Members of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsed their favored candidates at the South Side’s IBEW Local #5 Sunday, casting ballots during a marathon session of glad-handing and eating donuts and other treats provided by candidates.
The committee represents the party’s footsoldiers, elected by voters to drum up support for the ticket in each ward and precinct. The endorsement reflects a "stamp of approval" by those committeepeople, though candidates can — and do — win without it. The endorsement’s principle benefit is the chance to appear on party “slate cards” given to primary voters before they go to the polls. The cards can be especially helpful to those in judicial races and other low-interest contests.
That means a big winner Sunday might well be Mary McGinley, who garnered the party’s endorsement over Elliot Howsie. McGinley has courted party members for months, and on Sunday had campaign volunteers handing out Terrible Towel-style tchotchkes to committee people, who the campaign ferried from the parking lot in golf carts emblazoned with her signs.
Many of the top-tier races were uncontested, like the re-election bids of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and County Controller Chelsa Wagner. There were a couple of surprises further down the ballot, however. (A full list of winners is below.)
Among the more notable outcomes was in Pittsburgh City Council District 7, where challenger Deirdre Kane beat incumbent councilor Deb Gross. Another closely watched race was the bid to replace Lynda Wrenn in the Pittsburgh Public Schools board’s fourth district. There, Pam Harbin beat Anna Batista, who was backed this weekend by Mayor Bill Peduto.
For the most part, however, the committee played it safe, backing incumbents in a number of contested races. Those include Pittsburgh City Council District 1, where Darlene Harris kept challengers Bobby Wilson and Chris Rosselot at bay, and District 9, where Ricky Burgess dispatched challenges from Judy Ginyard and Kierran Young.
“We are very proud to be able to represent the party going into May. Now we will spend our time taking our message to the people,” Burgess said.
District 3 City Councilor Bruce Kraus easily held off a challenge from attorney Amy Schrempf: Corey O’Connor in District 5 and City Controller Michael Lamb were unopposed.
At the county level, the committee backed County Council President John DeFazio, the Democrats’ “at large” council member, over challenger Bethany Hallam.
DeFazio said the endorsement “means a lot. I’ve had 100 percent of labor with me, and now I have the party’s endorsement. And it shows you that everybody is happy with what we’ve been doing – [including] holding the line on taxes, creating more jobs.”
Still, Hallam said the vote total – which she lost 836 to 642 – was in fact “a big win for us. We went into this as an unknown against a 20-year incumbent.”
Sunday’s results also confirm that even top elected officials can struggle to bring the committee around to their way of thinking. Peduto had publicly backed Wilson over Harris, a longtime thorn in his side, just days before the committee choice. But Wilson, like Batista, failed to win over the committee.
Still, the primary itself may be another story: In a special city council election last year, party leaders got behind Sonja Finn – only to see her lose to Peduto’s preferred candidate, Erika Strassburger, when voters had their say.
Harbin herself acknowledged that the campaign had only just begun. In the past, she said, “It's gone both ways. So I appreciate the endorsement, and I'm gonna do my best to make them proud and win the election."
The chair of the county committee, Eileen Kelly, agreed that candidates often run without the party’s backing, though she said there could be consequences for doing so.
"The committeepeople do remember the candidates, and they'll remember if they adhere to the endorsement or not."
Judge of Court of Common Pleas
County Chief Executive
County Council At-Large
John P Defazio
County Council District 6
County Council District 7
County Council District 10
County Council District 11
Paul M Klein
County Council District 13
Denise Ranalli Russell
Magisterial District Judge 5-2-13
Eugene Riazzi Jr.
Magisterial District Judge 5-2-25
Magisterial District Judge 5-2-28
Pittsburgh City Controller
Michael E. Lamb
Pittsburgh City Council District 1
Pittsburgh City Council District 3
Bruce A. Kraus
Pittsburgh City Council District 7
Pittsburgh City Council District 9
School Board of Directors District 2
School Board of Directors District 4
School Board of Directors District 8