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Democrats choose McAndrew as nominee to replace DeLuca in 32nd House District

Joe McAndrew signs the candidate's affidavit after securing his party's nomination to be the Democratic candidate to replace Anthony DeLuca in a special election for state House District 32 next year
Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
Joe McAndrew signs the candidate's affidavit after securing his party's nomination to be the Democratic candidate to replace Anthony DeLuca in a special election for state House District 32 next year

Using a new ranked-choice voting process, Allegheny County Democratic Party leaders selected Penn Hills resident Joe McAndrew to be their nominee to replace the late Anthony DeLuca in state House District 32. 

McAndrew was chosen from among eight candidates by elected Democratic committee people who live in the district. The state party’s top leadership must ratify the selection, although that is typically a foregone conclusion. 

“I’ve been in the committee structure for a long time,” said McAndrew, who previously served as the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s executive director and now chairs the Democratic committee in Penn Hills. “I respect the will of the committee, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be named for this race.” 

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District 32 is dominated by Penn Hills, though it also includes Oakmont, Verona and a sliver of Plum. Democrats now will wait to see who they will face in the special election itself, which is slated for Feb. 7. Republicans will choose their nominee next week, and many Democrats expect that opponent to be Carrie Lewis DelRosso. Two years ago, DelRosso toppled long-time Democratic House leader Frank Dermody and ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor this fall. Green Party candidate Queonia Livingston says she also will be on the ballot. 

The 32nd District voted for Democrats at the top of the ticket by two-to-one margins this fall, but McAndrew said he’s not taking anything for granted. He urged Democrats from outside the district to support their party in the race ahead.  “We should be looking at this race very seriously,” he said. “I hope that Democrats in the city of Pittsburgh … come in as the cavalry and make sure we get this over the top.”

McAndrew came into the race with some advantages. In addition to his party posts, he worked on the campaign of Congressional candidate Chris Deluzio, whose district includes the area. McAndrew also has roots in Oakmont. He ran for mayor unsuccessfully there in 2017 — a contest disrupted by a report that he took a rival candidate’s flyers from an apartment building — but he said he’d “learned a lot” since then. And area Democrats seemed willing to give him a chance.

McAndrew was chosen in a first-for-Pittsburgh, ranked-choice voting process. Under those rules, voters rank all candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins an outright majority of first-choice votes, the candidate who finishes last is removed, with his or her votes then reallocated to the second-choice pick indicated by each of his or her voters. The process is repeated until one candidate wins a majority. 

There were 86 committeepeople eligible to vote Sunday, and 79 cast valid ballots. On the first round of balloting, McAndrew got 37 of the 40 votes he needed for a majority. He got all of the votes he needed, and seven to spare, on the fifth round of counting, easily besting second-place finisher Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese and the rest of the field.

The ranked-choice process was used because party bylaws — which haven’t always been followed in the past — required a candidate to get an outright majority of votes cast. That could have resulted in repeated rounds of voting during the course of many hours. 

Instead, while it took nearly an hour to tabulate the ballots cast Sunday night, the process of reallocating ballots and finding a winner took roughly 10 minutes. And the fact that only one committeeperson flubbed their ballot — by picking two candidates for their first choice and making no other selection — suggests committeepeople digested the new approach quickly. 

Democrats will “absolutely” use the process in special elections with more than two candidates, said Allegheny County Democratic Committee chair Sam Hens-Greco. “It’s a time saver. It’s clear, and it allows us to reach a consensus among the committee.”

There will be two more opportunities to use the approach next Saturday. Democrats will nominate two more candidates for special elections in state House Districts 34 and 35 to replace Summer Lee and Austin Davis, respectively. 

The party also will continue to use a secure version of electronic balloting, Hens-Greco said: Eight votes were cast online for Sunday’s election, using technology first employed in a special election for a City Council race earlier this year. Hens-Greco credited the process for the fact that “we had 93 percent turnout, basically, in this election. Which is pretty good.” 

Prior to voting, candidates were given a chance to make a last-minute appeal to committee members for support, and to field questions from them. During those remarks, Penn Hills constable Louis Leon criticized a WESA report last week, which quoted him as identifying himself as a supporter of Donald Trump.

On Sunday, he called himself “a victim of bad publicity and dirty politics” and said he’d been mischaracterized by “a reporter who thrives on lies.” 

Leon said his earlier remarks to WESA were a criticism of only President Biden: He then told the Democrats gathered Sunday that he was “not happy with” Biden for his border policy, rising inflation and the country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Asked by a committee member about the fact that his Facebook page featured “likes” for a number of conservative pages, Leon said, “I keep in touch with information about what’s going on.” 

In any event, McAndrew’s lead was prohibitive from the outset. But less clear-cut is whether the election itself will take place on the date of Feb. 7. While Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg have both said they favor the date, each party denies the other has a right to select it, given a debate about who controls the chamber. Republicans filed a suit about the matter last week, which means the dates of the special election in district 32 and the other two Allegheny County districts are in limbo. 

Hens-Greco noted that the county committee’s choice was only a recommendation to the state Democratic Party’s executive committee, which can (and usually does) approve it. “If for some reason there is some problem with the timing and we get instructions that we would have to redo it, then we would do that," he said. 

“But I don’t anticipate that,” he added. “And I would hope that is not what happens.”

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.