Erika Strassburger wins District 8’s Pittsburgh City Council seat in special election

Dan Gilman’s former chief of staff is replacing him.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

Updated 10:21 p.m.

Erika Strassburger — a well-funded, well-connected and heavily endorsed independent candidate — will fill Pittsburgh’s vacant District 8 City Council seat.

Her camp claimed victory around 9 p.m. in today’s special election to replace her former boss, Dan Gilman. Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted around that time to say she’d won in all precincts.

Strassburger bested three opponents at the polls in District 8 today: Democratic nominee Sonja Finn; Marty Healey who, like Strassburger, ran as an independent after failing to secure the Democratic nod; and Republican Rennick Remley.

It’s the first time a woman will represent Pittsburgh City Council District 8 since the city switched to the current system of council districts in 1989, per TribLive.

The special election was touched off by Gilman resigning the seat in December to become Peduto’s chief of staff.

Gilman said tonight, “This is validation for Erika and for what City Council and the city are doing, but mostly it’s Erika being an unbelievably qualified candidate. Her background in government and as an amazing candidate sent a message to voters who already knew her. And the margin of victory was so large …”

With all precincts reporting, Strassburger had a nearly 64 percent lead, according to unofficial county election results.

She spent Election Day visiting polling sites and greeting voters, a campaign spokesman told The Incline. Strassburger gathered with supporters at Soba in Shadyside as the results came in tonight.

Peduto said there, “It wasn’t so much a horse race as a steeple chase. Her ability to get her message out and build a grassroots movement of support stems from her ability to propose solutions and not just identify problems.”

He said during the past five years she’s challenged his administration and is able to unite council, “So it wont be a 5-4 divided council like before.”

Strassburger’s campaign focused in large part on clean water, clean air and putting Pittsburgh out in front on environmental issues, a natural reference point given Strassburger’s work with PennEnvironment in Pittsburgh before becoming a member of Gilman’s council team.

Strassburger told The Incline tonight, “There are lots of projects I’m ready to tackle, from brick and mortar projects to stormwater to green infrastructure projects. But it’s also about the big picture and how to manage growth in District 8 and how to start to tackle issues of traffic and parking. It’s also about knowing what levers we can pull to ensure development is happening in a way the neighborhood is OK with and is proud of.”

Strassburger agreed with a characterization of her focus as “development with a conscience.”

Strassburger, a 2004 graduate of Bucknell, has also called for keeping the city’s water system publicly owned. She’s supported a lost-and-stolen gun law at the state level and the organization of gun buybacks at the local level. She’s also called for the addition of more bike lanes through a “process that is inclusive and allows everyone to have their say.”

Strassburger quickly received the support of the mayor’s office, a dynamic that continued to rankle some in Finn’s camp over the roughly two-month-long special election campaign.

Some Finn supporters saw a conflict of interest in the mayor using his platform — and platforms like Twitter — to advocate for Strassburger, while others felt the mayor’s office was actively working to tip the scales in Strassburger’s favor. (Peduto has denied this and explained his decision to back Strassburger in a letter posted to his personal website.)

“I think the mayor’s endorsement helped,” Strassburger said tonight. “It helps when you have the endorsement of someone who’s well known. It helps open doors, but you then have to walk through those doors and make sure you utilize the opportunity to the utmost.”

After losing the Democratic nod to Finn, Strassburger immediately launched an independent campaign that succeeded in drawing in large sums of cash for a race of this magnitude and a slew of endorsements from other key figures and groups.

Finn, who received about 28 percent of the vote, told The Incline tonight, “I know that win or lose, this is one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I think we raised a lot of issues that I hope will be addressed with urgency: the lead crisis, transparency, and programs for affordable housing and gun safety — to name a few. I have been a woman in this arena fighting for all of these issues for a while, and I will continue to fight for what is fair and right. We ran a good campaign. We were out fundraised 10:1 and fell behind 2:1. I have so many wonderful supporters and their pride and faith in me has moved me beyond words.”

Throughout, Strassburger has said her focus remained singular.

“I’m running because I love serving the constituents of Shadyside, Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Point Breeze,” Strassburger explained in response to questions about her ties to the Peduto administration. “It has been my honor to work for [the District 8 constituents] for the last four years and it would be a privilege to continue that service if I’m elected.”

Her win today returns council to a full 9 members. Council President Bruce Kraus hoped to see Strassburger sworn in within 30 days.