Dom Costa’s constituents will hold a town hall Thursday — with or without him

People represented by the Allegheny County Democrat say his voting record doesn’t reflect their values.

Dom Costa Twitter / Google Maps
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated: May 31, 8:45 a.m.

Dom Costa’s district looks a little bit like a boot.

District 21 encompasses part of Ross Township, moves south to Millvale (think the heel) then extends over the Allegheny River into parts of Pittsburgh including sections of Lawrenceville and Morningside.

It’s what you think of when you hear the word “gerrymandering.”

Costa’s served as a state representative for nearly a decade. He ran successfully for the seat in 2008 as a Democrat after he left his role as Pittsburgh police chief. He hasn’t been challenged since.

But that doesn’t mean that all of Costa’s constituents are happy with him. Some plan to hold a town hall Thursday in Lawrenceville — with or without their representative.

“His job is to craft legislation and to support legislation that represents the views of his constituents,” Morningside resident Melinda Ciccocioppo told The Incline. “We don’t feel that he’s doing that.”

Ciccocioppo is a member of 21st District Progressives, which she described as a grassroots group of concerned constituents who have been paying attention to Costa’s record “and don’t like what we see.”

She highlighted his recording on immigrants’ rights, reproductive rights and criminal justice. Costa has voted in favor of punishing sanctuary cities, for a 20-week abortion ban and against increased police transparency.

Ciccocioppo said she was unaware of Costa’s voting record until after the November election, which “was a wakeup call for all of us that we do need to start paying attention even at the local level.”

She added that she assumed because her representative is a Democrat, he probably shared her values: “I was surprised to find out that he didn’t.”

Ciccocioppo’s sentiment may be similar for other Pittsburghers Costa represents. District 21 includes solidly progressive chunks of Pittsburgh, from Bloomfield up Butler Street through Lawrenceville to Morningside.

But his district also includes areas outside the city in Allegheny County that went for Donald Trump — who similarly supports crackdowns on abortion access and immigration — in November. The below map shows exactly where. Those voters represent 4,806 people among District 21’s estimated 60,110 population.

Costa’s first election to the state house, in 2008, was his only competitive one. He won the 2008 Democratic primary with 34.58 percent of the vote, besting former Pittsburgh City Council member Len Bodack by just more than 200 votes. He has not been challenged in a primary or general election since then. Like all state reps., Costa is up for election every two years, next in 2018.

A press release from 21st District Progressives, which was formed after the November election and boasts a few dozen members, said the group delivered a letter signed by more than 50 constituents to Costa’s office May 4. The letter requested Costa attend Thursday’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Goodwill Center, a request that was rejected by the representative’s office, according to the group.

A staff member from Costa’s office confirmed he was invited to the event.

“Unfortunately, he will be attending Policy Committee hearings in Philadelphia from yesterday through Friday, which he committed to over a month ago, and will be unable to attend,” the staff member wrote in an email.

Even without Costa, Ciccocioppo said the group will use the opportunity to educate the rep.’s constituents about his views. Ciccocioppo said she’s never been an activist or organizer before, adding that “everyone who wants to make a change at a local level” is welcome to attend the event, which is also sponsored by the Alliance for Police Accountability, One Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh Human Rights Cities Alliance and the Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America.

“The Republican agenda is scary,” she said. “If we can’t event trust Democrats to support our values, then we’re in big trouble.”

This article has been updated with a statement from Dom Costa’s office and to reflect he’s up for reelection in 2018 and that Len Bodack served on city council.