Four candidates now vying for Gilman’s seat on City Council
Republican Rennick Remley and independent Marty Healey join the race with Democrat Sonja Finn and independent Erika Strassburger.
Sonja Finn of Point Breeze received the Democratic nomination for City Council, District 8, beating two other candidates in a Jan. 14 vote among the district’s Democratic committee.
Finn, who owns and serves as chef of Dinette in East Liberty, was chosen as the Democratic candidate at a meeting convened for members of the Democratic committee in the district in lieu of a primary. Finn received 27 out of 47 votes, defeating Erika Strassburger of Squirrel Hill and Marty Healey of Shadyside.
District 8 includes the neighborhoods of Oakland, Point Breeze, Shadyside and north Squirrel Hill.
Strassburger served as Dan Gilman’s chief of staff in the City Council and had received Gilman’s endorsement for the nomination. Gilman resigned early this month to become Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff. Strassburger received 20 votes. Healey of Shadyside is a LGBT activist and businessman. He received no votes.
Seventy-three committee members from District 8 were eligible to vote.
Strassburger and Healey both will be running as independents, and Rennick Remley, manager of corporate relations at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will be running for the seat as a Republican.
A special election is scheduled for March 6.
That the Democratic committee chose Finn — who identifies as a “proven progressive” — with 57 percent of the vote, gives the candidate “renewed faith” in the party, she said in an email to the Chronicle.
“I know this is only one race, but I hope it is indicative of a larger movement of the party in the correct direction,” Finn said. “For my part in continuing this movement, I must prove that Sonja Finn, the progressive, was the right choice — that we, the Democrats, are not just a better party when we follow our collective moral compass to a more inclusive place, but also a more successful party. That means winning the City Council election on March 6, so I am more determined than ever to do just that.”
Finn’s platform includes: universal Pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds; raising the minimum wage; rent control; and “full stop on new money and/or subsidies to developers and corporations until we make sure that we are going about building this city in a way that is beneficial to all Pittsburghers, not just a select few.”
Finn, whose father is Jewish (“‘Finn’ was changed from Fivenzinsky by Irish immigration officers at Ellis Island”), identifies as a Jew and said that Judaism was the only religion in her home growing up.
Strassburger is gearing up her campaign as well, saying that she looked “forward to running for District 8 as an independent,” in a prepared statement following the committee vote.
“While 47 people voted today, there are many, many more voters in the community who I am I excited to talk to about my campaign,” Strassburger said. “I have truly loved every minute of being a public servant for District 8 for the last four years and would be honored to continue that service on City Council.”
Strassburger began her career as an environmental advocate. She told the Chronicle earlier this month that if elected to City Council she would focus on issues such as clean water, strategic growth and infrastructure.
Healey, a graduate of Duquesne University, did not respond to interview requests from the Chronicle. A former president of Tri-PAC, the first LGBTQ+ political action committee in Pittsburgh, Healey also served on the board of the Lupus Foundation and the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. He is currently on the board of the Persad Center.
Remley of Squirrel Hill entered the City Council race last week, having been nominated by Republican District 8 committee members.
Although he is not Jewish, he is a strong supporter of Israel, and was the face of a 2014 ad in The New York Times, with the caption: “My name is Rennick Remley. I’m a gay American. And I support Israel.”
The ad went on to condemn ISIS, Hamas and Iran, who “kill gays like me.”
The ad, he said, “was one of the proudest things I’ve done in my life. I have always loved Israel. I believe it is one of the most moral countries in the world.”
From 2013 to 2014, Remley served as the chief operating officer of This World — The Jewish Values Network, a nonprofit “based on the teachings of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his passion for bringing universal Jewish values to mainstream American culture and beyond,” according to the organization’s website.
He also worked on Boteach’s congressional campaign in 2012.
This is Remley’s first political campaign. Although Pittsburgh has not had a single Republican city councilman since the Depression, Remley saw an opportunity in this election because the three other candidates are Democrats, which could cause the votes of that party to split three ways.
“I actually have a chance to become a new voice, and a dissenting voice, in Pittsburgh,” Remley said, “and to help create a new city.”
His platform, thus far, is focused on basic issues such as clean water to drink and a long-term solution to snow removal and pothole repair.
Remley said that if elected, he hopes “he can be half as good as Dan Gilman,” in terms of responsiveness to constituents, adding “that he has big shoes to fill.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at