All politics is local, goes the famous adage. Dan Gilman is counting on it.
Earlier this week, Gilman announced his candidacy to replace his boss, Bill Peduto, as the city councilor representing District 8, which includes the city's more prosperous East End neighborhoods. At age 30, Gilman is the youngest of three candidates to have announced their intention to run: His two rivals, Jeanne Clark and Sam Hens-Greco, are longtime leaders within the Democratic Party, and chair its 7th and 14th ward committees respectively.
But while Hens-Greco and Clark have connections that stretch back years, Gilman has been building up his own social capital after nearly a decade of working for Peduto. "I have nine years of going to neighborhood meetings, and hearing those concerns. I can tell you the top 25 streets in the district that need to be paved, which catch-basins are collapsed, the history of the wooden-block paving on one street in Shadyside. No one else brings that kind of experience, and I'm going to tell that story."
What's more, he says, he'll be the candidate best positioned to pick up where Peduto leaves off. Because he already works on Peduto's initiatives, "I will be able to hit the ground running. It will be a seamless transition for residents."
Just as Clark did earlier this week, Gilman is pledging to run an upbeat race: "I have nothing but positive things to say about Jeanne and Sam. But what separates me from them is my experience. This is about representing your district, block by block."
Working on potholes and catch-basins isn't glamorous; unlike Clark, say, Gilman hasn't been a high-profile advocate on women's issues or environmental causes, and he doesn't have a lofty position in the party. Then again, party loyalists may already feel divided by the choice between ward chairs Clark and Hens-Greco ... in which case a guy who can get a pothole filled may find a spot on the ballot worth filling too. In any case, Gilman isn't the first city council staffer running to replace his boss: Peduto himself became councilor after his boss, Dan Cohen, got out of politics.
As you might expect, Gilman says that there are few policy differences between he and his boss. Like Peduto, he touts the district's concentration of healthcare and educational institutions, and says local government needs to do more to build on the promise of innovation they offer. "I'm not sure government is doing everything it can to help that, whether that means doing more to promote what small businesses here do, or helping them find space." He also touts the opportunity for a district 8 councilor to mediate between the giant nonprofits and the community they inhabit – whether that means taking neighborhood needs into account when they expand, or figuring some way for them to contribute to the city's bottom line. "Just coming to the universities with your hand out and saying, 'We need more money' isn't effective," he says. "We need to look at it in a much more global sense: there are all kinds of services they may be able to provide us" instead of cash.
Of course, for Gilman more than other council candidates this year, the role he seeks on council could change dramatically depending on who is in the mayor's office next year. It's possible that his current boss could be the next mayor. But then it's also possible that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- Peduto's bête noir -- could hold onto the seat. Could Gilman be as effective if that happened? "Let me be clear: I'll be working tirelessly to elect Bill as mayor," Gilman answers. "I think it would be fantastic to walk across the hall and have him in the mayor's office. But that being said, I work with the mayor's office every day, and I think that will continue [if Ravenstahl and Gilman both win]. I don't think the fact that I support Bill will come as a surprise to anyone in the mayor's office."