be allowed to provide the voters of City Council District 8 with an alternative to the three Democratic candidates who are struggling to keep this office in their party’s grip.”

A hearing on the challenge has been scheduled before the Court of Common Pleas at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 30 in the City-County Building.

Dennis Roddy, a spokesman for Remley’s campaign, called the move an attempt to eat up campaign time for the Republicans in what is a highly expedited electoral process.

“This is a one-month campaign and they’re trying to disrupt him for two weeks of it,” Roddy said.

In Remley, Republicans saw an opportunity to compete for a city council seat that hasn’t seen a Republican candidate since Mordecai Treblow in 2013, according to the PLS Reporter. Treblow won only 10 percent of the vote in what is a reliably blue district, to put it mildly.

Remley joined three other candidates who will be on the ballot in the March 6 special election triggered by Gilman’s resignation late last year to join Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, where he now serves as chief of staff.

Sonja Finn, a political activist, James Beard-nominated chef and owner of Dinette Restaurant, earned the Democratic nomination in a committee vote held earlier this month.

In lieu of the party’s nomination, both Erika Strassburger, chief of staff to Gilman during his time on council, and Marty Healey, chief financial officer of the Healey Company and a Delta Foundation board member, are now running as independents.

Remley was the fourth candidate to throw a hat into the ring.

In a Jan. 19 release announcing his bid, Remley listed himself as a board member with the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, manager of corporate relations for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a member of the Young Leadership Council of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. He identifies as a “party moderate.”

“I love this city and I think we’ve been held back by having one-party rule for far too long,” Remley said in the release. “I plan to run a campaign that gives voters in District 8 a clear choice and a new direction.”

That release lists Remley as a resident of Squirrel Hill, one of the neighborhoods belonging to City Council District 8.

This story was updated to include comment from Pascal.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct information in the third paragraph about the nature of Remley’s address change.