Allegheny County Councilor Bob Macey Draws Primary Challenge From Steel Valley Teacher Steven Singer
The Mon Valley will be the site of the only contested election for Allegheny County Council in the May 18 primary. The race in District 9 pits Democratic incumbent Bob Macey against Steel Valley Middle School teacher Steven Singer.
While Singer insists that county council should play a more assertive role in expanding services for residents, Macey argues that his policy stances better reflect the politics of his district.
Although “historically we're Democrats,” the four-term councilor said of his constituents, “we're rather conservative.”
The district includes the communities of Dravosburg, Duquesne, Elizabeth, Forward, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, McKeesport, North Versailles, Port Vue, South Versailles, Versailles, West Mifflin, and White Oak. Collectively, those municipalities voted slightly for Republican Donald Trump in each of the last two presidential elections.
And during his tenure on council, Macey, a resident of West Mifflin, has staked out a position to the right of many of his fellow Democrats.
Last summer, for example, he helped to defeat legislation that would have mandated universal COVID-19 testing at Allegheny County Jail and banned county police from using “less-lethal” weapons to disperse protests. He also voted in 2019 against an unsuccessful proposal to form an independent police review board.
Singer said he supports the police oversight board, an idea that council is expected to vote on again soon. The bill that is currently under consideration is less sweeping than the original proposal, though Macey said he’ll still oppose it.
“My position is based on talking to the police departments in my district and also talking to the [councils of local governments] in my district,” Macey said. “None of them see any advantage or see any real reason to have [a police review board]."
Macey said that officials in his district believe that municipal police forces and state and federal law-enforcement agencies provide enough oversight.
He has sided with progressives in some instances, however. For example, he voted last year to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. And last month, he supported a failed attempt to enact paid sick leave at workplaces across the county.
Macey had mixed feelings about the sick days legislation, but after consulting with local labor leaders, the former steelworker said, “I went along with them. Sometimes there's a little give and take. And so I voted for it.”
Macey’s challenger, Singer, argues that the 9th District needs a stronger advocate for current and future workers. He has made funding for the Allegheny County Port Authority and community college system top priorities.
Of the Port Authority, Singer said, “My wife used to take a bus into work, but they've cut so many routes that that's pretty much impossible anymore."
“The Mon Valley,” the White Oak resident added, consists of “working-class neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods where we have a lot of people of color. Don't we have a right to public transportation?”
In response, Macey noted that the Port Authority has long suffered from a lack of revenue and state funding. And in regard to the Community College of Allegheny County, Macey said the system consistently receives all the money it requests from the county government. Each year, the county typically increases its funding for CCAC by 2%.
But at a county council budget hearing in October, CCAC President Quintin Bullock countered Macey’s account: “We’ve always asked for more, and the amount that has been approved has been 2%.”
State law directs counties to cover a third of community college budgets, with the state expected to finance another third, so that tuition and fees fund no more than the final third of annual expenses.
This year, the county will fund 20% of CCAC’s operating budget, in addition to $3.75 million in capital funds, a CCAC spokesperson said in an email. The Commonwealth, meanwhile, provided 32% of funding this year, according to the spokesperson.
“It’s a travesty that CCAC doesn't get the funding it should,” Singer said. “That puts the burden on students and families with rising tuition, and the services get cut … I just think it's so important to have education, and we are denying that to the people who need it most in our communities.”
CCAC said its tuition costs are highly competitive. But members of its faculty union contend that, in the absence of more funding, the system has failed to maintain education facilities and equipment, and has cut full-time faculty positions while taking on more debt.
Singer, an eighth-grade English teacher at Steel Valley, is a vocal advocate for neighborhood public schools and teachers’ unions. He even wrote a book that examines those topics while fiercely criticizing the nation’s standardized testing regime and charter schools.
Macey agreed that education and workforce development are especially high priorities in his district. The Mon Valley has suffered from a lack of jobs and loss of population ever since the decline of steel, noted Macey, who worked as a Pennsylvania Turnpike toll collector for about four years before being laid off amid massive cuts last spring. He said it is important to avoid tax increases so that more employers will be attracted to the region.
Even so, he spearheaded a program last spring to generate funds for the demolition of blighted buildings, another long-standing challenge stemming from the loss of industry. Under the initiative, the county charges a $15 fee on deeds and mortgages.
While county council easily approved the program, Singer said he would advance bolder ideas if elected.
“I think we can … have a more robust government [that’s] going to serve the people better,” Singer said.