Former SGA president details run for county council

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor-In-Chief

Dennis McDermott served as president of student government for two years. Now out of the Point Park political scene after graduating last year, he hopes to break into county politics.

McDermott announced a run for Allegheny County Council’s District 11. He hopes to replace the incumbent, Paul Klein, who has served on the council since 2016. District 11 encompasses a significant portion of the Pittsburgh area, including but not limited to Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Hazelwood, and parts of the South Side.

According to McDermott, the three biggest issues that he hopes to address should he be elected are environmental justice, criminal justice reform, and transit equity. In an interview with The Globe, McDermott stated that he believes that all three of these issues are directly related.

He emphasized that one of his first priorities is to improve the Allegheny County Jail and that “we need to make sure that the conditions are not abhorrent inside of that prison.”

McDermott said that his first priority with the jail is to “remove the warden.” He added that they need to do “basic things that should already be being done, like the county executive attending jail oversight board meetings.”

He emphasized that he hopes to improve the food quality, as well as the prisons’ infrastructure and heat. The conditions in the Allegheny County Jail have been the subject of criticism in recent years, both by county officials and jail employees.

Speaking on environmental justice, McDermott hopes to improve the air quality in the city and surrounding areas.

“We’re number 14 in terms of particulate matter in the entire country, and we’re not even in an area with wildfires,” McDermott said. “We need to be taking drastic measures to ensure that we can improve the lives of people who are going to be affected the most.”

If elected, McDermott plans on proposing a ban on fracking on Allegheny County land.

McDermott discussed the “65 to 85 divide,” which is a divide in life expectancy in the Pittsburgh area. The average Pittsburgh life expectancy is 75.9 years, but the life expectancy by individual neighborhoods differs drastically. McDermott blames this divide on economic inequality.

“The environment decreases the lifespan of people who live in neighborhoods like Mount Oliver and south of the river by the Mon Valley, but there’s a lot more going on here,” McDermott said. “But a lot of the people who live in these districts, their median income is so low that… they’re unable to afford health insurance.”

McDermott’s campaign website says, “those who can expect to live to 85 have the money and political power to block polluting and life-shortening projects. Those who can expect to live to 65 do not.” But McDermott emphasized that more goes into the divide than just air quality, notably access to healthcare.

“I’m not insured, I don’t go to the dentist [or] the doctor’s office for checkups,” McDermott said. “People who live in these districts do the same thing… and that leads to things not being checked out. They don’t go to a hospital and then they end up dying from something that was completely preventable.”

He believes that improving public transit access will improve the lives of people in these communities.

He hopes to make transit more affordable and to give businesses and apartment buildings the ability to purchase passes for employees and residents at a discounted rate. McDermott called the current U-Pass system, which gives free transit to students at some nearby schools, a “really good thing.” Point Park students are expected to gain access to U-Pass next academic year.

“Imagine you’re moving into an apartment next year and at this apartment, they say ‘we’ll also give you a bus pass,’ all of the sudden you don’t have to think about the cost,” McDermott said. “You don’t have to think about the cost as much because it is already being factored into the price of rent, it’s just simple things.”

He said that his biggest goal with transportation is to “increase transit reliability.” He says that he has experienced issues with the bus system, stating “the bus shows up half the time” at his stop. McDermott emphasized that bus delays impact people directly. 

McDermott has worked as a canvas organizer and said that many of the canvassers he supervised would run late because of the bus.

“If they’re running 15 minutes late every once in a while, because the bus didn’t show up, which is perfectly believable, then that’s fine and I’ll work it out with them,” McDermott said. “But not every boss is going to be accepting of that reality, and not every person can necessarily show up an hour early to make sure that they’re on time for work.”

McDermott admitted that the county council does not have full control over the Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) but acknowledged that they “have direct oversight of the people who are appointed to the PRT.”

The primary election will be held on May 16, and the general will be held on November 7.