By: Victoria Bails, Point Park News Service:
Following the 2016 Presidential Election, first-time female candidate Emily Marburger attended the Million Women March in Washington, D.C. It was there she decided it was time to get more involved in local government, specifically in her hometown of Bellevue, Pa.
“Oh, I can be the person to do this,” Marburger said after looking into the candidates who were running for mayor and the description of what is required for a mayor of the small borough.
Candidate Emily Marburger stands as she knocks on the door of a citizen of Bellevue.
Just months later, Marburger launched her first campaign for mayor of Bellevue and began door-to-door knocking and setting up campaign events throughout the borough.
On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Marburger’s hard work paid off as she won the election for Bellevue mayor as a first-time candidate.
Before she thought about running for mayor, Marburger started a group called PGH for Progress to let people know of ways people can get involved in local neighborhoods and in local government.
When Marburger considered running for mayor, she looked into both candidates and couldn’t believe they were running as democrats.
The incumbent mayor, Paul Cusick, openly talks about voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The other candidate, Tom Fodi ran as a republican for State Representative in 2014 and openly endorsed Gary Johnson in the 2016 election. Fodi marketed himself in the campaign as a “candidate for all” and wanted to see past party lines to appeal to all voters.
Marburger looked into the description of the position of mayor and realized that she was qualified to run.
“You have control over making the budget every year, and you’re the head of the police department,” Marburger said. “That’s a lot of what falls into my wheelhouse as far as experience goes.”
Marburger, who grew up in Saxonburg, Pa., and attended Knoch High School, graduated from Point Park University with a Bachelor’s of Art in Journalism and Mass Communication and Applied History. She received her M.B.A. in Management from Point Park University in 2012.
For four years, she worked in a management position at First Third Bank assisting low-to-middle class families budget and raise their credit scores. After holding this position, Marburger left the bank to work for her father’s company, Upright Sprinkler Design.
“This is a regular job where there’s flexibility,” said Marburger’s mother, Donna Marburger. Through this job, Marburger had a better schedule to help her with campaign efforts.
In the Facebook group called “Pantsuit Nation,” Marburger announced that she would be running for mayor of Bellevue.
“I knew I had to get involved. I felt driven to help,” Marburger said in the Facebook post. “But I never imagined I’d find myself, at 29, running for Mayor in the heated Democratic primary in my tiny square mile borough of 8,000.”
The post got over 59,000 reactions and over 5,400 comments. Because of the post, she gained supporters from all over the country, including one in Hawaii who still sends her homemade pottery.
“I would open up [Facebook], and I would have, like, 70-some new messages in the last hour. It was just random people from all over the country saying, ‘Good luck,’” Marburger said.
Her campaign also gained national recognition when Marburger’s picture was featured on NBC News. The story was about another first-time female candidate Emily Brewer who ran for Virginia State Delegate as a Republican. Marburger’s picture was featured among ten other women who were running for public office for the first time.
“It was just about how there was a surge in first-time female candidates,” Marburger said.
While campaigning, she did different events like Coffee with the Candidates, sat in the playroom of McDonald’s to try to be accessible to more mothers in the community, Drag Queen Bingo fundraiser and participated in the League of Women Voters Forum.
All of these events were done in an effort to try to attract different demographics within the community.
Besides events, the biggest effort Marburger put forth in her campaign was simply door knocking. To help cover the borough, Marburger had 25 people help with door knocking.
“There’s about 5,500 registered voters in Bellevue, and in an election like this, maybe 1,000 will show up,” Marburger said. “We already had a pretty high number show up for the primary in a non-issue year.”
Marburger spent months knocking on doors of those registered to vote in Bellevue.
“I’ve been door knocking everyone. I found that the democratic party’s entire plan has been to knock people who they know for sure are going to vote.”
Marburger focused on both people who will likely vote and residents who voted in the presidential election but did not vote in the following primary election.
“You should be making sure that other people are aware that there is a vote happening and that they understand why it’s important to vote in local elections,” Marburger said. “It’s not jammed in your face constantly like a presidential election.”
Kelli Jones, a five-year resident of Bellevue volunteered on Marburger’s campaign.
“I had reached out to her prior to [the primary election] through social media, through Facebook about volunteering and about getting involved,” Jones said. “I worked the polls, both at the primary and today at the general election, and I went out canvassing for her, door knocking.”
Marburger also had help with other aspects of her campaign.
Natalie Roberson, Marburger’s yoga instructor, helped manage a lot of Marburger’s day-to-day social media pages.
“It’s been informative. It’s been positive, and she’s always tried to stay above the fray,” Roberson said. “I think you can’t win a campaign via Facebook, but you certainly can use it that way.”
Molly Brown helped with Marburger’s campaign by door knocking and by planning out as well as acting as “home base” for a lot of events that took place during the campaign.
Brown is married to one of the candidates Val Pennington, who ran for Bellevue Borough Council. Pennington and Marburger, as well as Michael Rajakovic, who ran for Northgate School Board, endorsed each other and all combined efforts to help each other campaign.
“The team has been amazing,” said Brown. “The cool thing is that none of us have any political experience in any way at all.”
Brown explained that all of the people who campaigned together were disappointed or furious about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
“We just wanted to do something to change,” Brown said.
The success of campaigning as a team showed when voter Jacob Singerling showed up to vote on election day.
“Our connection to voting day, and really the only reason we came out, is because of Michael [Rajakovic] who is running for the school board position,” Singerling said.
Singerling voted for Marburger because “Michael was running with her.”
Ross Marshall also turned out to vote for Marburger on the day of the election.
“I knew that she was a democrat, and I heard some things about Tom Fodi that I didn’t really agree with,” said Marshall.
Marburger ran her campaign on economic development like streamlining the budget, supporting the police department, and start and manage activities and local groups for the youth of Bellevue.
The main street of Bellevue is Lincoln Ave., which is the home to many businesses.
“Lincoln Avenue is not dying, but it could definitely use some help,” said Marburger. “I one day had this very simple, yet out of the box idea to imagine what we want on Lincoln Avenue and then work backwards.”
With this plan, they would imagine starting a business and plan out where the optimum location would be for the business to thrive, what it would cost to bring it up to code, look at any zoning restrictions that would come up, look into demographics for marketing the business, and then reach out to investors to show them all of the research that has already been done for them.
Marburger set up meetings with Bellevue’s police chief to familiarize herself with the department and see what improvements need to be made. Marburger began sitting in on ride-alongs with police officers.
During the ride-alongs with the police, they would put up signs in the community for no parking and respond to suspicious activity calls.
“We did respond to a heroin overdose one day,” Marburger said. “The guy looked like he was dead on the side of the road, and then five minutes later he was standing on his own and talking in cohesive statements.”
Marburger worked with a law student from Duquesne University to try to see what can be done about blighted property around the neighborhood and how to enforce codes more strictly.
“A lot of people have complained that there is nothing for kids to do in this community once they leave school,” said Marburger.
Because Bellevue is a walking district, the school districts are responsible for children from the time they leave school until they reach their homes.
“If there were activities for them to do, they would maybe be going there,” Marburger said. “There are some after-school programs that do exist, but they all of them have the same sort of issue, which is lack of space.”
Because of the lack of space, not all kids can participate in the after-school activities.
Candidate Emily Marburger and her opponent Tom Fodi’s signs were put at each polling location in Bellevue on Election Day.
On Election Day, Marburger stood outside of one of six polling locations in Bellevue to hand out information on herself to voters.
“Hi. I’m Emily Marburger, and I’m running for mayor,” Marburger said as she handed out her information card.
After standing outside for 13 hours in the cold and sleety weather, Marburger’s opponent, Tom Fodi, gave her the unofficial news that she won the election.
The candidates and their families stood together as they waited for the numbers to be posted on the Bellevue Boro Council Chambers.
“Looks like I get to work with you as our next mayor,” Fodi said as he reached out his hand to shake Marburger’s hand.
“I won,” Marburger said as she looked over at her parents in shock.