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Allegheny/Fayette labor council rolls out '24 recommendations, with a few surprises

Rolls of "I voted" stickers.
Matt Slocum
Rolls of stickers are seen at the Chester County Voter Services office as workers process ballots for the May 2022 Pennsylvania primary election in West Chester, Pa.

After meeting for more than 10 hours Friday, the region's umbrella labor group has named its preferred candidates for state and federal office in the 2024 elections, backing just one Republican alongside a slate of Democrats.

Most of the picks, starting with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, were no surprise and reflected continued support for incumbent Democrats. But the Allegheny/Fayette Central Labor Council made no endorsement in the high-profile race for the 12th Congressional District, where first-term incumbent Democrat Summer Lee faces challengers Bhavini Patel and Laurie MacDonald.

Darrin Kelly, who heads the labor council, noted that a candidate has to clear a high threshold to earn the council's backing: Two-thirds of council members must support a pick to receive the council's stamp of approval.

As a state legislator, Lee's positions on environmental issues have sometimes put her at odds with some labor groups, but since taking office last year, she'sracked up a 100 percent pro-AFL-CIO voting record, and she's noted points of connection with unions. And Kelly credited Lee for "working hard at building relationships with the men and women in that room."

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In any case, technically, the labor council picks are recommendations, rather than outright endorsements, because they are subject to confirmation by the state AFL-CIO. But while the state organization will hear from other labor groups in statewide contests, it almost always defers to local unions on races at the state legislative level.

And there was not much ambiguity about the labor council's picks in some other contests, including statewide contests in which the council gave little advantage to hometown candidates.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer won the council's backing in the Democratic bid for attorney general, topping Pittsburgh native Eugene DePasquale and three other Democrats. While Stollsteimer hails from the Philadelphia area, labor advocates credit him for pursuing wage-theft cases — prosecutions that often get little attention but are a key concern for unions.

The labor council also backed Erie state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro over Erin McClelland, a former candidate for Congress and Allegheny County Executive, as the Democrat to challenge Republican incumbent Stacy Garrity this fall.

Perhaps most painful for local Democrats: The labor council backed state Sen. Devlin Robinson, a Republican in his first bid for re-election, over Democrat Nicole Ruscitto in the 37th state Senate District. (Ruscitto and Robinson won't face each other until November, but Kelly confirmed that the council's backing reflected its choice throughout the campaign.)

Robinson chairs the Senate's Labor and Industry committee, where he, too, has taken on wage-theft concerns by passing a worker-misclassification bill.

In a statement, he said he was "humbled" by the endorsement and added, “Much remains to be done in the coming year, including efforts to establish a minimum wage that reflects the economic realities faced by working people. Worker safety and job-creation remain essential matters that must always have a place on the legislative agenda."

But otherwise, Democrats — most of whom are running uncontested this spring — swept the list of recommended candidates. The council did weigh in on some races where Democrats are pitted against each other, particularly in the Monongahela Valley.

State Rep. Nick Pisciottano's run against Makenzie White to replace Jim Brewster in the 45th state Senate District got a boost from the labor group. So did an effort by John Inglis to take Pisciottano's current House seat when he vacates it next year.

Inglis is in a three-way Democratic race for the state House seat in the 38th District, facing AJ Olasz and Victoria Schmotzer. But by his own acknowledgment, Olasz hurt his prospects by speaking briefly with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette days after launching his campaign.

A number of local officials are refusing to speak to the paper in solidarity with Post-Gazette workers who have been on strike since the fall of 2022, and Olasz said talking to the newspaper, "I think, ended up being my downfall. It was a complete oversight for us, and I'm writing an apology to council members right now, letting them know I understand."

Still, he said, he'd press on with his campaign.

"We're in it to win it," he said.

A full list of the council's recommendations follows.

U.S. Senate

Sen. Bob Casey

Pennsylvania State Attorney General

Jack Stollsteimer

Pennsylvania State Auditor General

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta

Pennsylvania State Treasurer

State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro

U.S. House of Representatives

PA-12: No recommendation

PA-17: U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio

Pennsylvania State Senate

SD-37: State Sen. Devlin Robinson

SD-43: State Sen. Jay Costa

SD-45: State Rep. Nick Pisciottano

Pennsylvania State House

HD-19: State Rep. Aerion Abney

HD-20: State Rep. Emily Kinkead

HD-21: State Rep. Lindsey Powell

HD-23: State Rep. Dan Frankel

HD-24: State Rep. La’Tasha Mayes

HD-25: State Rep. Brandon Markosek

HD-27: State Rep. Dan Deasy

HD-28: Bill Petulla

HD-30: State Rep. Arvind Venkat

HD-32: State Rep. Joe McAndrew

HD-33: State Rep. Mandy Steele

HD-34: State Rep. Abigail Salisbury

HD-35: State Rep. Matt Gergely

HD-36: State Rep. Jessica Benham

HD-38: John Inglis

HD-39: No recommendation

HD-40: No recommendation

HD-42: State Rep. Dan Miller

HD-44: Hadley Haas

HD-45: State Rep. Anita Kulik

HD-46: No recommendation

HD-51: George Rattay

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.