Tom Duerr, a 27-year-old county councilor, will seek to flip a competitive state Senate seat on the ballot next year in the Pittsburgh suburbs.
“I am running as a pragmatic, level-headed Democrat who will look to cut through partisanship in Harrisburg and hopefully bring results to the people of this district,” he told the Union Progress.
The 37th District is based in southern and western Allegheny County. A few municipalities were drawn out during the once-a-decade redistricting process, including Mt. Lebanon and Washington County’s Peters Township, while Coraopolis, Franklin Park and Marshall were added in.
Composed of suburbs, many of which have been moving toward Democrats in recent years, the district often produces close results. President Joe Biden narrowly lost the district by 1.3 percentage points, or fewer than 2,000 votes, to Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
A native of Bethel Park, Duerr is a political consultant who was elected to County Council in 2019. He decided not to stand for re-election this year and created a political committee this month that can be used to raise funds for a state Senate campaign.
Duerr said one of his biggest accomplishments on council was helping pass a ban on conversion therapy for minors, a discredited practice of trying to change someone’s gender or sexual identity. He added that he “won’t be scared about talking about these issues.”
“Four years ago, that seemed like such a no-brainer,” he said. “With the increased attacks on certainly our transgender and our queer communities, popping up again certainly these past couple years, I think it’s important for elected officials to be looking for bills and ways to pass to make that community feel more safe and to certainly signal to them that they have our support.”
He noted other achievements include contributing to a countywide paid sick leave policy and the once-a-decade creation of a new council district map. More recently, he has focused on advancing proposed government reforms such as term limits for more countywide officials and campaign contribution limits, which he said are also needed at the state level.
“I believe firmly that we need to take a hard look at our state campaign finance system,” he said. “Right now it is the Wild West, very much like it currently is in the county.”
The district has changed hands between both major political parties in recent years. A Democrat represented it from 2003 to 2015 before departing for the private sector, and now-U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Republican, flipped it. When he resigned after getting elected to the U.S. House, Democrat Pam Iovino was able to capitalize on anti-Trump fervor in 2019 to take back the seat. A Republican, businessman Devlin Robinson, was able to again flip the district in 2020. He now chairs the chamber's Labor and Industry Committee and is vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee.
Duerr was on the teams that helped power what he described as “two of the most highly scrutinized, watched campaigns” in southwestern Pennsylvania: Conor Lamb’s ascent to the U.S. House in a 2018 special election, and Iovino’s win in a 2019 special election for the district Duerr now seeks to represent.
“That feeling of having a direct impact for your area that you’ve grown up in and given you so much, fighting to give them representation that they can be proud of, it was an incredible feeling,” he said.
Duerr said the Iovino campaign, and Iovino herself, has left a strong impact on him and will carry that into his own campaign for state Senate.
“Getting to see Pam work and getting to know her personally, getting to see the depth of knowledge that she brought to so many issues, having spent her entire life in public service,” he said stood out to him. “Working on that campaign, and fighting alongside her, is a big part of the public servant that I am always trying to emulate.”
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.