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Familiar Names, Newcomers Seek Democratic Endorsement In Local Races

Gene J. Puskar

More than 40 candidates for county and local office are seeking the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee in advance of this year’s spring primary. And while the list contains few surprises, it does feature a handful of names of potential contenders who have not openly declared their candidacies.

The candidates, identified in a list provided by the party on Monday, are essentially seeking a stamp of approval from party elders on March 10, when Democratic committee members will vote on their favorites. The party’s endorsement is not binding on voters themselves, and candidates can win without garnering, or even seeking, the committee's backing. But the endorsement can be useful, especially in low-wattage races, because endorsed candidates are listed on “slate cards” and other party materials distributed on or before primary day.

Three of the top four Democrats in the county on this year’s ballot – County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, County Controller Chelsa Wagner, and Treasurer John Weinstein – face no rival for the party’s backing. District Attorney Steve Zappala must square off against Turahn Jenkins, a former prosecutor and public defender who has challenged Zappala from the left.

Three candidates are also seeking a judicial post on the county’s Common Pleas Court: Mary McGinley and Elliot Howsie have been running openly, but a third candidate, George Hymes, has tossed his name in.

The list is subject to change as candidates may withdraw or fail to come up with the required fee, which they must do by Feb. 20. The party levies fees on a sliding scale, based on the office sought, and not all candidates are able to come up with the funds. Other candidates simply withdraw due to lack of interest from voters or donors.

But for the moment, at least, some fractious battles are simmering down the ballot.

Pittsburgh City Councilors Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus, and Ricky Burgess are facing two challengers apiece for the party nod. Harris has drawn challenges from declared candidates Bobby Wilson and Chris Rosselot, while Kraus also faces two declared challengers: Amy Schrempf and Chris Kumanchik.

Burgess’ race in District 9 may be a free-for-all in the making: Kierran Young, the son of 2015 challenger Andre Young, has tossed his hat in the ring, as has Judith Ginyard, who has challenged Burgess before. Two other declared candidates, Leon Ford and Randall Taylor, are not seeking the endorsement.

City Council District 7 councilor Deb Gross may face a challenge from Deirdre Kane, while Corey O’Connor is the lone city councilor on the ballot his year who is certain of facing no rival for the party's affection on March 10.

Other contested races include the Allegheny County Council District at-large seat long held by John DeFazio, who is facing a challenge from Bethany Hallam. In County Council District 13, incumbent Denise Ranalli Russell faces rivals Olivia Bennett and Jacob George.

Some races for the board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools – where three of four incumbents up for re-election have decided to step down instead – have also drawn interest. Regina Holley’s District 2 is being sought by Kirk Rys and Devon Taliaferro. Lynda Wrenn is leaving as District 4 representative, and three candidates are seeking the party’s approval to replace her: Anna Batista, Pam Harbin, and Ashley Lynn Priore.

Kevin Carter, the lone incumbent running for re-election this year, faces no opponent. No one is seeking the party’s endorsement for the seat currently held by Moira Kaleida, who is not seeking re-election.