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Suburban Race In House District 44 Promises 2018 Rematch

Valerie Gaydos and Michele Knoll
Republican House member Valerie Gaydos (left) and Democratic candidate Michele Knoll

Pittsburgh’s western suburbs may not have seen as much of the coronavirus as other areas, but the pandemic is still a key concern in the race for state House District 44. First-term Republican House member Valerie Gaydos says she has been encouraged to see that residents of her district — which sprawls from airport-area suburbs like Moon to Ohio River Valley communities like Sewickley — follow COVID guidelines. She says residents will make “smart” decisions on their own, but the state’s guidance has been confusing and should be more transparent. 

“I have pushed for greater transparency in government during this pandemic, prior to this pandemic,” she said. “And part of that is letting people have information to make those decisions safely.”

Gaydos is serving her first term as representative for the district, after besting Democrat Michele Knoll by a 52-to-48-percent margin in 2018. Gaydos was the lone Allegheny County Republican to join an effort to undermine Gov. Tom Wolf's efforts to close businesses early in the pandemic's spread: Gaydos called him a "dictator" at the time. She said she believes it is time to get residents back to work — partly because of the number of complaints her office has received about not receiving unemployment checks.

“My objective is getting people back to work safely,” she said. “I think getting people their unemployment compensation that’s owed to them, I think that’s absolutely essential.”

Complaints about the state's overburdened unemployment-compensation system date back to the earliest days of the pandemic, and there are long-standing concerns about how the state handled a shutdown of businesses early on. But Knoll, who is challenging Gaydos once again this year, says that in many ways, the state has handled the pandemic well.

“I think in terms of transparency, what the state is providing has been sufficient for me,” Knoll said. Echoing Democratic complaints that Harrisburg Republicans have ignored health experts in pressing for an economic reopening, Knoll said, “[I]f the legislature is not happy with what they have gotten, they should have experts come into committees to explain some things.”  

Knoll is a developmental specialist and works with children from birth to 3 years old.  

She agrees getting people back to work is important, but says COVID-19 case numbers are increasing, and that addressing a resurgence in the disease should be the focus.

The candidates also offer differing takes on the construction of an Amazon "fulfillment center" opened in Findlay Township. The project drew criticism last year for not using local workers to build the 1-million-square-foot building. Gaydos said she brought Amazon and local workers together to get “a dialogue going.”

“I think… having that conversation with Amazon and the laborers they’re going to be aware of that going in the future," Gaydos said.

Knoll said the problem isn't just with construction jobs: The permanent jobs filling orders at the center do not pay enough.

“They’re not high-paying jobs,” Knoll said. “I would like to see us promote jobs that would employ a lot of people with a slightly higher wage, so that we can bring really excellent jobs with great benefits and a higher salary into the area.”