By Jamie Wiggan
Archangel Gabriel’s outreach director is attempting to unseat Pittsburgh Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, who has represented the city’s second district since 2009.
Jacob Williamson, 32, of Crafton Heights, believes his experience building relationships and fostering community within the newly consolidated Catholic parish has prepared him to advocate for the residents of Pittsburgh’s western neighborhoods.
“My job is to help the parish engage with those [35,000 people who live within the parish area spanning Robinson, Kennedy and McKees Rocks], starting with people in the pews and then broadening out,” Williamson said. “I’m really good at team building – I’m really good at helping people collaborate. It’s a strength of mine.”
Williams, who grew up in West Kittanning and has worked in the Pittsburgh area since 2017, said he began thinking about entering politics shortly after moving into his current home in 2019.
“When I bought my home in Crafton Heights, I got the impression that the west part of Pittsburgh just seems to be forgotten,” he said.
Convinced his neighborhood and those surrounding it are victims of disinvestment from the city government, he trawled through six years of budget reports “entering each line item into Excel … so I could see exactly what was going on there.”
Williams said his calculations showed over those years less than 5% of the budget was specifically allocated to district two, placing it seventh out of the nine districts citywide.
“We’re the best of the worst,” he said.
Williams blames incumbent Kail-Smith for not bringing a larger share of the capital budget to her constituency and has circulated an open letter criticizing her record on investment, development, and a slate of environmental and public safety concerns.
Kail-Smith has not issued a public response to Williamson’s letter, but during an interview, she criticized the methodology he used for evaluating the budget and defended her record against his other charges.
“I’ve been advocating for these communities since before my first campaign, and I will continue to do so as long as I’m in office,” Kail-Smith said.
Kail-Smith said evaluating the budget purely by tallying individual district allocations doesn’t give an accurate account of what has been spent there because more than half the entire budget is allocated to citywide projects.
Last year, for instance, she said her district received the highest amount in capital budget spending and brought in more than $10 million in external grants that were not recorded in the budget.
As evidence of development she’s helped foster during her tenure, Kail-Smith pointed to work underway to overhaul Sheraden Park, the near completion of a walking and biking trail connecting Crafton Heights to the West End Village, and the Jasmine Nyree community center opened in 2019 by Christy Porter, the wife of one-time Steeler Joey Porter.
“There is a lot of development we’re working on that I want to see come to fruition,” she said.
In response to the shuttered former Parkway Center Mall, highlighted by Williamson’s campaign as a sign of the disinvestment plaguing the community, Kail-Smith said efforts to redevelop the site have been outside her control since the developer took the city to court over a zoning issue.
She takes credit for bringing the developer to the table several years prior and said she hopes the litigation will soon be resolved to allow the project to move forward.
“There was a time when they came to the table and were working with us and doing well,” she said.
Both candidates are facing off in the Democratic primary election May 18. Barring write-in candidates, the winner will run unopposed in November’s general election.