By Jamie Wiggan
Political newcomer Holly Hickling is attempting to open up the race for Pittsburgh’s westernmost magisterial district as an independent candidate.
Hickling, of East Carnegie, was eyeing up the seat before the May primary but said she stepped in somewhat reluctantly when no one else emerged to challenge Democratic nominee Nick Martini from the left.
“I was on the fence, and I asked myself ‘what would convince me, what would make me decide not to do it?’” she said. “The answer I told myself was either someone else running as a progressive challenger or someone else telling me I couldn’t make a difference if I tried.”
Neither materialized, so Hickling began collecting signatures in early July and filed papers for a slot on the ballot as an independent.
Like Martini, Hickling doesn’t have a formal legal background, but she has studied and advocated for criminal justice reform through a career spanning several positions in the education and non-profit sectors. Currently, Hickling is employed by the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, where she evaluates programming aimed at lowering deaths from the opioid crisis.
Hickling said she’s particularly concerned by patterns of recurring incarceration prevalent among poor and minority communities throughout Allegheny County. As the entry point into the justice system, Hickling spies opportunities to challenge this through the magistrate’s office.
“I see the magistrate position as a real key role in stopping this pipeline of people into the Allegheny County Jail,” she said.
“I’m interested in disrupting the school to prison pipeline and helping keep families together.”
Hickling said she has no personal grudge with Martini but is concerned he will simply uphold the status quo – a standard she holds critically.
“I feel like a vote for the son of a sitting magistrate who’s likely part of the overall problem… doesn’t give me confidence he’s going to change the system,” she said.
When interviewed by Gazette 2.0 shortly before his primary victory, Martini, son of long-time incumbent Randy Martini, said he would consider all issues on a “case-by-case basis” and emphasized a commitment to fairness and impartiality.
As a former public school teacher, Martini also said he’s invested in finding ways to combat truancy through the magistrate’s office.
Hickling said she’s spurred on largely by her work in criminal justice reform, but as the mother of a multi-racial child in a county where incarceration levels are far higher among non-white populations, she’s driven also by personal considerations.
“Being a parent of a brown child in this society, [you find] all these issues are very, very important,” she said.
Headquartered in the West End Village, Magisterial District 05-3-13 services a swath of Pittsburgh neighborhoods running from Esplen to Banksville. The general election, determining who will fill the seat when the current term expires, will take place Nov. 2.