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Abney, Covington cruise to easy victories in special election races

Amy Sisk
90.5 WESA

Two special elections for state House took place in Pittsburgh yesterday. Tuesday’s results will send two new faces — those of Martell Covington and Aerion Abney — to Harrisburg. There they will represent two majority-Black districts: the 24th, vacated by Ed Gainey after he became mayor, and the 19th, left by Jake Wheatley when he became Gainey’s chief of staff.

Abney was unopposed in his race for the 19th district seat, and Covington trounced Republican Todd Elliott Koger, who has unsuccessfully sought the seat in the past, by a margin of 16-to-1 in the 24th district.

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In many ways, the contests were decided weeks before, when the two men were chosen by members of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee to be the party’s nominee, and thus the only candidates able to run with a “D” beside their name in districts that skew heavily Democratic.

Covington, an aide to state Senator Jay Costa and a fixture within the district, won that right in a spirited multi-candidate field. Abney, a voting-rights activist who has challenged Wheatley for the seat repeatedly in the past, faced a single opponent, Hill District minister Glenn Grayson. The battle for the party’s nomination was so close it was ultimately decided by having his name drawn out of an empty margarine tub.

Perhaps not surprisingly, turnout on Tuesday was light. Overall, fewer than one voter in 10 eligible to cast a ballot actually did so on Tuesday.

Of course, the special-election win only grants the right to hold the seat through 2022. A full two-year term is still up for grabs as part of the regular election cycle that begins with the party primaries in May. The lines of the districts will also be new, along with those of every other House district across the state thanks to a redrawing process that follows each Census.

Covington and Abney are both seeking full terms, and the contest may be a bit less of a forgone conclusion.

Under the new map, the 24th will lose Wilkinsburg, while extending into parts of the Hill District currently represented by the 19th. The latter district, meanwhile, extends further into the North Side.

And at least in May, the contests figure to be more competitive than Tuesday night was. Abney is again slated to face Grayson for the Democratic nomination, and this time the choice will be made by voters, not Democratic Committee members.
Covington, meanwhile, will face some of the same people he beat out for the Democratic nomination in the special: party activist William Anderson, reproductive choice advocate Latasha Mayes, and longtime community activist and former city school board member Randall Taylor are all seeking the seat again. They will be joined by nurse Pearlina Story.

In a brief victory speech shortly before 10 p.m., Covington told his supporters to savor the win, but to remember that “we’ll get right back to work next week week, because we’ve got another one to win.”

Tuesday evening, though, he had an easier request: “Eat pizza, y’all."

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.