The Procrastinator’s Guide to Pittsburgh’s May 21 primary

Democracy in last-minute action.

collage primary May 2019
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Updated 10:01 p.m. May 18

Four days left. That’s it.

On Tuesday, May 21, Republican and Democratic voters — and only them — will hit the polls in Pittsburgh for the 2019 municipal primary. They’ll choose the candidates they want to see on the ballot come November, and, in some cases, decide those races right now.

If this is the first you’re hearing of all this, have no fear, you’re in the right place.

What follows here is the latest installment in our procrastinator’s guide series. Think of it as a safe space — free of judgement, derision, or condescension — where voters can get up to speed quickly — very quickly — before it’s too late.

First things first:

It’s too late to register if you haven’t already. It’s also too late to switch your voter registration.

It’s not too late, however, for registered voters to confidently strut into their polling place knowing they’ve at least seen the names of all the candidates that will be on the ballot.

And that’s what brings us here today.

In this article, we will attempt to help you do just that by laying out the races, the candidates, their positions, and the issues. (Note I: We are only focusing here on contested races, both for your sanity and ours. Note II: Because this is Pittsburgh, only Democratic races are contested in this primary.)

As always, we welcome your feedback. Email us here to say what you liked about this guide or what you didn’t.

And now, without further ado, we give you the 2019 Pittsburgh Municipal Primary.


Voter FAQ


Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., at left, and challenger Turahn Jenkins.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., at left, and challenger Turahn Jenkins.

Allegheny County District Attorney

Who votes in this? All county residents

Background: Closely watched in a year defined by high-profile criminal cases in Pittsburgh and mounting calls for police reform, the race for Allegheny County District Attorney will pit challenger Turahn Jenkins against 20-year incumbent Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Jenkins, a lawyer who once worked for Zappala’s office, saw his campaign shaken by scandal early following reports of his membership at an anti-gay Wilkinsburg church and comments he’d made about homosexuality being a sin. Jenkins refused calls to drop out and has continued to collect endorsements since then, all while insisting he’s committed to being a DA for all.

Zappala, meanwhile, has faced calls for his ouster leading up to and following the March acquittal of an East Pittsburgh police officer in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Antwon Rose II. With only two Democrats running, this race is all but sure to be decided on Tuesday.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Stephen A. Zappala Jr. (Incumbent)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Cash bail reformist; running on what he calls a proven record of holding police accountable and working to reduce incarceration rates through diversionary courts

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Party; Steel City Stonewall Democrats

🗳 Turahn Jenkins (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Committed to non-prosecution of cannabis possession in Allegheny County; wants to reform cash bail system and decriminalize sex work

Notable endorsements: Pittsburgh NORML; Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II

🔴 Republicans

No one running, sorry.

Recommended reading

  • Jenkins And Zappala Both Pitch Themselves As Reformers In Race For DA (90.5 WESA)
  • A Q-and-A with Turahn Jenkins: Yes, he’s still running for Allegheny County District Attorney (The Incline)

Jon DeFazio and Bethany Hallam.

Jon DeFazio and Bethany Hallam.

Allegheny County Council at-large

Who votes in this? All county residents

Background: Democrat Jon DeFazio has been on Allegheny County Council since it was first created in 2000. And in that time, he’s never faced a Democratic primary challenger — until now. DeFazio, a 78-year-old whose campaign has been quick to point to the growth seen in Allegheny County during his tenure, is facing a challenge from 29-year-old Bethany Hallam, a recovering opioid addict who believes her perspective is what’s needed in county politics at this time. As expected, the race has been positioned as a choice between an experienced candidate and one with a new perspective.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Jon DeFazio (Incumbent)

Connect: Website | Facebook

Priorities: Introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy countywide; supports creation of countywide civilian police review board; voted to allow drilling under Deer Lake Park; did not support halting operations at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works plant amid air pollution concerns, saying the economic impact needed to be properly weighed

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee; Allegheny County Labor Council; Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald; U.S. Rep Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills

🗳 Bethany Hallam (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Supports countywide ban on conversion therapy; supports creation of countywide civilian police review board; supported halting operations at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works plant this year amid air pollution concerns; supports taking away UPMC’s tax-exempt nonprofit status

Notable endorsements: The Sierra Club; Pennsylvania Young Democrats; Steel City Stonewall Democrats; state Reps. Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato and Ed Gainey

🔴 Republican

🗳 Sam DeMarco (incumbent)

Your only choice this time, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Recommended reading

  • Bethany Hallam Wants To Change County Council’s Culture (Pittsburgh Current)
  • County council at-large seat primary pits longtime council president John DeFazio against 29-year-old Bethany Hallam (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Denise Ranalli Russell, left, and Olivia Bennett.

Denise Ranalli Russell, left, and Olivia Bennett.

Allegheny County Council – District 13

Who votes in this? Residents of Allentown, Bellevue, Beltzhoover, Downtown, Garfield, Lawrenceville, Morningside, the North Side, portions of South Side, Stanton Heights, the Strip District, and Uptown

Background: The Democratic race for Allegheny County’s 13th council district is between incumbent Denise Ranalli Russell and activist challenger Olivia Bennett. Both want to elevate the profile of the often-overlooked governmental body. But they differ in their approaches, with Ranalli Russell touting constituent outreach and a keep-plugging-away philosophy, while Bennett wants a county council that’s unafraid of advocacy through policy.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Denise Ranalli Russell (Incumbent)

Connect: WebsiteFacebook

Priorities: Supports conversion therapy ban; thinks gun control is best left to the state; hasn’t fully embraced push for countywide police review board; concerned about conditions at Allegheny County Jail for both inmates and guards

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee; Pittsburgh Firefighters; Allegheny County Labor Council

🗳 Olivia Bennett (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Wants county council to follow city council’s lead on local gun control; supports the push for a countywide police review board; wants more oversight of Allegheny County Jail

Notable endorsements: WTF Pittsburgh; Steel City Stonewall Democrats; Sierra Club

🔴 Republicans

No one running, sorry.

Recommended reading

  • County Council District 13 primary: Activist Liv Bennett challenges incumbent Denise Ranalli Russell (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

From left: Darlene Harris, Mark Brentley, Bobby Wilson.

From left: Darlene Harris, Mark Brentley, Bobby Wilson.

Pittsburgh City Council – District 1

Who votes in this? Residents of Allegheny Center, Allegheny West, Brighton Heights, Deutschtown (East Allegheny), Marshall-Shadeland, parts of the Mexican War Streets, Spring Hill, Spring Garden, and Troy Hill

Background: Incumbent Darlene Harris has frequently opposed Mayor Bill Peduto’s agenda and she continues to solidify herself as council’s chief contrarian. Most recently, Harris voted against a package of local-level gun-control proposals adopted this year with the mayor’s support and that of a majority of her fellow councilors. Harris cited concerns about the laws’ enforceability and constitutionality in doing so. Now, she’s facing two challengers — Bobby Wilson and Mark Brentley — both of whom say change is needed on the North Side where Harris has served for more than a decade, developing a reputation for her sometimes controversial political style but also for being consistently responsive with her constituents.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Darlene Harris (Incumbent)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Wants city to be more proactive in preventing and addressing landslides; opposes double-stacked trains on the North Side; supports efforts to control the pet population; plans to introduce as-yet-unspecified animal protective legislation; voted against a real-estate transfer tax hike to fund a citywide affordable-housing plan

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee; Allegheny County Labor Council; Pittsburgh Firefighters

🗳 Mark Brentley (Challenger)  

Connect: Facebook

Priorities: Supports new development on the North Side and the creation of more affordable housing; wants a more aggressive approach to getting tax revenue from big nonprofits; plans a district-wide listening tour if elected

Notable endorsements: N/A

🗳 Bobby Wilson (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Says he wants equitable and inclusive growth for Pittsburgh; supports public ownership of PWSA; wants to recapture much-needed transportation resources for District 1

Notable endorsements: Mayor Bill Peduto; SEIU 32BJ; Clean Water Action; Planned Parenthood

🔴 Republicans

No one running, sorry.

Recommended reading

  • Darlene Harris Challengers Say Change Is Needed On The North Side (90.5 WESA)

From left: Bruce Kraus, Ken Wolfe, and Chris Kumanchik.

From left: Bruce Kraus, Ken Wolfe, and Chris Kumanchik.

Pittsburgh City Council – District 3

Who votes in this? Residents of Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, Central Oakland, Knoxville, Mt. Oliver, Oakcliffe, South Side Flats, South Side Slopes, South Oakland, and St. Clair

Background: Seeking a fourth term in office, Council President Bruce Kraus is facing two challengers, one his former chief of staff. The Democratic primary race between Kraus, his former COS Ken Wolfe, and University of Pittsburgh student Chris Kumanchik has focused on council’s gun-control legislation, economic development, and parking, a staple concern for residents of the South Side, where a densely populated portion of District 3 is found. Here’s more about the candidates and their respective pitches to voters.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Bruce Kraus (Incumbent)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Supported local gun-control push, calling it a matter of “moral courage”; helped usher in citywide ban on conversion therapy for minors; wants the city to end pension fund investments in fossil fuels and for all city operations to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee; Planned Parenthood; United Mine Workers; Clean Water Action

🗳 Ken Wolfe (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Facebook

Priorities: Wants more economic redevelopment for the district’s Hilltop neighborhoods; wants to reduce the tax burden as a function of gentrification in Pittsburgh by changing how property is assessed; wants to “confront the reality of climate change” as a city through more deliberate forms of land-use

Notable endorsements: N/A

🗳 Chris Kumanchik (Challenger)

Connect: Twitter

Priorities: Opposes Pittsburgh’s local gun-control legislation; believes construction of a parking facility could alleviate parking woes on the South Side; self-styled moderate Democrat; believes in being “tough on crime”

Notable endorsements: N/A

🔴 Republicans

No one running.

Recommended reading


Deb Gross, at left, and Deirdre Kane.

Deb Gross, at left, and Deirdre Kane.

Pittsburgh City Council – District 7

Who votes in this? Residents of Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Polish Hill, Stanton Heights, and the Strip District

Background: Incumbent Democrat Deb Gross has held the seat since 2013 but failed to get the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee this year, which went instead to her challenger, Deirdre Kane, the only non-incumbent to secure one. As would be expected in a district that includes Lawrenceville, development and housing are front-of-mind issues. Here’s where the candidates stand.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Deb Gross (Incumbent)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Introduced inclusionary zoning bill to ensure affordable housing in Lawrenceville; supported Pittsburgh’s local gun-control legislation; supports “walkable and bikeable neighborhoods”; voted against UPMC’s Mercy expansion plan

Notable endorsements: Stonewall Steel City Democrats; Clean Water Action; Planned Parenthood; state Reps. Sara Innamorato and Ed Gainey

🗳 Deirdre Kane (Challenger)

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Wants more community green spaces in the district; small business-focused; “We must ensure that our communities develop as mixed-income communities”; wants a plan for multi-modal transportation and ensuring “accessibility and connectivity as we improve our streets, parks, and as we plan for new development”

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee

🔴 Republicans

No one running.

Recommended reading

  • Q&A with Pittsburgh City Council District 7 incumbent Gross and challenger Kane (PublicSource)

From left: Ricky Burgess, Stephen Braxton, Cherylie Fuller, Judith K. Ginyard, and Kierran Young.

From left: Ricky Burgess, Stephen Braxton, Cherylie Fuller, Judith K. Ginyard, and Kierran Young.

Pittsburgh City Council – District 9

Who votes in this? Residents of East Hills, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, and Point Breeze North

Background: The race for District 9 got crowded quickly, drawing interest from candidates like activist and police shooting survivor Leon Ford well in advance of Tuesday’s primary. Since then, some, including Ford, have bowed out, and incumbent Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess was able to secure the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s endorsement in March. Still, five Democratic candidates remain on the ballot Tuesday. Here they are.

🔵 Democrats

🗳 Ricky Burgess (Incumbent)  

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Violence-prevention efforts, supported Pittsburgh’s gun-control bills; helped craft legislation that would require city officials and developers to report on their efforts to consider and engage low-income residents and racial minorities

Notable endorsements: Allegheny County Democratic Committee

🗳 Stephen Braxton (Challenger)

Connect: Facebook

Priorities: Resident services and improving police-community relations; supports inclusionary zoning to help address affordable housing concerns in the East End

Notable endorsements: N/A

🗳 Cherylie Fuller (Challenger)

Connect: Facebook

Priorities: Wants more community involvement in development decisions; support services for displaced residents; more equitable economic revitalization in the East End

Notable endorsements: N/A

🗳 Kierran Young (Challenger)

Connect: Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Wants to address community economic concerns by using the seat to advocate for an increase in the state minimum wage and to press for more black-owned business opportunities in Pittsburgh public contracting

Notable endorsements: N/A

🗳 Judith K. Ginyard (Challenger)

Connect: Twitter | Facebook

Priorities: Wants more community involvement in development decisions; more protection of personal property rights amid development; wants more work to be done on reducing crime and violence

Notable endorsements: N/A

🔴 Republicans

No one running.

Recommended reading

  • Four challenging Ricky Burgess for city’s District 9 seat in Democratic primary (Post-Gazette)

What else is on the ballot? What else should I know?  

📖 Pittsburgh Board of Education seats

Who votes in this? Which board of education contest you vote in on Tuesday depends on which board district you live in. If you don’t know, you can find out here.

Background: Nine candidates are running for spots on the board in four different board districts. The board is the deliberative body for the Pittsburgh Public Schools district, making budgetary decisions and policy decisions as well.

Recommended reading

  • Nine Candidates Vie For Pittsburgh Board Of Education Seats (90.5 WESA)

🏛 Court of Common Pleas Judge

Who votes in this? All Allegheny County residents.

Background: An open seat on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas has drawn four candidates looking to fill it. Private criminal defense attorney George Heym, personal injury attorney Richard Joyce, intellectual property attorney Brian Malkin, and civil law and orphans’ court attorney Mary McGinley, will all appear on Democratic ballots. McGinley cross-filed and will also appear on Republican primary ballots.

Recommended reading

🏛State superior court

Who votes in this? All Pennsylvania voters.

Background: There are two open seats on the court, which handles appeals of civil and criminal cases and cases involving families and children. The Republican candidates are Cumberland County Judge Christylee Peck, Chester County Deputy District Attorney Megan King, and former Montour County district attorney Rebecca Warren. The Democratic primary candidates are lawyers Beth Tarasi and Amanda Green-Hawkins from Allegheny County, and Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel McCaffery.

Recommended reading

  • 3 things to know about the Pa. Superior Court candidates: Their legal heroes, fundraising, and biggest weaknesses (Philly.com)

Update: This article has been updated to clarify the campaign priorities of District 9 City Council candidate Judith K. Ginyard and to add to District 1 City Council candidate Bobby Wilson’s list of “Notable endorsements.” 

Correction: This article has been updated to correct District 1 City Council incumbent Darlene Harris’ priorities list as it relates to legislation dealing with animals.