Though the outcome was a foregone conclusion after Khari Mosley won the May primary, the newly elected District 9 city councilman’s victory party at Blue Sky Kitchen in East Liberty wasn’t any less joyous.
Because he ran unopposed in the general election, the longtime Democratic political operative turned first-time-candidate didn’t have to wait for a concession call from an opponent or suffer through the “too close to call” mantra as ballots were counted late into the evening.
Shortly after the polls closed, Mosley was ready to go with an extemporaneous stemwinder in which he managed to thank everyone on the Pittsburgh political scene who helped him win and were, by extension, helped by him in their own races over the decades.
Mosley often jokes that he enjoyed being the closest thing local Democrats have to Obi-Wan Kenobi. That’s not too much of an exaggeration given his long history of mentorship to folks currently holding office.
Mosley has helped win enough hard-fought victories from behind the scenes to qualify as a Jedi master, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t nervous before announcing to his political confidants late last year that he was going to make a run for the District 9 seat then occupied by the Rev. Ricky Burgess, a popular incumbent and a skilled campaigner.
To everyone’s surprise, the Rev. Burgess decided not to run for another term for the seat he first won in 2007, leaving the field to Mosley and Khadijah Harris. To no one’s surprise, Mosley won the May primary but refused to slow down as he made an argument to his future constituents why he deserved to have their votes in November.
It was classic Khari Mosley: Take nothing for granted and be prepared for everything. In many ways, his understanding of the intricacies of Pittsburgh’s political scene made his election night victory speech inevitable. His timing for running for office for the first time was as impeccable as the trademark bow ties and dark suits he wears to every public event not connected to hip-hop or his sons’ athletic competitions.
Mosley told me that he will enjoy the post-election high this week combined with the Veterans Day holiday before bringing his team together on Monday to plan for the formal transition going into 2024.
“We’re going to be in the community,” he says. “We’re going to be visible, responsible, accessible and imaginative. I’ve already met with a number of my future colleagues [on Pittsburgh City Council] to talk about policy we can do around housing and community development that I’ve been reading about — best practices from around the country.
“So we’re going to be very good at the old school politics of showing up, being there, building relationships, but we’re going to be really good at the new stuff as far as imaginative, creative policies and some of the transformational things being done and bringing that to Pittsburgh.”
City Council members don’t have satellite offices in their districts, but Mosley is working on an agreement with the Kingsley Association to have a community office for constituent services in partnership with state Sen. Lindsey Williams and state Rep. La’Tasha Mayes. It is another example of thinking outside the box and giving his constituents access.
At midnight, hours after his election victory, Mosley dropped the first single from “Bringing ’88 Back,” an album recorded under his hip-hop moniker KMOS and with his decades-long collaborator Selecta. Judging by its clever flow, music and lyrics, no one will be stepping to Mosley for an impromptu rap battle anytime soon. He’s in his prime as an emcee just as his career as an elected official is just beginning. Once again, Khari KMOS Mosley’s timing is impeccable.
Disappointment for Carl Redwood
Across town at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield, independent Allegheny County Council candidate Carl Redwood was not having the kind of night he would’ve preferred. The venue was jammed with supporters, predominantly young and eager for dramatic change, but County Council District 10 incumbent DeWitt Walton was in no hurry to give them what they wanted.
Walton successfully fought off a progressive effort to paint him as a pawn of the local Democratic machine. Redwood gave him a much tougher battle than previous challengers, but nowhere near the numbers necessary for there to be any doubt early on about who the winner would be.
“We’re down votes,” Redwood said stoically when asked to characterize things just before 9 p.m. “I do not know if we’ll be able to make up the difference.”
As usual, the longtime labor activist was unflappable in the face of bad news. With 70% of the vote in, he wasn’t entertaining any electoral miracles. He knew that his candidacy, even in an environment friendly to progressives like newly elected County Executive Sara Innamorato, was going to be a hard sell because of the unrelenting critique of capitalism at the heart of his message.
“The most important thing is that the volunteers were out working and we talked to lots of people and we got a lot of votes in support of an independent, progressive, socialist campaign,” he said. “Because of those votes, we have a stable core of folks in the county we can build upon to build a progressive alternative and a progressive momentum.
“Our campaign was really a campaign against the Democratic party. It is rare if there is an independent and socialist campaign that runs against the Democratic party.”
Redwood believes the Democratic machine in Pittsburgh recognized the threat and worked hard to undermine him because he represented “a new force emerging in Allegheny County politics.”
“The traditional Democratic Party has moved to be more conservative, and they fear the emergence of a progressive new entity that begins to challenge it for electoral governing power and other power,” Redwood said.
“The important thing to understand about this campaign is that it was an independent campaign aimed at using the campaign and the position to build a progressive alternative for the people of Pittsburgh.
“Our aim is to build a new force — not mainly in electoral politics. We were trying to use electoral politics to build a different kind of vehicle that could represent the interest of poor and working-class folks, be anti-capitalist in its frame and understand that capitalism is the source of most of the problems that we face,” Redwood said.
When asked if he had called Walton to concede, Redwood chuckled and said he had only one speech to give — a victory speech. “We’ve been successful in mobilizing lots of voters around a progressive alternative for Pittsburgh and we’re moving forward to build this new structure.
“The Democratic Party takes the people of Pittsburgh for granted mainly because they know most people have no place to go in terms of electoral politics,” he said. “We’re trying to create that alternative. We have a lot of work to do to build that anti-capitalist, progressive alternative.”
Redwood, like Mosley, has never held elected office. Even with this loss, he has not ruled out running again, but he isn’t likely ever to run as a Democrat because, he insists, the Democratic Party today is the Republican party of a decade ago.
“As the Democratic Party moves to the right, there’s even more space that opens up on the left where we need to be better organized,” he said. “This is a lifelong thing. Struggle is something we gotta do. It’s the price we pay for being alive.”
Tony Norman’s column is underwritten by The Pittsburgh Foundation as part of its efforts to support writers and commentators who cover communities of color that historically have been misrepresented or ignored by mainstream journalism.