Pittsburgh takes big step toward electing first Black mayor
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto lost his bid for re-election Tuesday to Ed Gainey, a five-term state representative, as the city took a big step toward electing its first Black chief executive.
Peduto, a Democrat, had been seeking a third term against three primary challengers but instead called to congratulate Gainey, “Wishing him well” in a tweet late Tuesday.
Gainey was all but assured a victory in November in the heavily Democratic city. He had consistently made the campaign about equality for Black and poor residents, and accused Peduto of failing to ensure equity in policing, housing and other areas. At one point, he called Pittsburgh “a tale of two cities.”
“One person can’t change a city. A city is changed when we all come together to improve the quality of life for everybody,” Gainey told supporters late Tuesday.
Statewide, Pennsylvania voters were given the opportunity to limit a governor’s emergency authority — more than a year after Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic restrictions drew fierce backlash among legislative Republicans — in an otherwise quiet off-year primary election that also included balloting for an open seat on the state’s highest court.
Voters of all kinds, including independents, were allowed to vote on four ballot questions, including two that stemmed from Republican lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with how Wolf, a Democrat, wielded his authority during the COVID-19 crisis.
It was the first vote of its kind since the coronavirus outbreak, as Republicans in nearly every state have sought to roll back governors’ authority during disaster emergencies.
For Republicans, the top-of-the-ticket race was an open state Supreme Court seat, with three GOP candidates vying for the nomination. The Democratic candidate ran unopposed.
Voters also decided whether to write civil rights protections for race and ethnicity into the state constitution, while Philadelphia’s progressive district attorney, vying for a second term, fended off a primary challenge.
The two questions were on constitutional amendments that would give lawmakers much more power over disaster declarations, to apply whether the emergency is another pandemic or a natural disaster.
They asked voters to end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and to give lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote.
Current law allows a governor to issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it without limit. The constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote by lawmakers to end the declaration.
Wolf opposed the change.
Results to the two questions were still being tabulated early Wednesday morning.
ETHNICITY AND RACE
Voters backed a proposal that would add a passage to the constitution outlawing discrimination because of someone’s race or ethnicity.
It’s believed to be the first time since last summer’s protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that voters were asked to weigh in on a racial equality issue on a statewide ballot.
It becomes the constitution’s fourth equality provision, added to “all men are born equally free and independent,” a protection from discrimination in exercising civil rights, and a 1971 amendment that ensures gender equality.
STATE SUPREME COURT
Kevin Brobson, a Commonwealth Court judge from Cumberland County, won the Republican nomination for an open seat on state Supreme Court.
Brobson was endorsed by the state Republican Party, and enjoyed a huge advantage in campaign spending, thanks in large part to more than $275,000 in help from a business advocacy organization whose money comes from suburban Philadelphia billionaire Jeffrey Yass.
He beat two challengers, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick and Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough of Allegheny County.
Democrat Maria McLaughlin, a Superior Court judge, ran uncontested for her party’s nomination.
The winner of the November election will replace retiring Justice Thomas Saylor, a conservative whose departure will leave the court with one justice elected as a Republican and five elected as Democrats.
A term is 10 years, followed by an up-or-down retention election.
Voters picked candidates in four special elections to fill vacant seats in the state Legislature, two in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives.
The elections will not tip the balance of power in the 253-seat Legislature, where Republicans control both chambers by comfortable margins.
A Lackawanna County-based Senate remained in Democratic hands. Republicans held on to a second seat, based in Lebanon County.
In the House, seats based in Westmoreland and Armstrong remained held by Republicans.
PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Incumbent Larry Krasner, who was elected four years ago on a promise of radical change, beat back a primary challenge to win the Democratic nomination.
Krasner has pushed shorter probation and parole, a curtailing of cash bail that disproportionately keeps poor defendants confined before trial and other reforms. His campaign for a second term was seen as a test of whether a wave of progressive prosecutors elected on promises of criminal justice reform could survive a rising tide of gun violence and homicides across the country.
Krasner, 60, a longtime civil rights and defense attorney, defeated veteran homicide prosecutor Carlos Vega, 64, on Tuesday and will be the heavy favorite in November.
FIRE DEPARTMENT LOANS
A fourth ballot question asked whether voters wanted to allow 22 municipal fire departments in Pennsylvania to have access to a 45-year-old low-interest loan fund that helps some 2,000 volunteer firefighting squads borrow money to pay for trucks, equipment and facilities.
The fund is administered by the office of the state fire commissioner.
OTHER APPELLATE COURTS
Democrats picked from among three candidates for an open seat on the Superior Court, which handles criminal and civil appeals from county courts.
The candidates were Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Timika Lane and two lawyers in private practice, Bryan Neft of suburban Pittsburgh and Jill Beck of Pittsburgh.
Republican Megan Sullivan ran unopposed for the nomination.
Meanwhile, Democrats chose among four candidates for two open seats on the Commonwealth Court, which handles lawsuits and appeals involving state and governmental agencies.
Running were Common Pleas Court Judge David Lee Spurgeon and lawyer Amanda Green Hawkins of Allegheny County and Common Pleas Court judges Lori Dumas and Sierra Street of Philadelphia.
Republicans Drew Crompton and Stacy Wallace were uncontested.
Results in these races were still being counted early Wednesday morning.