Collab Column | PA-18 House race — excitement and indecision


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Summer Lee, D-34, speaks at Pittsburgh’s TEDxWomen event on Nov. 29, 2018. Lee announced her run for U.S. Congress on Oct. 19.

By The Pitt News Staff

Collab columns consist of multiple columnists offering their own takes and experiences on a topic. In this issue, we’ll discuss the redefined state of the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district, following the retirement of Rep. Mike Doyle and the entrance of Summer Lee into the race.

The lesser of two progressive champions // Jack Troy, Opinions Editor

It’s been a remarkably successful few years for progressives in the Pittsburgh area. Despite Democrats’ shellacking in just about every nationally publicized race on Nov. 2, there was little for the party to complain about here, at least outside of the moderate wing.

Ed Gainey was elected mayor, all five members of the reform-minded “Slate of 8” that survived the May Democratic primary secured spots on the Court of Commons Pleas and the Allegheny County Council grew more liberal. This is on top of previous progressive victories, such as Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato’s successful bids for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in 2018.

This luck has not carried over to recent statewide and federal races, and midterms don’t seem like they’ll be much better. Granted, it’s still early in the cycle, but recent polls show Lt. Gov. John Fetterman with a commanding lead in the Senate race over state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who’s carrying the progressive mantle in this race. The Democratic field to succeed Gov. Tom Wolf is looking similarly suffocating for progressives.

But there is one federal race to save the day. Rep. Mike Doyle recently announced his retirement after 14 terms, seemingly in response to two-time primary challenger and Pitt law professor Jerry Dickinson’s stellar Q3 fundraising numbers, though his appetite for reelection was unclear anyway. I’ve made my distaste for Doyle and admiration for Dickinson quite clear, and for a moment Dickinson appeared to have a glide path to victory, a reward for his audacious challenge to Doyle in 2020.

Lee joined the race and killed that dream, though I’m not at all upset about it. Both would bring valuable perspectives and unapologetically progressive politics to the House and, quite honestly, if I had to vote today it would be no better than a coin flip. Squirrel Hill attorney Steve Irwin also joined the race this week, reflecting the glut of progressive ambition following Doyle’s departure, though it would be tough to tear my support away from Dickinson or Lee.

Decisions were easy when Doyle never had a shot at my support. Dragging a 14-term moderate through the mud is much simpler work than examining a couple of leftist platforms with a magnifying glass, searching for nuance on two candidates who deserve a voice in national politics.

So, for now, I’m copping out. I don’t know who to support, and I certainly won’t go ahead and tell you who to support. But I say this indecision is worth celebrating. We’re less than one year out from the Democratic primary, and the 18th Congressional district lacks a well-known moderate candidate. For a district representing not only Pittsburgh, but its southern and eastern suburbs, this is unthinkable. My hometown of Plum, which makes up the district’s northeastern border, just reelected a borderline pro-pandemic mayor — that’s what we’re working with here. 

A race between Lee and Dickinson is a sure sign that progressives are consolidating their grip on the Pittsburgh area. Who knows, maybe inspiring candidates will grow beyond exception to become the region’s rule. In the meantime, I’ve got some research to do. 

Summer Lee is the candidate young people have been waiting for // India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist

I’ve never been more excited for a campaign than I am for Summer Lee’s. She currently represents District 34 in the Pa. House of Representatives and announced her run for U.S. Congress on Oct. 19.

The Howard Law graduate made headlines in 2018 when she became the first Black woman elected to the state legislature from western Pennsylvania. She earned her seat by beating a 20-year incumbent in the Democratic primary with nearly 70% of the vote. In her 2020 bid for re-election, she was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

As a two-term state legislator, she has used her background in civil rights law and community organizing to fight for structural change. She has introduced bills targeting wealth redistribution, police accountability and housing rights. She has rallied around issues such as clean air and raising the minimum wage. She has proposed studies on intergenerational poverty and formerly incarcerated individuals’ voter engagement.

She led demonstrations in both 2019 and 2020 at the state capitol building to call for action from fellow lawmakers on police brutality. Throughout her political career, she has discussed how issues like air pollution, racial and economic inequity intersect and has advocated for the communities they most affect.

She founded UNITE, a political action group, in 2019 to support progressive campaigns, especially candidates who are women, LGBTQ+ and people of color. Their coalition swept most elections, with endorsed candidates including County Council members Bethany Hallam and Liv Bennett in 2019, state representatives Emily Kinkead and Jessica Benham in 2020 and Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Ed Gainey in 2021.

Now she’s running for Congress to represent PA-18 in 2022.  It is the obvious next step for her and she is the obvious choice. She has championed a progressive movement while staying dedicated to her hometown of Braddock. She is bold, deliberate and a force for change.

Lee should be a role model to every young person who is told their goals are too ambitious, too radical. She won as a democratic socialist in an area that prefers moderates. She holds Republicans who want to curb progress accountable. She has never once swayed from her stance on social justice. Once elected to Congress, she promises to support Medicare For All, Green New Deal, unions, reproductive rights, public education and criminal justice reform.

Lee doesn’t shy away from debates, and she also doesn’t lose them. She is the woman for this job and I can’t wait to vote for her.