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Democrat Bill Petulla's state House bid wins police union support in Pittsburgh's North Hills

William Petulla.
Petulla campaign
William Petulla will run as a Democrat to replace Rob Mercuri in the 28th state House District.

An Allegheny County police union has endorsed Democrat William Petulla’s bid for the state House of Representatives, a move that lifts Democratic hopes of capturing the GOP-friendly 28th District in the city’s northern suburbs.

On Monday, Petulla’s campaign is rolling out the endorsement of FOP Local 91, which represents police in more than 100 suburban departments outside Pittsburgh. Petulla, a top aide to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said the group’s backing speaks to his moderate credentials.

“This is enormously meaningful for me that the police officers — and I’ve worked alongside many of them — have seen fit to give me their support,” he told WESA. The endorsement, he added, shows “This isn’t a red-versus-blue situation.”

Petulla is running against Republican Jeremy Shaffer for a seat being vacated by Rob Mercuri, who is running for Congress. The district includes prosperous suburban communities of Marshall, Pine, Richland and West Deer townships as well as parts of Hampton and Bradford Woods. It’s long been a Republican bastion: It was previously held by former Republican Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, and Democrats say it won’t be easy to capture.

Securing the endorsement, however, reinforces Petulla’s message that he's not running a partisan campaign — which can be a smart move in a district long held by the other party.

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“Bill Petulla has shown he can gain support from across the political spectrum,” said a statement from his campaign announcing the endorsement. It noted that he previously has been backed by Allegheny County Sheriff Kevin Kraus, a Democrat, and a Teamsters local whose members include some police.

Petulla said he’s connected with officers not just through his work in the DA’s office, but through his interest in working with them on a number of issues, such as pressing for a cost-of-living-benefits boost for law-enforcement retirees, and crafting tax credits to entice more people to pursue a career in policing.

“Police officers want someone in Harrisburg who isn't just going to show up for a ribbon-cutting,” he said.

While unions in general typically support Democrats, those representing police are often an exception: In fact, Lodge 91 previously backed Shaffer when he ran for Congress against Chris Deluzio in 2022.

"I’m proud of my record of endorsements from law enforcement organizations and the members they serve," Shaffer said. "In the state legislature, I will continue to fully support the men and women in law enforcement, and I will fight to ensure they have the resources and respect they deserve."

Both Petulla and Shaffer previously received backing from the area’s other high-profile police union. FOP Lodge 1, which represents City of Pittsburgh officers, endorsed both candidates for their respective primaries. It has yet to weigh in on the general election. But Petulla's campaign is already boasting of his "broad coalition of law enforcement support heading into the General Election."

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.