Lita Brillman announces primary run for City Council, District 5
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Lita Brillman announces primary run for City Council, District 5

A political newcomer, Brillman enters the race for Corey O'Connor's former seat.

Lita Brillman (Photo courtesy of Lita Brillman)
Lita Brillman (Photo courtesy of Lita Brillman)

Lita Brillman was born and raised in Squirrel Hill, but she was working for the nonprofit America Votes in Washington, D.C., when the synagogue shooting of Oct. 27, 2018, occurred. She later said it was a “call to action.”

“I want to be home,” she remembered thinking when panic spread over the antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life building. “I want to be with my community.”

Brillman was inspired to enter the arena of public service in Pittsburgh and, soon after the shooting, enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Now set to graduate with a master’s degree in April, she has her eyes on another prize: Pittsburgh City Council.

Brillman announced plans to run in the spring primary for the District 5 City Council seat occupied by Barb Warwick.

She sees her graduate education as a kind of launching pad. GSPIA, she said, “has been about building up my ability to be a responsible leader and a knowledgeable leader.”

Brillman, 27, points to projects she’s completed at grad school to tout her interest in civic government, such as one on Black maternal mortality in Pittsburgh, and another on housing in Hazelwood.

“I’m able to be hyper-local in my focus,” she said.

A Greenfield resident and longtime member of Temple Sinai — her parents were married there and she became a bat mitzvah there — Brillman says Jewish community safety and inclusion are near the top of her priorities. But she’s also quick to point out she’s no one-trick pony. She wants to talk about community-centered policing and ensuring that Hazelwood, in terms of displacement and gentrification, doesn’t become the next East Liberty.

Brillman also believes labor should not be pitted against the environment when it comes to civic priorities.

“I don’t believe that, and I won’t settle for that,” Brillman said. “They’re tied together.”

“Strong-minded, ambitious, strong values, strong sense of empathy.” That’s the way Armani Davis of Shady Side Academy, who was Brillman’s faculty lead during a fellowship with the City of Pittsburgh, thinks of her when asked to describe the aspiring young politician.

Lucy Gabriel has known Brillman since the sixth grade; that’s more than 15 years.

“She’s truly one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met — she really does her homework and believes in everything she’s said,” said Gabriel, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and is a fourth-year medical student at Pitt. “She has really gotten to know the community. She’s worked with and found little ways to make a big difference.”

Part of that big difference is the voice she’s developed at GSPIA, according to Hannah Bisbing, another second-year graduate student in the school.

“The first thing that really struck me about her is how intelligent she is,” said Bisbing, who lives in Shadyside. “She’s fearless and a brilliant person. I think she’d be great in a position of authority — she’s a great candidate.”

Next, the voters decide.

But first comes the campaign. Brillman is inviting residents of District 5 — which includes Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, Hazelwood, Lincoln Place, New Homestead, Regent Square and Squirrel Hill South — to attend a “coffee and bagels meet and greet” at Temple Sinai at 11 a.m. on Feb. 26.
The municipal primary in which Brillman plans to run is on May 16. Warwick and Matt Mahoney have also declared their candidacy for the seat, formerly occupied by Corey O’Connor. O’Connor resigned the seat last summer after he became Allegheny County Controller. Warwick took the seat in November after a special election. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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