Politicians and pundits talk about marquee races and those that are down ballot. There were no races farther down that ballot than the election to fill the final year of former councilman Corey O’Connor’s term in Pittsburgh City Council District 5.

In a four-person race, the winner of that 1-year term was Barb Warwick of Greenfield. 

Warwick’s supporters crowded into the bar at Big Jim’s in the section of Greenfield known as The Run on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to watch the returns with their candidate. Just before 10 p.m., after last call on a night the bar is normally closed, Warwick thanked her supporters who were chanting “Here we go Barb, here we go.”

“This is so improbable, but it’s so possible,” she said. “This whole thing started with a neighborhood campaign to stop a little shuttle road running through a park and it grew into a coalition.”

That shuttle road was the Mon-Oakland Connector, a road that had been planned by former Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration and was strongly opposed by residents of Panther Hollow and The Run, where Warwick lives with her husband, four young children, two cats and three guinea pigs.

Warwick spent evenings at community meetings and marched with neighbors to oppose the planned road that would be built with public money for a private shuttle from Carnegie Mellon University to Hazelwood Green. (Because of the opposition, that route was expanded into Hazelwood and billed as providing transportation for Hazelwood residents to jobs in Oakland).

It was also paired with a stormwater project that is still not under construction because when the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority submitted the plans to stop the flooding in The Run, the road was part of it. Karina Ricks, the former director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure, insisted the Mon-Oakland Connector was a “mobility trail” and not a road.

The removal of the road from the stormwater plan submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection held up the approval of the project to catch stormwater in Junction Hollow and direct it to the Monongahela River instead of overflowing the sewer system.

Barb Warwick. Photo by Ann Belser.

Pittsburgh City Council Theresa Kail-Smith came to the party and gave Warwick a lapel pin to show she is a member of City Council as soon as the votes are certified.

As the cheers died down Tuesday night, Warwick’s 10-year-old daughter, Coco, looked up from her coloring and asked, “You won?”

When told that even without all of the votes counted it was a pretty sure thing that her mother had won, Coco replied “I knew it! I knew it!”

The District 5 council seat — which includes parts of Squirrel Hill South, Greenfield, Regent Square, Swisshelm Park, Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Hays, New Homestead and Lincoln Place — has been held by an O’Connor (Bob and then his son Corey), or the elder O’Connor’s chief of staff, Doug Shields, since 1991.

Corey O’Connor was appointed Allegheny County Controller this summer, replacing Chelsa Wagner, who won a seat on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

In the final vote count, Warwick won with 74% of the vote, or 11,579 votes cast. Her closest competitor was Eugene Bokor of Greenfield who garnered 2,998 votes or 19%.

Another special election will be held to replace Summer Lee of Swissvale, who won her bid to become the first Black woman to serve in Congress from Pennsylvania.

Lee also ran unopposed for the state legislature in a district that includes Point Breeze, Point Breeze North and parts of Homewood. That district will have a special election in the spring to replace her.

Ann Belser

Ann Belser is the owner of Print, a newspaper covering Pittsburgh's East End communities. After receiving a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she moved to Squirrel Hill and was a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 20 years where she covered local communities, county government, courts and business.