As Republican leaders take to the courts to prevent the election from happening in the first place, Democrats in Allegheny County’s 32nd House District will meet Sunday to pick from a crowded field of candidates — eight in total, and most with long records in public service — to vie to succeed the late state Rep. Tony DeLuca.
The 32nd District, spanning Penn Hills and Verona and a majority of Plum and Oakmont, saw the unthinkable happen: Voters in the November election chose DeLuca for another term, despite the fact that he had died in October after a brief battle with lymphoma, a disease he had previously beaten twice. He was 85.
Now, a special election set for February could determine control of the chamber — the center of attention alongside two other special elections in Western Pennsylvania. Reps. Austin Davis and Summer Lee, both Democrats, resigned their seats after winning reelection in November to take the offices of lieutenant governor and U.S. House representative, respectively.
The Associated Press reported this weekend that on Friday night, Brian Cutler, the top-ranking Republican in the state House, is asking the state’s Commonwealth Court to step in and prevent voters from filling the three vacant seats. Democrats, netting 12 seats in November, won just enough to retake control of the chamber, 102 to 101, the outlet noted.
In the suit, Cutler argues that DeLuca’s death means Democrats “cannot claim to have ever had a majority of 102 living members or more members than the Republican Caucus,” according to The Associated Press.
The legal grappling isn’t stopping Allegheny County Democrats from nominating their candidate for the special election. The committee will meet Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. in Oakmont to pick from eight candidates, hoping to keep the seat in their control. DeLuca had represented the district for 39 years.
Vying for the nomination are Nicholas Futules, vice president of Allegheny County Council; Pauline Calabrese, mayor of Penn Hills; Joe McAndrew, a business owner who sits on the Oakmont Chamber of Commerce board of directors; Frank Pecora, deputy mayor of Penn Hills; Tracey Holst, Oakmont councilwoman; Erin Vecchio, a Democratic candidate for the seat in 2020; Louis Leon, constable of Penn Hills; and Lois Vitti, an Oakmont resident who told WESA-FM she is a “tree-hugging hippie.”
According to WESA, the committee will choose its nominee using ranked choice voting, where members will rank their choices from 1 to 8.
DeLuca had served as the Democratic chairman of the House Insurance Committee for more than two decades. His office said his passion was to serve “as a patient advocate with insurance companies, to ensure medical professional accountability, and to guarantee patient safety in all areas of medicine including pharmacies.”
He won reelection in November over Green Party candidate Zarah Livingston with 86% of the vote. The district’s population is about 64,000.
WESA reported that the most frequently mentioned candidate on the Republican side is Carrie Lewis DelRosso, the state legislator who recently ran as Doug Mastriano’s running mate in his race for Pennsylvania governor.
She didn’t provide a yes or no answer to WESA when asked if she planned to run in the special election, the outlet reported, but said, “I know the people and community leaders of the 32nd District. My hometown of Oakmont is closely connected with Verona, Penn Hills and Plum Borough. We need someone with experience and fortitude to properly serve us at home and represent us in Harrisburg.”