In the last election, our local legislative landscape changed.
Emily Kinkead won the 2020 democratic primary, ousting Adam Ravenstahl, who previously held the seat for 10 years. She is an example of progressive Democratic candidates who are winning seats without their party endorsement, instead relying on grassroots campaign efforts. PA State Representative Kinkead serves District 20, which includes NoBo areas Bellevue, Avalon and West View, in addition to areas in Pittsburgh.
I sat down with Representative Kinkead to chat about her plans for the North Boroughs, some exciting legislation that is in the works, and how best to support candidates this election season.
NoboNeighbor: Hi, Representative Kinkead! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today! Could you tell me a little bit about how you see the North Boroughs and if there are specific strengths or challenges you have identified?
Rep. Kinkead: I think one of the great things about Avalon, Bellevue, and West View is the fact that you guys have your own municipal governments, which is really great because it makes you able to problem solve and makes some issues more accessible. I live in Pittsburgh and I think one of the things that people run into is finding people on City Council not very accessible or they may be accessible but have much bigger areas they are trying to address. Smaller boroughs have a great ability to be very nimble in addressing citizen concerns. I think that also can present a challenge as well because you don’t necessarily have the same tax base to be able to address bigger issues. There is a lot of need for support from the state on certain things, and so that can be slow and delay addressing problems.
Also, people may not be as aware and may not be paying attention to who’s on council. There’s times where you can end up with people on council who treat their positions as part-time jobs and things can stagnate and not necessarily get the same level of innovation, excitement and enthusiasm that you might get from somebody who treats it as their full-time job and they’re able to dedicate all their time and energy to it.
NN: What goals are you working on that would impact the North Boroughs?
Rep. Kinkead: I think the biggest one that would impact the Northern Boroughs is legislation that would allow for people to get landslide insurance. I know there’s been a lot of issues with landslides in the Northern Boroughs and also on the North Side. You’re able to get insurance for a landslide on your property as a result of a mine, but as we’re seeing climate change impacting weather patterns, there’s more rain and heavier rain, we are seeing more landslides. It can be problematic because a lot of times homeowners insurance doesn’t cover issues caused by landslides, so having the ability to protect yourself with a relatively cheap insurance policy wouldn’t leave homeowners to fend for themselves.
NN: Oh yeah! That is great and so relevant to our area. I’m looking right now outside my window in Avalon at a hill that had a landslide and caused all sorts of problems in the borough a while ago.
Rep. Kinkead: There was a landslide that blocked a road in Bellevue for 18 months and prevented emergency services from getting to a house fire. The borough didn’t have the funds to be able to fix the landslide and so they were asking for funds from the state, but that was delayed because the state is slow-moving. So being able to address that, and even if the Borough could have had its own insurance, they might have been able to fix it in a quicker fashion.
NN: What are some other pieces of legislation that you’ve been working on?
Rep. Kinkead: One of the pieces of legislation that I just introduced was something that would allow folks who attend community college and graduate with their associate’s degree to get automatic admission to one of the state schools. It would allow, particularly in this area, for a lot of people to go to CCAC and have a much more affordable education and then actually be able to complete a bachelor’s degree within two years of admission to one of the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools. (“A Degree with a Guarantee” HB705)
NN: In my professional life, the majority of people who did not go to community college for at least some of their education actually regret not taking advantage of them, especially because we are all almost 40 and many still have students loans to pay off.
Representative Kinkead: Yeah, it also destigmatizes community colleges because I think that a lot of people look at them as being a sort of lesser education and it is not, it’s just more affordable and more accessible for students. You end up focusing a lot more on future potential rather than past performance because they do tend to let in students that have lower GPA’s or wouldn’t necessarily meet the metrics of a university, but these are smart kids that maybe just didn’t go to the best high school and community colleges are investing in them.
Another piece of legislation that I just introduced is a study to look at importing prescription medications from places like Canada for a discount so that we can make prescription drugs a little bit more affordable to folks. That was one thing, no matter where I was door-knocking, if I was talking to a senior, affordability of medication was very, very high on their list of concerns.
NN: We are seeing more and more young men and women in our area with the desire to get involved in the political process, either by supporting local candidates or by running for local office. Do you have any advice for someone taking the first step into local government?
Rep. Kinkead: The single most important thing that anybody can do to support a candidate is to knock on doors or text and phone banking. It’s the least glamorous part of campaigning and it’s probably intimidating for most people who volunteer and especially for folks who have never done it before, but it’s the single most important thing you can do when donating your time and energy. Monetary donations are always important because until we have public financing of elections, which is something I absolutely support, it requires money to run an election and you have to get it from private individuals. Being able to donate even $5.00 can make a huge difference, especially in smaller races because you don’t need as much. With my race as State Rep, I didn’t need to put a television ad out, I didn’t need to get anything on the radio, we were really doing a mail program and digital advertising, but we still needed to get our message out and buy literature and yard signs, so any amount of donations were so helpful. Reaching out to campaigns and asking what they need is probably the easiest way to get involved.
NN: The current environment can be very contentious between Republicans and Democrats, and even can be within the Democratic party. Do you feel that it is important to work together with representatives from all political backgrounds, and if so, how do you think this is best done?
Rep. Kinkead: It’s important. The majority in the state legislature is Republican, so in order to move a bill, you have to work with them. I think right now we’re seeing a real change about what being a Democrat really means and what kind of ideology we’re willing to push for. I don’t think we ask “why” enough. I think that we hear that somebody has a position we disagree with and may think, “well, I’ve written you off, you’re bad and we’re done”. I think that you can find a lot of common ground if you actually ask “why”. I think the average person really just wants to see government work and work effectively at what it’s supposed to be doing, which is serve people. When we get caught up in the theater of politics and grandstanding we stop serving people in an effective way, and that’s where people get really frustrated with politics and they don’t think that their elected officials care about them. I think we can absolutely do more, and most governing is done sort of in quiet spaces that the media doesn’t want to cover because it’s not interesting, you know, just watching people doing their jobs.
NN: What are some of your favorite businesses in the North Boroughs?
Rep. Kinkead: I live in Brighton Heights, so Bellevue and Avalon are really close and I spend a lot of time going up and grabbing food around there. I love Lincoln Avenue Brewery. I love Lincoln Bakery. It’s my weakness! I end up getting way too many sweets there! Thai Tamarind is probably my favorite Thai place in the Pittsburgh area. The Rusty Nail is another one I really enjoy. I feel like there’s been a food revolution in the northern boroughs, which is great because it’s changing the way people look at the area. It’s not seen just as a place where people live when they don’t want to live in the city, it’s also really great places to eat and cute little shops to go to.
Thanks, Rep. Kinkead for giving us a glimpse into your plans for our communities. We look forward to seeing what you accomplish for our residents!
Borough Basics is a NoBo Neighbor series focused on government. To learn more about local government, check out this article from our archives!