When District 9 councilman the Rev. Ricky Burgess missed the filing deadline for the seat he won in 2007, it became a back door endorsement for former political operative turned candidate Khari Mosley, the only other brand name on the May 16 primary ballot vying for the office. Last month, the Rev. Burgess announced he would not be a candidate for a seat that has attracted many challengers in the past.
Stanton Heights political consultant Kierran Young recently withdrew from the District 9 race, leaving Khadijah Harris as Mosley’s only opponent. Little is known about Harris or her positions on the issues, but that hasn’t slowed Mosley’s pace in the least.
Like his friend and political ally Mayor Ed Gainey, Mosley is a tireless campaigner who loves the handshaking and backslapping of retail politics.
Mosley, like the name of 2023’s most honored movie, prefers being “everything everywhere all at once” by crisscrossing a multiverse of neighborhoods in his district that includes Point Breeze, Lincoln-Lemington, East Liberty, Homewood, Garfield and Larimer.
Though clearly flattered and mindful of his advantages on every front, Mosley resists being the “instant frontrunner” by refusing to treat District 9 as if it were an open seat.
As the current director of 1Hood Power, Mosley has been around Pittsburgh politics in various campaign roles long enough to know that the unexpected can happen to even the best-funded campaign if the candidate’s message fails to resonate.
Asked why a former “Inside Man” in local politics decided to emerge “from behind the curtain,” Mosley points to recent election victories by U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, Mayor Gainey, Gov. Josh Shapiro and “a new generation of leaders from Gen X to millennials” who have expanded the appeal of a “progressive, diverse and inclusive” vision he also embraces.
“I would hate to look back 10 to 15 years from now and say I had an opportunity to be part of that, but I couldn’t see the forests for the trees,” he says. “This is probably the biggest shift in the political landscape since Davey Lawrence and Robert L. Vann got Black folks to leave the party of Lincoln to vote Democrat and helped get FDR elected.
“Everybody’s train runs on a different time,” he says. “Someone like Summer Lee, who is super-talented can go to Congress at 34, 35. With my journey, that wasn’t the right timeline. Now, at 47, I’m comfortable in my own skin. I’ve been a husband [Mosley’s wife is former Allegheny County Controller turned Court of Common Pleas Judge Chelsa Wagner], a father. I’ve had a whole range of experiences that will come to bear. Now is the right time with Chelsa going to the bench and the boys being a little bit older. From a family perspective, I can do this.”
With his wife’s blessing, the enthusiasm of Gainey and the encouragement of countless supporters in District 9 buoying him, Mosley declared his candidacy on Dec. 21 and held his first campaign event on Jan. 5.
Before his public announcement, Mosley met with the Rev. Burgess to let him know his intentions. Because they’re neighbors and have been friends for 15 years, he thought it would be inconceivable not to be upfront at a time when the incumbent was mulling over whether to run again.
“I told Rev. Burgess I wasn’t running against him, but against the forces of negativity, pessimism and division that have held us all back,” Mosley says. “I’m running for the seat. I’m not running against you.”
That’s a distinction that might have been lost on the Rev. Burgess at the time, but he seemed to appreciate Mosley’s honesty. In anticipation of a tough race, Mosley put together a detailed list of his priorities if elected to office. None of his campaign literature mentioned the Rev. Burgess or criticized him.
The Mosley for City Council website lists the following as his top policy goals with detailed descriptions accompanying each entry:
1. Transparent and responsive city services. 2. People-centered community health and public safety. 3. Equitable and sustainable neighborhood development. 4. Accessible transportation and resilient infrastructure. 5. Innovative and integrated workforce and vocational training. 6. World-class environmental stewardship. 7. Technology-driven city government. 8. Welcoming public spaces honoring our cultural legacy. 9. Inclusion and equity.
Mosley says his ultimate goal is to “tangibly improve the quality of life” in all the neighborhoods in District 9, whether middle-class stretches like Park Place and Point Breeze or neighborhoods facing historic challenges like Homewood and Larimer.
“There’s a level of skepticism and cynicism, not only in District 9 but throughout the political environment where people have lost faith in government,” Mosley says. “I studied political science in college and I believe in the democratic process. In order to get people involved, they have to believe in it, too. I believe I can light that fire, spark that inspiration.
I think we have an opportunity to really wrap our arms around ideas of equity and greater opportunity and make this a place we all can be proud of.”
While Mosley looks like the favorite to win the primary, he won’t be leaving his love of hip-hop music and culture behind. Known to many local hip-hop fans by his moniker Kmos, he’ll be releasing a new collection of rap songs after the primary with longtime collaborator James “Selecta” Scoglietti called “Bringing 88 Back.”
Mosley is in the early stages of pulling together a District 9 celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary with local rappers who helped spearhead the music in Pittsburgh. “That’s definitely something no one would’ve done on the campaign trail 20, 25 or 30 years ago,” he says with a laugh. “This shows you how much things have changed.”
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.