William Anderson is a “Legacy Democrat.”
In addition to his long-term involvement as a Democratic Committeeperson at both the state and local levels, Anderson is the proud grandson of the late Evelyn D. Richardson, the only black woman to be elected to the Democratic Committee at the local, state and national levels after a lifetime fight for civil rights. Anderson credits his grandmother, who took him to political events throughout his life, with inspiring his campaign to represent the 24th Legislative District in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Despite his long history with that party, Anderson says he feels the need for change, similar to that effected by the Tea Party in response to Republican disconnection from their base.
“We need to look at what’s really going on, and what result we have been getting from the leadership of the party, make a change in that, and make that a starting point for a revolution,” Anderson says. “I am the legacy of a Democratic woman who changed the way her party operated back in her day. But before my Grandma passed away, all she talked about was how the party had gone backward, back to the way it was when she started 50 years ago.”
Richardson, says her grandson, “didn’t go to the committee with a passive view of the party. She went with the view that the party needs to look like the people it represents. The party officials in office at the time were not representing the best interests of the community she represented.”
A lifelong Homewood resident, Anderson is familiar in his community as an activist, working with such organizations as B-PEP, the NAACP, Ceasefire PA, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and an organizer for Occupy Pittsburgh. HE is also the owner of Pittsburgh’s Finest Auto in his home neighborhood.
Anderson says the loyalty to party over constituents has created many of the problems in Homewood, Wilkinsburg, East Liberty and the other neighborhoods of the 24th District, offering the budget stalemate as an example.
Legislators should have surrendered their pay and per diems, Anderson says, because “It should make you want to work harder, and resolve issues faster, because you are directly affected by your not doing your job.”
“The budget has affected a lot of our constituency. We already have two of the worst school districts [Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg] that aren’t funded, and were forced to borrow money to continue to keep their doors open,” Anderson says, noting that other vital social service agencies were forced to do the same. “They are depending on funding to come in. When they do projects and the state is supposed to reimburse them, for money they have already spent, holding this [budget] up is putting an extra burden on already burdened districts. And the state isn’t reimbursing districts for interest and charges on the money they had to borrow because there wasn’t a budget.”
Anderson says that lengthy process has caused many to take another look at candidates other than incumbents.
“I met a man who worked in the film industry who says he was laid off for five months because of that,” Anderson says. “He wants to move things forward more quickly, rather than the partisan wrangle we go through.”
Anderson says he isn’t a “big fan” of the incorporation of Wilkinsburg students into Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Westinghouse High School, because both schools struggle alone.
“With all of the other successful school districts in Allegheny County, I feel there could have been more leverage and ‘bully-pulpit-ing’ used by our elected officials to try to offer our kids a place where they actually will get a better-quality education without having to do all of these other pre-emptive things because you haven’t bothered to address the issues of violence and poverty in our communities, which has trickled down to our children,” says Anderson. “I believe there could have been a better solution than a school district which has never wanted our children. We already know there have been ongoing problems, and it’s basically taking the kids from the pot and putting them into the fire.”
“My opponent,” Anderson says of incumbent State Representative Ed Gainey, “says he got $3 million, but it’s not set in stone. He says he hopes this money doesn’t get sucked into the regular general fund of the school district and is allowed to directly affect Westinghouse. So we don’t have any concrete plans to affect our children, and they start school in less than six months. I think it was rushed, and I still don’t think there is a complete plan.”
“You have to make the rhetoric meet the results,” Anderson says. “There is a lot of state money that requires a school district to meet certain standards, to make sure these kids are getting a quality education and aren’t just thrown into basic criminal housing. They have to make sure the educational needs of the students are met.”
Anderson feels those educational needs also include more extracurricular and non-academic programming for those who may otherwise drop out of strictly academic programs.
“At Westinghouse, they used to have auto shop, and that was the reason a lot of kids went to school. If academics weren’t going to pull them in, then a trade like auto body got them to go because they enjoyed that,” Anderson says. “They went to [the academic] classes because it was a requirement for them to go to shop. So, basically providing kids with opportunities for training, as opposed to 100-percent college-based training, or all this teaching ‘to the test.’ Most of these tests are created by ex-politicians, lobbyists, who all of a sudden decided they were education experts and practicing on our children. The state should decide where the money is directed, first and foremost.”
“Instead of directing it all to staff and executive costs, so there are little to no resources for the children when it trickles down to them,” Anderson says.
Anderson also notes that economic conditions contribute heavily to family issues which affect children’s educations.
“We have to reestablish the homes where people aren’t earning enough money to provide for their own kids,” Anderson says. “It lessens the burdens on teachers. We have teachers who are packing lunches for the kids so they can eat through the weekend, which is taking away from their own resources, and their own obligations to their own families, just so they can assure these kids can be fed. Until we can let our children be children, and let them know there is someone who is concerned with them…”
Anderson is himself a mentor to several students at Westinghouse.
“I am one of the only male mentors, and I end up mentoring four or five young men who are looking for someone who looks like them, who comes from their neighborhood, who understands what they have gone through and what lies ahead for them, and will talk with them and not at them, well, it’s important.”
Anderson says that education is one of three focuses he feels are significant to the District, along with the prevention of violence and the creation of jobs that pay living wages for families.
“It all ties in together, because we have to be able to have a system where a child is sent to school prepared to learn,” Anderson says. “A teacher can’t teach your child to behave, and that is where a lot of the problem is. A lot of it is behavior adjustment for these children. A lot of them are sent to school, either they have to take care of their siblings and be the parent because their parent has two or three jobs and no time to spend assuring they are ready to learn when they get there.”
“We also have to provide teachers with adequate resources so they are able to do their jobs and teach children by subject, not to a test,” Anderson says. “They spend three or four months out of the year preparing a child to take a test to determine if the child has learned what the teacher hasn’t been able to teach them.”
“And we know poverty is the key cause of violence,” says Anderson. “So, to get at the root of the cause, pass stronger gun control legislation — we know we are the largest victims of ‘dumping’ in our District: Guns, garbage — it’s a dumping zone, and it’s easier for a kid to get firearms than it is for them to get into an after-school program, to get to a Boys and Girls Club, join the Boy Scouts or Girls Scouts, any of these things that keep a kid out of trouble.”
“Thirty years ago, a 15-year-old would never have been able to buy a gun on the street,” Anderson says. “Not that they weren’t available, but the environment was that you didn’t sell a gun to a child. You didn’t let children play with guns, you didn’t let them go off that path, because the community was so whole that there were more people to look after that child. Now a child is lucky if it has one person who is really concerned about their lives and them having a future.”
State and federal policies should accompany state and federal funding to assure community benefits, Anderson says.
“Affordable housing, for example. You get money from the state, or even from the federal government. We pay them to come into our communities, give them land for free, give them tax credits and everything, and are surprised when they screw us out of the deals, because there isn’t anything in the policy that requires affordable housing. Everyone I talk to wants an affordable housing policy put in place, so that all development in our community allows the long-time residents to be able to afford to stay there.”
“There isn’t anybody watching what is going on,” Anderson says. “There is a lot of ‘We could do this,’ ‘We should do this,’ but there isn’t anybody following through all the way to make sure that all the things these people say will actually get done.”
Anderson says he has no evidence that there has been any improvement in the District under the term of his opponent. As a member of B-PEP and its Equity and Inclusion Roundtable, he says that by every metric studied, “over the last four years, it has gotten worse. Folks are worse off than they have ever been. The rhetoric doesn’t match the results. We are at the bottom of every list for every statistic for blacks and middle-class people in the country. The only things we are at the top of the list for are homicides and violence.”
“We have gone from individual shootings to mass murders, and that is because the law has not been changed to prevent assault weapons from getting into hands on the street,” Anderson says. “Those are weapons of terror, and we are supposed to protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
“I am tired of going to funerals, tired of having to raise money for funerals and there is not justice. Where is the outrage from our elected officials? Where is the convening of Legislative panels to fight for our communities? It’s possible to move forward if you stop playing the game and start getting people to come on board based on the fact that it is a human issue of people’s lives, not a political issue.”
“How can we talk about moving forward, when we haven’t gotten results in the past four years? We have gotten a lot of good speeches, but our children are still being murdered every day.”
“Until we stop acting as partisan individuals and start doing what is good for all of our citizens, not as a Democratic view or a black view or all of that, maybe people will come forward and try to understand what you are saying to them,” Anderson says. “We have to start having human conversations to be able to work with people.”
By Nancy Hart