More than a week after independent candidate for Pittsburgh’s vacant District 8 council seat Erika Strassburger released a campaign commercial that has her running through the city, waving at bystanders and pledging herself to the district’s voters, her Republican opponent has done the same — the exact same.
Only, whereas Strassburger’s ad is a fairly buttoned-up salute to progressive values, candidate Rennick Remley’s is a literal roll in the mud.
It begins with Remley lacing up a pair of running shoes and setting out for a jog, same as Strassburger’s clip. But seconds in Remley is on the floor, having stumbled on a broken stretch of city sidewalk. The satire continues from there, with Remley coming across flabbergasted victims of the city’s pothole epidemic and more.
You can see for yourself below. (Strassburger’s ad is embedded first for the sake of comparison.)
In the middle of an unprecedented pothole season that has quickly risen to the level of citywide obsession — and with a city council that’s been criticized by some for choosing big picture issues over the nuts-and-bolts functions of government — Remley’s messaging is clear.
To be fair, Strassburger also addresses potholes in her ad. But while she touches on everything from environmental policy to anti-discrimination measures to transparency initiatives, Remley’s ad is intentionally narrow in its scope.
“My opponents go on about high ideals and grand plans. I’m focused on down here, the stuff ordinary Pittsburghers face,” Remley says in the clip. “Unplowed streets, undrinkable water and, yeah, those potholes. Because if we can’t fix the small things, how are we going to fix the big stuff?”
The ad ends with an injured Remley, apparently left limping by his sidewalk crash, announcing in a voiceover, “I’m Rennick Remley, and I think I just broke my ankle.”
But Dennis Roddy, a spokesman for Remley’s campaign, warned against reading too much into the piece, saying the campaign just wanted to have a little fun.
“Don’t overthink it. There’s no grand strategy, we just wanted to have fun,” Roddy explained. (Roddy did say the patch of broken sidewalk responsible for felling Remley 20 seconds into the video is very real and very broken indeed.)
“We wanted an ad that people who knew him would look at and say, ‘That’s our Rennick,’ because the man has a vast and very developed sense of humor. He didn’t want to pontificate. And let’s face it, who wants to look at an ordinary political ad online when there’s so much other trash out there.”
Roddy finished by saying, “Rennick will make a wonderful councilman, and part of it is he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”
The online ad had accumulated 598 views, more than a dozen shares and dozens of reactions in the hours since it was posted Monday. Strassburger’s ad, released more than a week earlier, had gathered 11,000 views and 115 shares as of Monday evening.
Reached for their reaction to the Remley spoof on Monday, Strassburger’s campaign said, simply, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Strassburger has taken an early and significant fundraising lead over the rest of the four-person pack running for the District 8 City Council seat, which was vacated by former Councilman Dan Gilman late last year. (Strassburger served as Gilman’s chief of staff during his time on council. Gilman is now serving as Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff. Both men have endorsed Erika.)
The candidates for Gilman’s former seat include Strassburger and Remley, as well as Sonja Finn, a political activist and James Beard-nominated chef who owns East Liberty’s Dinette restaurant. Finn won the Democratic nomination, and will now appear on the March 6 ballot under the party’s banner. Also in the running is Marty Healey, chief financial officer of Healey Company and a member of the Delta Foundation’s board. Healey and Strassburger are both running as independents after failing to earn the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s nomination in January. (There is no primary in a special election like this. Instead, the members of the local chapters of each party vote on who will appear for them on the ballot. Independents run without endorsements but must first earn a certain number of signatures from voters.)
In Remley, Republicans see an opportunity to compete for a city council seat for which they haven’t fielded a candidate since Mordecai Treblow in 2013, according to the PLS Reporter. Treblow won only 10 percent of the vote in what is a very reliably blue district.
Remley was a member of the Young Leadership Council of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and is a self-described party moderate. He was also the fourth candidate to throw a hat into the ring for the District 8 seat in this special election.
His campaign survived a legal challenge last month after Remley was accused of lying about his qualifications for the office. The challenge, filed by two District 8 voters with the help of a Democratic Party-aligned attorney, claimed Remley didn’t live where he needed to, when he needed to, in order to hold the office. The challengers wanted Remley’s name taken off the ballot. But a judge ultimately ruled in his favor after a hearing in the Fifth Judicial District Court.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Remley is not currently an active member with the Young Leadership Council of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.