Sara Innamorato helps women run for office. Now she’s state Rep. Dom Costa’s first 2018 challenger.

She’s the co-founder of She Runs Southwestern Pa., which helps women run for office.

Sara Innamorato speaks at a Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality event on March 8.

Sara Innamorato speaks at a Pittsburgh Feminists for Intersectionality event on March 8.

courtesy of Sara Innamorato
MJ Slaby

Democratic state Rep. Dom Costa will have competition in the May 2018 primary — for the first time in about a decade.

Lawrenceville resident Sara Innamorato announced Thursday on Facebook that’s she’s running for the state representative seat in District 21, which includes parts of Ross Township and Millvale and extends to parts of Pittsburgh including Lawrenceville and Morningside.

Innamorato, 31, is the owner of “marketing for social good” company Innamo Co. and co-founder of She Runs Southwestern Pa., which aims to help women run for elected office.

Costa has been state representative for nearly a decade, winning the seat in 2008 after he left his role as Pittsburgh police chief. He hasn’t been challenged since. The representative and his office didn’t return multiple requests for comment from The Incline.

One of the barriers to having more women in office is incumbents with no challengers, Innamorato said, adding that she hopes her campaign will be a learning experience and inspiration for other women. Innamorato told The Incline she plans to start her campaign by spending the summer getting to know the neighborhoods in the 21st district and how they want to be represented.

She co-founded She Runs Southwestern Pa. in August 2016 with an aim to bring women together, share their stories of running for office, and connect them with resources they need to run.

Her announcement was the same day as a town hall in Lawrenceville that organizers planned to hold with or without Costa. It was without, although a cardboard cutout of Costa was taped to a podium.

Melinda Ciccocioppo and Tyler Bickford, two members of the grassroots 21st District Progressives, told the crowd of around 70 people about Costa’s voting record, from his anti-abortion-access votes to his harsh stance regarding undocumented workers. Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability talked about Costa’s record on bills regarding policing and transparency. The crowd appeared particularly dismayed when Fisher raised Costa’s desire to make taunting a police officer a criminal act.

“These are the types of irrational decisions he makes,” she said.

More than a dozen people in the crowd got up to speak about Costa, many expressing unhappiness with the representative’s record. “Why don’t we find somebody else?” a resident from Bloomfield said to applause.

Innamorato attended the town hall as a resident, but she stressed that the event wasn’t about candidates and had nothing to do with her campaign.

She raised some of the same concerns about Costa’s voting record to The Incline, saying it doesn’t align with her values as a Democrat. In addition to the ones talked about at the town hall, she also brought up Costa’s support of reinstating mandatory minimum sentences for multiple crimes as another issue where she disagrees with his vote. Innamorato said she’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America Pittsburgh Chapter and said the organization aligns with her views.

But her decision to run isn’t just about opposition, she said.

“I’m sure if I look hard enough I can find something we agree on,” she said of Costa, adding that for her, running is about core values and education as well as not finding a “compassionate listener” who would take constituents’ views back to Harrisburg.

In her announcement, she pledged to “push progressive policies,” use community feedback for decision making in Harrisburg and think creatively.

“We live in a time where there is a lot going on at the federal level that people are displeased with,” Innamorato told The Incline, adding she felt the “biggest influence and the biggest change” she could make is in Harrisburg.

Through She Runs, Innamorato spoke with women in elected office, researched about the gender gap in politics and learned more about the impact of state and local level government. All of that inspired her to run.

And grassroots campaigns need to start early because they are non-traditional, she said adding there’s an energy that exists that can be a powerful force.

“If I’m trying to encourage women to run, why don’t I just do it myself?” Innamorato said.

The Incline’s reporter/curator Sarah Anne Hughes contributed reporting.