Five Democrats and one Republican are seeking nominations from their parties in Tuesday’s primary to run for longtime U.S. Representative Mike Doyle’s seat in November.
The Democratic congressman, who is in his 14th term representing a district made up of the Pittsburgh and suburban Allegheny County communities, said last year he would not run again.
With Pennsylvania losing a congressional seat starting next year, the newly redesigned district will now include Westmoreland County communities such as Murrysville, North Huntingdon, Penn Township, Sewickley Township, and parts of Hempfield in addition to Pittsburgh and eastern and southern suburbs of Allegheny County.
Coincidentally, the only Republican candidate is also called Mike Doyle. He is president of the Plum Council.
The contested Democratic primary includes University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson, Pittsburgh attorney Steve Irwin, state Rep. Summer Lee, entrepreneur William Parker and nonprofit leader Jeff Woodard. Their run has been dominated by outside spending, negative publicity and flooding support from high-profile politicians.
Dickinson, 35, is a constitutional law expert who lives in Swissvale with his wife and two children. He previously worked as a lawyer defending people facing deportation.
Raised in the Allegheny County foster care system, Dickinson said his background motivated him to run for Congress.
“Throughout my life, whether in foster care with 11 siblings, whether in the courtroom defending tenants in eviction proceedings, or whether it’s when my students don’t disagree in class at Pitt Law, I’ve always been a consensus builder,” Dickinson said. “I know getting things done in Congress won’t be easy, (but) nothing in my life has been easy.”
He said he had a “bold and progressive” vision for the district and believed he could set a national political agenda for Pittsburgh and beyond by bringing together the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. Dickinson supports a $15 minimum wage, a billionaire wealth tax, Medicare for All and reparations for black Americans.
Dickinson criticized the outside expenses that went into the 12th District race. Super PACs spent over $2 million on ads, which primarily attacked Lee and his supporter Irwin. He said he would represent neighborhood residents, not special interests.
Irwin, 62, is an attorney and partner at Leech Tishman. He lives in Squirrel Hill and said he grew up in New York and Florida, but has lived in Pittsburgh longer than any other area.
It was endorsed by Congressman Doyle. Irwin praised Doyle’s voting record, his commitment to voter service and his leadership.
“My goal is to build on this admirable track record by bringing my own deep experience in infrastructure, healthcare, civil rights, financial services and criminal justice,” Irwin said.
His campaign focused on infrastructure, and he said if elected, he would work to expand public transportation like buses and light rail in the Pittsburgh area.
He also wants to lower the Medicare eligibility age and expand job training opportunities for Southwestern Pennsylvanians. Irwin said the Environmental Protection Agency should have a stronger presence in western Pennsylvania, to increase environmental cleanup projects in the area. He said he supports President Biden’s agenda.
Lee, 34, was first elected to the State House in 2018. She was born and raised in the Mon Valley, splitting her childhood between North Braddock and Swissvale, where she now lives. Prior to serving in the legislature, Lee was a community organizer who advocated for Woodland Hills School District issues and worked on political campaigns for Hillary Clinton. She has been endorsed by several progressive politicians, including US Senator Bernie Sanders.
If she were to win, she would be the first black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress.
Lee said she wants to tackle issues like health care affordability, air quality, student debt, union-busting businesses, and threats to democracy and elections.
Lee, the only woman in the race, said she understands the urgency of the future of abortion access and reproductive rights.
“As the only woman in this race, I’ve heard the same lack of urgency from my opponents that comes from men who never had to worry about these rights before it became politically appropriate to care about,” Lee said.
Born and raised on the North Side of Pittsburgh, Parker, 40, is the CEO of VendSpin, a mobile delivery app he founded. Parker lives in Garfield and said her campaign is focused on growing the region’s economy through entrepreneurship and technology.
“We are in a time when voters no longer have to wait for real results or resources. With the help of technology, we can make critical investments in areas that need them faster than ever before,” Parker said.
He attended public schools in Pittsburgh. Parker said if elected, he would chart a new course for the district that focuses on an inclusive economy. He said Pittsburgh’s economy needs to grow more equitably and believes increased public investment is key to making that happen.
Woodard, 53, was born and raised in Erie and has lived in Oakland for nearly 30 years. He is director of the PA College Access Program, a non-profit organization that provides college preparatory assistance to low-income students.
He said he would try to build on the legacy of Congressman Doyle. He said he supports the Affordable Care Act, providing more support for veterans, and backs the Equality Act, a bill that would provide protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people.
Woodard criticized his main opponents for wanting to “defund the police” and said efforts to cut police funding “punish the community and deprive it of a needed resource”.
He said he differs from other candidates because he wants to address inflation issues and is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
“Those who legally own a gun should be allowed,” Woodard said. “We must work to help people with mental health issues and keep guns away from those who are not allowed to own them.”
Ryan Deto is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Ryan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter.
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