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Renewable energy proponent and former County Councilor win primaries in redrawn northern suburbs

Democrat Mandy Steele, left, and Republican Cindy Kirk, right.
Mandy Steele campaign; Jared Murphy
90.5 WESA
Mandy Steele, left, Cindy Kirk, right.

In House District 33, Democrat Mandy Steele appears to have bested Tristan McClelland to represent a swath of Allegheny County that combines affluent suburbs, such as Fox Chapel and O’Hara, with Allegheny River towns, such as Sharpsburg and Blawnox, and more rural suburbs to the north.

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Steele says the win proves that climate and clean energy-focused candidates can win in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Based on the reception that we get out at doors and meeting people in their own communities, they are overwhelmingly concerned about climate, and they understand that it’s an extraordinary opportunity for our district to drive jobs and clean energy this way,” she said Tuesday night. “They know we can restore this entire region and that this is our chance to do it.”

Steele is a Fox Chapel borough councilor and is heavily involved in environmental advocacy and progressive causes, such as changing the name of a road because it features a slur used for American Indians. She argued that investments in green energy could turn the district’s lagging economic fortunes around.

McClelland is a college student, who worked as a Pittsburgh City Council aide and has been involved with politics alongside his mother since he was a teenager. He argued that Steele’s emphasis on environmental causes was out of step with a district that includes working-class areas long associated with steel and coal.

Steele will face Republican Ted Tomson II, a Fawn Township businessman whose family holdings include scrap metal businesses and the Lernerville Speedway.

Steele said her priorities will remain the same heading into November. She said that she looks forward to continuing the conversation with people in the district.

“A lot of people are concerned that the extremists are trying very hard to take over this country,” she said Tuesday. “They believe that we need people to represent all of us in a reasonable and rational way … for candidates that are prioritizing equal rights for all of us including women and our LGBTQ population and are focused on a smart and prosperous future for all of us moving forward.”

The race was driven by an open seat previously held by Carrie DelRosso. She was drawn out of the district just over a year after displacing veteran legislator Frank Dermody, the former leader of House Democrats. She vied for a shot at lieutenant governor instead.

State House District 30:

Cindy Kirk appears to have won a competitive Republican primary race against Tom Fodi in House District 30 – which includes sprawling Franklin Park and McCandless, along with parts of Hampton and the Ohio River communities of Kilbuck, Emsworth and Ben Avon.

“I know we worked hard … and I had more of a knowledge base because I was on County Council,” she said Tuesday night. “I’m very honored to receive the nomination.”

Kirk said that Ford had offered his support as she heads into the November general election. The two candidates represented different strains within the Republican Party. Kirk, a nurse from McCandless who had served on County Council, has been a staunch conservative and active in party politics. Fodi, of Kilbuck, presented a more libertarian voice and touted his ability to work across the aisle as a borough councilor in nearby Bellevue.

Kirk will now face Arvind Venkat, an emergency-room physician from McCandless who ran unopposed on the Democratic side – and who has amassed a war chest of $417,549.05 as of the beginning of May. By contrast, Fodi and Kirk had less than $20,000 combined – although GOP interests are likely to weigh in heavily once the general election season gets underway.

Kirk said her values more closely align with the district’s residents than her Democratic opponent. “I don’t think he’s a good match for the district. He’s too extreme for this district,” she said of Venkat.

House District 30 was another driven by an open seat created by newly drawn district maps. Similarly to District 33, the redrawing displaced a first-term Republican woman. Lori Mizgorski held the 30th District seat but was drawn out of it; she now seeks to challenge Democratic state Sen. Lindsey Williams in her first re-election bid representing the 38th District this fall.

But the landscape in the county’s northern suburbs was shifting even before the political maps were redrawn this year. An influx of college-educated residents, including a number of Asian Americans, has changed its demographics.

Kirk said that inflation, including rising gas prices, was the most common concern she heard from voters. She said that she favored a gas tax holiday to relieve the burden that people are feeling at the pump.

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.