Anthony Coghill has the job he’s always wanted — Pittsburgh City Council member.
“It’s really the only elected position that’s ever interested me,” he told The Incline earlier this week from his new office in the Pittsburgh City-County building.
Coghill, a lifelong resident of Beechview, won the election to represent District 4 in November. It was fourth time he’d ran for the seat, and he faced opponents in both the primary and general elections.
In the Democratic primary, Coghill won a contentious election with roughly 57 percent of the vote over Ashleigh Deemer, former chief of staff to the district’s previous council Member Natalia Rudiak. Then, in the general, he bested Republican Cletus Cibrone-Abate with nearly 80 percent of the vote.
When The Incline talked to Coghill, he was nearly a week into the new role, calling it was a smooth transition as he moves into the District 4 office and learns the ropes of council meetings.
As a continuation of our Meet City Council series, The Incline spoke to Coghill about what’s on his agenda and the challenges ahead. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Anthony Coghill 101
First elected to council: 2017, replacing Natalia Rudiak who decided to not run again
Next city council election: 2021
District 4 includes: Beechview, Bon Air, Brookline, Carrick, Mt. Washington and Overbrook. See the map.
Contact: Call the District 4 office at (412) 255-2131, or use this feedback form.
Q: What’s on the top of your agenda as the newest member of city council?
A: Coghill said the first items on his list reflect his campaign slogan, “Back to Basics.” That means things like snow and ice removal, paving roads and graffiti removal, because to Coghill, graffiti = blight.
“I wish we could just have someone who could come out with two gallons of paint or whatever it takes and just immediately cover it,” he said. “….It’s going to be a sticking point for me.”
He also wants to have public works employees based in the district again. The Public Works Division 4 headquarters in Knoxville closed in late 2017.
“I think moving the Public Works Division out of my district is a bad start, so that’s why I’ll be advocating to re-build or move them back … so it’s easier for [residents] to get around.”
Q: What is the biggest issue in District 4?
A: The most serious issue is the opioid problem, Coghill said, adding that’s a problem across the district, not just in Carrick and Bon Air.
And it’s the most difficult issue to tackle, he said. He plans to start by learning as much as he can about the epidemic, from first responders’ approaches to overdoses to treatment centers and their availability. Coghill said he plans to work with Pittsburgh police and the district attorney’s office, too.
He’s hoping that the state and federal attention on the opioid problem means there will be more help at the local level, too. On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf declared the opioid crisis a disaster emergency, meaning the state can respond in the same way it does to natural disasters. But local health officials told the Post-Gazette that they are waiting for more drastic change.
“It’s all hands on deck,” he said. His goal is to reduce overdose deaths in the district by the end of his term. Carrick is the Pittsburgh neighborhood with the most overdoses, per the PG.
Q: What are the misconceptions about District 4?
A: While the opioid problem is a serious issue, it’s not the only thing happening in Carrick, Coghill said.
“Carrick is much like any other neighborhood,” he said. The people there are hard working, blue collar people who got a “bum rap.”
And Brookline is “a world-class neighborhood,” he said, adding that despite its share of problems, the neighborhood has a great business district that’s really grown.
Q: What are your goals for your term?
A: “The most exciting thing for me is the business district in Beechview,” Coghill said, adding that it will be the city’s “shining star” in four years.
Growing up there, he remembers a bustling business district, but said it’s faltered in the past decade or so. Reviving that business district is something that won’t happen overnight, but is a top priority.
It’s not as big as Butler Street in Lawrenceville or Carson Street in South Side, but with the T going right through the middle of it, “the potential there is just jumping off the page,” he said.
He’d like to see a mix of businesses in Beechview, from coffee shops and restaurants to dry cleaners.
“I’d like to take a poll of the neighborhood and see what (types of businesses) they would support,” he said.
Also on his list of goals is to upgrade and enhance the athletic fields and parks in his district and the city.
Q: What are the benefits of having chief of staff who is a member of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Directors?
A: Coghill said he and Chief of Staff Moira Kaleida, a Who’s Next: Politics honoree, are able to talk about city issues and schools issues, which go hand-in-hand.
“Moira and I disagree on many, many things but we agree on many, many things, and I think that’s what works about us,” he said, adding that they can see each other’s point of view.
The schools are everyone’s issue, and people often decide if they are going to live in the city based on the school district, Coghill said. A Pittsburgh Public graduate, he added that he wants to support local schools and their successes.
Q: How does your experience as a business owner translate to city council?
A: Coghill, who owns a roofing company and has been self-employed for 23 years, said he knows what it’s like to have to spend money when its his money on the line.
“I learned many lessons that way,” he said, adding he’ll be a watchdog on city spending.
Roofing will take a backseat to being on city council, just as it did during the campaign, he said.
Owning a business is about building relationships with people, and he’s translating that to city council by answering phones and finding answers for constituents.
“Responding to people is second nature through experience with me,” he said.