Sonja Finn wins Democratic nomination for vacant Pittsburgh council seat
Point Breeze chef and restaurant owner Sonja Finn won the Democratic nomination Sunday for the March 6 special election for a seat on Pittsburgh City Council.
“I’m very excited, happy, honored,” Finn, 38, said shortly after the vote was tallied at Chatham University’s Coolidge Hall.
“I think people know that I’ve been committed to this city,” added Finn, who opened Dinette pizzeria and wine bar in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood a decade ago. “I’ve showed that I get things done.”
Fewer than 50 people participated in the nomination process, with 27 casting votes in favor of Finn to replace former Councilman Dan Gilman, Democratic committee members said. Seventy-three committee members from Council District 8 were eligible to vote.
“In 34 years, I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” said longtime committee member Claire Staples, 69, a retired electrician of Squirrel Hill. “But this is the way it’s done. It’s always been done this way. The most powerful thing a Democratic committee member can do is get to vote in one of these races — you could spend your whole life on committee and never get to do it.”
State law permits major political parties to nominate candidates in lieu of a primary election. Independent candidates can run by circulating and filing nomination papers.
No Republican candidates have surfaced. The district includes Shadyside and parts of Point Breeze, Squirrel Hill and Oakland.
The seat is open because Gilman resigned Jan. 3 to serve as Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff.
Finn had competed against Erika Strassburger, 35, of Squirrel Hill, Gilman’s former chief of staff, who received 20 votes; and Marty Healey, 54, of Shadyside, chief financial officer for a South Side-based construction firm, who received no votes.
Strassburger said she plans to continue to run as an independent.
“While 47 people voted today, there are many, many more voters in the community who I am I excited to talk to about my campaign,” she said in a statement. “I have truly loved every minute of being a public servant for District 8 for the last four years and would be honored to continue that service on City Council.”
Healey’s campaign had criticized the timing of the nominations, saying it didn’t permit adequate time to campaign. The nominating vote was held 11 days after Gilman resigned.
The law requires nominations to be conducted within 15 days of the city notifying the Allegheny County Elections Division of the vacancy, said elections Manager Mark Wolosik.
Finn, whose campaign platforms include support for universal preschool, raising the minimum wage and rethinking citywide development, was “like a breath of fresh air” during last week’s candidate meet-and-greet, Staples said of why she voted for her.
“She’s smart, she understands how this city is working and she’s not connected to anybody,” Staples said. “She’s an entrepreneur — she’s the kind of person who is making this city what it is today.”
The special election winner will serve a four-year term. City Council members are paid $66,371 a year.