Lita Brillman announces primary run for City Council, District 5

Lita Brillman announces primary run for City Council, District 5

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

“I want to be home,” she remembers thinking as panic spread over the anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life building. “I want to be with my community.”

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

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Brillman, who is Jewish and foreign-born, has announced plans to run in the spring primary for the District 5 City Council seat held by Barb Warwick.

She sees her postgraduate education as a sort of launching pad. GSPIA, she said, “is about building my ability to be a responsible leader and a knowledgeable leader.”

Brillman, 27, points to projects she completed in grad school to demonstrate 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 ensure that Hazelwood, in terms of displacement and gentrification, doesn’t become the next East Liberty.

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

“I don’t believe it, and I won’t settle for it,” Brillman said. “They are bound together.”

“Strong, ambitious, strong values, strong sense of empathy.” That’s how Armani Davis of Shady Side Academy, who was Brillman’s faculty leader 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; it is 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 said,” said Gabriel, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and is a fourth-year medical student at Pitt. “She really got to know the community. She worked together and found small ways to make a big difference.”

Part of that big difference is the voice she developed at GSPIA, according to Hannah Bisbing, another sophomore in the school.

“The first thing that really struck me about her is how intelligent she is,” said Bisbing, who lives in Shadyside. “She is fearless and a brilliant person. I think she would be great in a position of authority – she’s a good 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 a “coffee and bagels meet and greet” at Temple Sinai at 11 a.m. to live February 26.
The municipal primary in which Brillman plans to participate is on May 16. Warwick and Matt Mahoney also declared their candidacy for the seat, previously held by Corey O’Connor. O’Connor resigned the seat last summer after becoming Allegheny County comptroller. Warwick took the seat in November after a special election. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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