She’s been a two-term McKeesport Councilwoman and a two-time candidate for the state House, but now Fawn Walker-Montgomery is now nearly a month into her newest political campaign, running for McKeesport mayor against two-term incumbent Michael Cherepko.
“I’m running because I’m tired of seeing my community on the news for drugs and crime and no economic development,” she told the Courier in an exclusive interview, March 11. “I’ve lived here my entire life and it looks the same—the same houses need to be torn down. It’s not so much my opponent as it is the system, the same machine status quo that’s done nothing for the community since I was a kid. We have to move past that and move the power back to the people where it belongs.”
Walker-Montgomery said her priorities are increasing economic development while making sure local small businesses are protected, reducing crime by increasing employment opportunities, and increasing transparency in government.
“I’d like to employ youth to renovate abandoned and vacant properties and get them back onto the tax rolls, maybe with a rent-to-own program to support homeownership,” she said. “I’m also looking to support entrepreneurs, lowering fees etc., to attract people.”
Unlike most municipalities surrounding Pittsburgh, McKeesport has a Home Rule government with a “strong” mayor. Among other things, the mayor sets the agenda for council, supervises the police—it’s a policy position, not a figurehead.
“I want to work with everybody. Even if the charter gives the mayor a lot of authority, I can’t do it by myself—I know that from sitting in council—it’s not my first rodeo,” she said. “We need to work with the Port Authority—they’ve been a good ally—to extend the East Busway, for one. It’s very hard to get in and out of McKeesport if you don’t drive. Public transit is huge. And it affects businesses. Sometimes we get them, but they don’t stay—a lot of that is logistics. So, we need to build relationships and iron out those difficulties beforehand.”
As for the actual race, she expects it to be difficult. She has to run as an independent, meaning she cannot start circulating nominating petitions until March 13. On the bright side, she only needs 100 signatures, and then she’ll be on the ballot for the November election. But given her experience challenging indicted—and eventually convicted—Democratic state Rep. Marc Gergely in 2017, she plans to get many more.
Back then, Gergely loyalists challenged her petitions and had her thrown off the Democratic Primary ballot. She won enough votes as a write-in candidate to run as a Republican and managed to get almost 40 percent of the vote in her losing the general election battle. Gergely resigned and she lost the ensuing special election to current state Rep. Austin Davis.
“It’s crazy—the time and energy they spent getting rid of me, we could have knocked down a couple houses, or started a job training program,” she said. “But the people got me back in as a write-in. They can do it again. This isn’t about my opponent—it’s about a system that’s doing nothing. Crime is up, population and job opportunities are down. I want people to make the change. I’m not the answer, they are. We have to make the change that’s bypassed us and gone to Pittsburgh or Braddock but not here. This is possible. We need change and we’ve needed it for a very long time.”
For Walker-Montgomery, this is her first run as mayor of McKeesport. But everyone knows she’s no stranger to this Mon Valley town of 19,000. Walker-Montgomery was born and raised in McKeesport. She and her husband since 2011, George Montgomery, are raising a 15-year-old daughter in McKeesport. “I live and breathe McKeesport,” Walker-Montgomery told the Courier.
“I have a different perspective as a mother…my daughter is a cheerleader and a track star, and when we go to other towns (such as Monroeville), she’ll ask me, ‘mom, why don’t we have strip malls, why can’t McKeesport have all these stores?’”
Walker-Montgomery also said her daughter, who attends McKeesport Area High School, is able to point out some differences she sees at school with how Black and brown kids are treated differently with regards to suspensions and the expectations for Black students. “We expect her to get A’s, but sometimes she says that teachers say B’s or C’s are good, too,” Walker-Montgomery said.
“I’m just really tired of the way McKeesport is known, the reputation we have. Some of the houses have been in the same spot since I was 5, no development, same graffiti in the same spot, the same issues are there,” she told the Courier.
“I just don’t want McKeesport’s babies to accept that narrative that McKeesport has.”
For Walker-Montgomery, this mayoral race is personal. It truly hits home.
“Being a parent gives me a different drive,” she said, “because literally I have someone looking up to me every day.”
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