Progressives Oust Incumbents in Allegheny County
As elections go, Allegheny County’s 2019 primaries were relatively low profile. But in some of the most highly contested races, progressives got the better of the county Democratic committee.
The biggest name to go down was Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Darlene Harris, who lost a three-way primary to Bobby Wilson. Harris is a longtime nemesis of Mayor BIll Peduto, who strongly backed Wilson. Her twelve years on Council include a stint as its president. Wilson had 57 percent of the vote to Harris’s 32.
Bethany Hallam defeated longtime incumbent John DeFazio for an at-large seat on Allegheny County Council, 54%-to-46%. DeFazio, 77, is a labor leader who’s been on council since it was created two decades ago. Hallam, 29, works an administrator for a personal-protection academy. She ran on a platform of banning LGBT conversion therapy and spoke openly about her opioid addiction – which landed her briefly in the county jail she’ll soon have a say in administering.
In County Council District 13, Liv Bennett defeated incumbent Denise Ranalli Russell by 17 points.
It was the third cycle in a row where energized progressives outshone establishment Democrats. State Rep. Summer Lee built on her 2018 win this year and emerged as a powerbroker. Her UNITE PAC went three-for three. It endorsed and canvassed for Hallam, Bennett, and Pam Harbin, who won a contested race for Pittsburgh School Board.
An exception to the trend was District Attorney Stephen Zappala, a 20-year incumbent who overcame a challenge from former public defender Turahn Jenkins by 18 points. At first it seemed Jenkins may find success campaigning on themes similar to Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia Eagle Malcolm Jenkins, noted for his social justice advocacy, tweeted a quasi-endorsement of Jenkins Tuesday. However, progressives never coalesced around his candidacy because of his controversial comments on LGBT issues.
Meanwhile challengers backed by the county committee fell short of incumbents. City Councilwoman Deb Gross bested challenger Deirdre Kane by 18 points.