The Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle in the June 2 primary condemned the incumbent’s decision to turn down a debate proposed by the Pittsburgh NAACP, saying it shows Doyle is not willing to address issues important to the black community.
“This is extremely unfortunate,” said Jerry Dickinson, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who is running to unseat Doyle in the June primary. “This region is one of the least livable regions for African Americans, particularly poor black women. We are losing our black population every year. Poverty and unemployment rates are some of the highest in the nation for African Americans in this district. This is extremely important that we have a debate, that we discuss these issues and we talk about our plans to address these disparities on the debate stage.”
Doyle sent a letter to the Pittsburgh NAACP on May 1, saying he was unable to commit an event, citing an uncertain schedule in the U.S. House due to the pandemic. Instead, Doyle encouraged the NAACP to inform its members about a League of Women Voters debate that’s currently scheduled for May 19.
Following Dickinson’s statements Tuesday, Doyle said his opponent was distorting the letter he sent to the NAACP, and reiterated his uncertainty of his schedule.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the NAACP, which is why I would never commit to a date knowing that I might have to cancel at the last moment because I have been called back to Washington,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Doyle said he would gladly commit to a debate once he knew what his availability would be.
“Throughout my career, the issues of importance to the NAACP and the entire African-American community has been at the top of my agenda in Congress,” Doyle said, adding that he’s worked to address issues like disparities in education and maternal mortality rates, and criminal justice reform.
“I am proud of my record and will continue to work closely with the NAACP and the African-American community to address the systemic racism that is responsible for the economic and social challenges African-Americans face here and across the nation.”
The NAACP did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
But Dickinson said Doyle's decision not to participate was "a signal that these issues are not important to him. ... We wanted to be able to have a robust discussion about the disparities in the region."
Last year, the City of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission published a report that highlighted enormous disparities for residents of color in Pittsburgh, and showed black residents could improve their quality of life simply by moving elsewhere.
“These issues related to race in this region are so prominent, and they need to be dealt with aggressively,” Dickinson said. “When Mr. Doyle’s first major, major challenger in well over 20 years happens to be an African American, I think it’s important that he step up to the plate."
For his part, Dickinson released a sweeping “platform for African Americans” on Tuesday, highlighting his support for criminal justice reform, his legal work in tenant rights for low income families, narrowing the gap in health care disparities for people of color, voting rights, and other issues. And he unveiled endorsements from more than 40 African-American public figures, including longtime civil rights leader Alma Speed Fox and several candidates who have sought to challenge the political establishment, like 2019 District Attorney candidate Turahn Jenkins.
Doyle’s own list of support includes the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, the pro-LGBT Steel City Stonewall Democrats, the Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, and others.
The 18th District centers on Pittsburgh and includes municipalities like McKeesport, Monroeville, Jefferson Hills and Plum.