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U.S. Rep. Summer Lee touts her success at bringing federal dollars back to Pittsburgh area

Rep.-elect Summer Lee, D-Pa., speaks to reporters following a news conference with Congressional Progressive Caucus members at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.
Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Summer Lee, after being elected to her first-time in Congress, on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022.

This is WESA Politics, a weekly newsletter by Chris Potter providing analysis about Pittsburgh and state politics. If you want it earlier — we'll deliver it to your inbox on Thursday afternoon — sign up here.

If you mainly get your political fix from this newsletter, you aren’t just missing the sound of my resonant baritone voice on the radio: You may also be unaware that we are in the midst of one of our membership drives. (For any politicos reading, it’s the public media equivalent of call time, except we have to beg for our contributions in public.)

That has two consequences for this week’s newsletter. First, it means I’m thinking about where the money comes from to support local causes. And second, I can’t go more than a couple minutes without interrupting the news to tell you how you can support the station.

Congresswoman Summer Lee touches on that first concern with her first TV ad of the political season. And despite a typo on the original opening slide — it referred to her as a “Congresswomen” until it was corrected — it is an upbeat spot that touts a perfect voting record, her belief that “Western Pennsylvania deserves to be heard,” and her prowess at bringing federal dollars to the district.

“We delivered $1.2 billion for our community, while standing up to Republican extremism,” Lee says in the spot. “And we’re just getting started.”

Speaking of federal investment, did you know that only a few cents of every dollar of WESA funding comes from government sources? That’s why we rely on the support of audience members just like you — our single largest source of revenue. Won’t you call now? The number is 412-697-2955 — or visit our website at

Taking a victory lap for a federal investment in your district is politics 101, of course. Even some Republicans who voted against the laws that made the money available are happy to take credit for investments in their district.

And Lee was elected to replace longtime Congressman Mike Doyle, whose ability to bring home those dollars was widely lauded. Some local officials worried that any incoming replacement would be hard-pressed to match Doyle’s prowess, and that Lee’s truth-to-power approach to politics might cost the district aid.

As Lee herself said when she launched her reelection bid, “You’ve heard them say, ‘Oh she’s too radical, she’s too extreme. She doesn’t make friends well enough.’ … They said [I] wouldn’t bring money to the district. We brought home money [for] communities that have not seen any investment for decades.”

Lee keeps a running tab of such investments on her Congressional website, and they include money for replacing lead water lines and revitalizing public housing in the Hill District. Fully one-third of that investment involved a nearly $400 million loan guarantee to help EOS Energy Enterprises scale up production of next-generation batteries in Turtle Creek.

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Lee’s rival in the Democratic primary, Bhavini Patel, called such boasts a “billion-dollar lie” in a statement after Lee’s ad came out. Most of the money, Patel contended, “was in the works long before Lee was elected.”

It is true that much of the current wave of federal investment was made possible by measures such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law before Lee took office. That legislation created a once-in-a-generation chance for investment.

As one old Beltway hand told me, goodnaturedly, “The most important thing [Lee] may have done is be in the job at the right time.” And the second biggest item on Lee’s list is $143 million for passenger-rail improvements between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. That should improve local rail connections, naturally, but the figure includes money that will be spent in a broad swath of the state, not just the 12th District.

But while Lee didn’t vote to create these funding opportunities, he added, she can still boast of taking advantage of them. For example, “If her office set up meetings with EOS and did what they could to facilitate the application, she should probably get credit for it.”

There are various ways an elected official in D.C. can direct money back home: The best known is through earmarks inserted directly into appropriations bills. But there are other levers as well, some of which aren’t always immediately apparent: bringing federal officials to a visit a site, setting up meetings, expediting requests.

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An EOS executive told me that’s what Lee did. “She’s been extraordinarily helpful,” said Chad Fitzgerald, vice president of strategic partnerships and public affairs. The program for awarding loans, he said “is largely insulated from politics, but she’s been publicly supportive.” Fitzgerald said Lee had visited the facility and her office is in regular contact with the company.

“Having her and Senators Casey and Fetterman shining a light on EOS, it had to help,” he said.

By that token, those guys can claim some of the prize as well — along with President Biden, who needs every vote he can get in Western Pennsylvania this fall. But then as Ronald Reagan once put it, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets credit.” And it’s almost never a bad thing to take it.

There’s also never a bad time to support the station. You can choose the level of support that’s comfortable for you, and we’ll simply charge your credit card with that amount each month! Just call 412-697-2955 or go to And now I’ll get you back to the headlines … 

Updated: March 22, 2024 at 10:03 AM EDT
This story was updated to note that the typo in Lee's ad has been corrected.
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.