Districts should represent us
It’s no secret that the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) likes to play inside baseball. Pittsburgh politics, generally, is founded upon a series of connections, with connected people helping other connected people attain their positions. The current Pittsburgh mayor, Bill Peduto was the Chief of Staff for his City Council predecessor, Dan Cohen. Peduto sat on the City Council for a decade, threatening to challenge the incumbent mayor Luke Ravenstahl a handful of times. Luke Ravenstahl’s father, Robert Ravenstahl Jr. is a magisterial judge in Allegheny County. Robert Ravenstahl Jr.'s father, Robert Ravenstahl Sr., served on the City Council. Adam Ravenstahl, Luke’s brother, is the state house representative for the North Side. Even Bob O’Connor, mayor before Luke Ravenstahl, has a son who is on the City Council, and connections between political figures in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County don't end there.
Political legacies are not inherently a bad thing. A ruling class, while problematic, is not necessarily a sign of incompetence. The Kennedys are clearly a competent political dynasty. Although their politics have roots in monetary connections, their policies have led to support from unions and the working class. The Kennedys have recognized that their power has been granted to them by organized crime, working class voters, and the interests of a core of low income, urban workers. It’s why, in spite of the numerous deaths in the family, so many Kennedys are consistently elected to office. Their money helps, but a unified political message directed at their core demographic only solidifies their political power.
What the Kennedys did right then, is what the Allegheny County Democratic ruling class is doing wrong today. The top members of the party in the Pittsburgh area are not unified in their messaging, and many ignore the base of their party: low-income, urban workers. A few weeks ago, the ACDC released their endorsements for the Pennsylvania democratic primary, which will take place on April 28 of this year. In two notable races, the ACDC endorsed a moderate candidate over the candidate in a better position to define the future of Pittsburgh Democrats. In State House District 34, challenger Chris Roland was endorsed over incumbent Summer Lee, and in State House District 36, Republican-leaning Heather Kass was endorsed over the progressive candidate, Jessica Benham.
District 34 contains Braddock, Braddock Hills, and Swissvale. District 36 contains Mount Oliver, parts of Baldwin, and the South Side of the city of Pittsburgh. What both of these districts share is a low-income, urban populace that is likely to vote for the candidate who fights for progressive policies, policies that enrich the district without sacrificing its character. In District 36, the choice to endorse Kass over Benham shows that the local party is not aware of its voter base, higher levels of politics, or even Kass’s own pronouncements on social media a few years back about “LAZY NO GOOD IDIOTS SUCKING THE SYSTEM [Obamacare] DRY.” Kass, almost dedicated to the Facebook idiocracy, has posted memes, all-caps rants, and anti-Hillary ads from right-wing groups. Her opponent, Jessica Benham, works for the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy. Benham has helped organize University of Pittsburgh graduate students in their attempt to unionize. Most importantly, Benham has received the endorsement of some of the highest-ranking members of Pittsburgh’s political family: Bill Peduto, City Council Presidents Bruce Kraus and Theresa Kail-Smith, and three other City Council members. Benham is the clear choice for the endorsement of Allegheny County Democrats, but the local party disagrees.
In District 34, Summer Lee is the incumbent, and in most places, would be the assured choice for endorsement. Incumbents rarely see their challenger endorsed by the party. It’s why political parties exist, frankly: to consolidate and maintain power. Still, the ACDC has endorsed her challenger, Chris Roland. Roland, a borough councilman for North Braddock, has also earned the endorsement of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Roland is also responsible for the care and maintenance of a local park, which is rather quaint, but the endorsement reeks of connections to Peoples Gas, as reported by WESA. At the same time, Lee, the incumbent house representative, has worked tirelessly the past two years to create a lasting change in the region. She has created UNITE PAC, which is designed to help progressive candidates challenge the party establishment, and she has remained a clear, confident choice for reelection after her win against Jay Costa two years ago. There is little reason why the party has chosen to go in the direction of Chris Roland, other than to steer the local government toward the broader Democratic establishment.
For Carnegie Mellon students, these endorsements are representative of two things. First, it is representative of the confusion among the Democratic Party from top to bottom. It can be seen in the push for a brokered National Convention, where party elites will have the final decision regarding the Presidential candidate, likely to be the wrong choice, failing to match the choice of the party’s electorate necessary to win the Presidential election. Obviously, this has yet to happen, but the confusion is clear in the Democratic Party. The confusion of the party at all levels leads to the second point, which is that we, future members of a highly-educated, mostly-liberal social class, will play a crucial part in determining the future of the party. We are the people with the time and the money to make change, and we will need to take a hold of the party machinery to fight for a better world. The current Democratic Party is not going to fight for the working class, minority groups, or anybody but the monetary interests which help elect them, so we will need to attend the local party meetings. We will need to fight for the change from the bottom, in local races for State House or City Council, and we will need to fight to define the future of American politics to show that our enemy is not an imagined other, but rather the brutal reality of wealthy elites and corporate interests.