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Special election to replace Ed Gainey in state House set for April 5

Jacqueline Larma
Ed Gainey's victory in last year's mayoral race set up a special election for his House seat, which will be held April 5.

The special election to fill Ed Gainey's seat in the state House will be held April 5.

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler announced the date Monday afternoon for the 24th House District seat, which Gainey held before he became mayor of Pittsburgh last week.

The 24th district includes Wilkinsburg and eastern Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Homewood, East Liberty, Highland Park, and Garfield. And although a redistricting process is underway to redraw district maps for all state legislators, those efforts will not come into play during the special election: The special election is to complete Gainey's term representing the district as currently drawn.

By law, Cutler had 10 days from the vacancy to choose a special election date, which had to be at least 60 days from the announcement.

The date he chose would fall about a month and a half before the scheduled May 17 primary. Cutler's predecessor, Mike Turzai, was occasionally faulted for scheduling special elections so close to already-scheduled elections: Counties must bear the costs of each election they hold. (A spokeswoman for Allegheny County says the special for Gainey's seat should cost around $135,000.) But in a statement, Cutler noted that holding the special election on a stand-alone date would likely reduce voter confusion.

“Voters in Pennsylvania are already receiving a lot of information about new districts and major elections this year,” Cutler said. “This special election is to complete the term under the current, or old, map. Therefore, holding the election on its own unique date, and not coinciding this special election with the primary, eliminates potential confusion for voters.”

No primaries are held in special elections: Instead, members of the party committee will hold special gatherings to choose their own nominees. For Democrats, that process involves Allegheny County Democratic Committee members and ward officers from within the district choosing a nominee. That choice is sent to the state party's executive committee for ratification, although the local party leaders' choice is almost always confirmed.

Candidates have already expressed interest in seeking the 24th district seat, including Ashley Comans and NaTisha Washington.

A special election will also be needed to replace Jake Wheatley in the 19th House district: Gainey has selected his former Harrisburg colleague to serve as his chief of staff. But Wheatley is not set to assume that post until Feb. 1. The Speaker's office confirmed Tuesday morning that, as of yet, Wheatley has not formally vacated the seat. If he does so by Feb. 1, there would still be enough of a window to schedule that election on April 5 as well.

Updated: January 11, 2022 at 10:21 AM EST
This story was updated to include information about scheduling a special election in state House District 19.
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.