Pennsylvania Democrats appear to be in an Allegheny County state of mind.
Party leaders rallied Sunday afternoon around their candidates for the upcoming Feb. 7 special elections to fill three state House seats in Allegheny County. Several hundred attendees, ranging from local activists to Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, crowded into Golden Age Beer Co. in Homestead.
The three districts are all located in heavily Democratic parts of Allegheny County. The 32nd District, largely in Penn Hills, had been represented by the late Anthony DeLuca; the 34th District, centered on Braddock and other towns just east of Pittsburgh, was formerly represented by U.S. Rep. Summer Lee; and the 35th District, based in McKeesport and the Mon Valley, was last held by Davis.
The stakes are high for Democrats — filling the three vacant districts will return the 203-seat state House to its full complement, and is likely to decide which party controls the chamber for the long haul. Democrats need to win all three races to control the state House for the first time in more than a decade, while Republicans need just one of them to keep control.
Davis, who was sworn in last Tuesday as the state’s second-in-command, said at the event that Allegheny County has provided big results for the Democratic party — and that those kinds of results are needed again in just a few weeks.
“Look, make no mistake about it: Allegheny County delivers. Allegheny County has delivered time and time again,” he said. “It’s Allegheny County that’s going to win a majority for the state House of Representatives.”
Davis encouraged attendees to “dig a little deeper” and help the campaigns in any way they could.
“We know these races aren’t won on TV or in mailboxes. They’re won on the doors,” he said. “Who shows up is going to be who wins this election.”
In brief remarks, all three candidates pledged at the event to advance the party’s agenda and work to get legislation to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.
The date of the special elections had been in question due to a lawsuit from Bryan Cutler, the Republican leader in the state House. He challenged the authority of his Democratic counterpart, Joanna McClinton, to schedule the three elections, and he moved to combine two of them with the upcoming May primary — the latest possible date for them to be held. A panel of Commonwealth Court judges ruled against Cutler, saying his suit raised “nonjusticiable political questions” on which it would be improper for the court to weigh in, and left the Feb. 7 election date in place.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, who also spoke at the event, said Democrats need “reinforcements” in Harrisburg to move forward the party’s priorities and block Republican proposals.
“We have folks in Harrisburg who did not get the message about women controlling their own bodies,” he said. “They are not deterred by that last loss; they still are working hard to take away that basic, fundamental right — so we need some reinforcements to make sure they are not successful.”
“If you truly believe that in Pennsylvania, no matter who you are, what you look like, who you love, that you ought to get a fair shot and a fair shake, we need some reinforcements to actually pass nondiscrimination protections,” continued Kenyatta, who also spoke earlier Sunday at a meeting of Pittsburgh’s 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, as he potentially prepares to run next year for state auditor general.
Allegheny County’s two major political committees held meetings last month to pick their candidates for the special elections. They are:
- 32nd District: Joe McAndrew, chair of the Penn Hills Democratic Committee (D); Clayton Walker, U.S. Army veteran and pastor of The Mustard Seed Church (R).
- 34th District: Abigail Salisbury, lawyer and Swissvale councilor (D); Robert Pagane, former law enforcement officer (R).
- 35th District: Matt Gergely, administrator who has held roles with the city of McKeesport and McKeesport Area School District (D); Don Nevills, U.S. Navy veteran and small business owner (R).
Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.