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Peduto Draws 3 Challengers, Petitions Suggest Crowded Ballot For Judgeships And City Schools

Mel Evans

Election petitions were due Tuesday from candidates who hope to appear on the May 18 primary ballot, and a number of races appear to have drawn few competitors. Which may be just as well, because that leaves more room for judicial candidates.

There are nine spots available in Allegheny County’s Common Pleas Court. In all, 39 candidates are seeking them, either as Democrats or Republicans or – because judicial candidates can seek the nomination of either party – both.

Happily for voters, perhaps, and the people who lay out the ballots, history suggests some of those candidates will withdraw between now and the primary. Other candidates for all the races on the ballot may be removed against their will if defects are found in their petitions in the days ahead. (Conversely, some candidates may seek to run write-in campaigns in hopes of appearing on the November ballot without filing petitions first.)

The only other competitive countywide race is for sheriff, where former state representative and onetime Pittsburgh police chief Dom Costa will face current top Deputy Kevin Kraus in seeking to replace Kraus’ boss, retiring sheriff Bill Mullen. Both men are running as Democrats; no Republican filed to seek the office.

At the city level, Mayor Bill Peduto filed petitions to seek a third term on Tuesday, as did his challengers state Rep. Ed Gainey and retired police officer Tony Moreno. Peduto has also apparently drawn a third foe, Oakland resident Michael Thompson, whose name has barely surfaced in the race so far, though a campaign website identifies him as a ride-share driver and math tutor. Will Parker, whose name has been mentioned as a potential candidate in media reports, did not file.

Four City Council seats are up for grabs, though only two look to be competitive. Theresa Kail-Smith will face Jacob Williamson in District 2, while Anthony Coghill faces Bethani Cameron in District 4. District 6 and District 8 incumbents Daniel Lavelle and Erika Strassburger are unopposed.

Elections at the city school board, meanwhile, figure to be more contentious. District 7's Cynthia Falls is not seeking reelection, and two candidates, Jamie Piotrowski and Khamil Scantling, will compete for her seat in the Democratic primary. The other incumbents on the ballot also face competition. Board President Sylvia Wilson faces Democratic challengers Grace Higginbotham and Carlos Thomas in District 1; in District 3 Sala Udin has a challenger in Lamont Frazier Jr. District 5’s Terry Kennedy is being challenged by Tracey Reed, and in District 9, Veronica Edwards will be challenged by Gene Walker and Delancey Walton.

School board candidates are permitted to seek the nominations of both parties, and Wilson, Kenney and Edwards did so, meaning they are likely to be on the ballot in November regardless of the primary’s outcome.

Several county council seats will also be on the ballot, though only one will feature a competitive primary. In the Mon Valley-centered District 9, incumbent Bob Macey will face challenger Steven Singer, who is being supported by progressive Democrats frustrated by Macey, a more conservative Democrat.

District 1 incumbent Tom Baker, one of the dwindling number of Republicans on the council, is not seeking re-election. Jack Betkowski, a Democrat, and Republican Joe Wise are seeking the seat but won’t face each other until November.

Similarly, District 8 Councilor Paul Zavarella, who was appointed to the seat in 2019 folowing the death of Charles Martoni, is not running. Democrat Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis and Republican Eric Casteel are seeking to replace him, and seem likely to meet in November.

Democratic Councilors Pat Catena, Bob Palmosina, and Anita Prizio are running unopposed this spring, though Republican Jennie Brown is running to challenge Catena in November, and the GOP’s Meredith Dolan is seeking to topple Prizio.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.