Pittsburgh Dem Party Opposes 1st Black Woman State Rep from Western PA for Re-Election

State Representative Summer Lee (photo courtesy of Pa House Democrats)

This week, the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny County Democratic Committee voted to officially oppose in her quest for re-election, Summer Lee, the first black woman from Western PA ever elected to the State House. 

The decision of the county party to oppose Lee came a week after the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council voted to oppose Lee. However, UE and SEIU have both backed Lee. 

Lee, a former organizer with the Fight For $15, has drawn fierce opposition from the region’s building trades for her opposition to fracking in her district and her support of the Green New Deal. Already, the region’s more conservative unions have pumped more than $67,000 into her opponent, pro-fracking North Braddock councilman Chris Roland. 

On Sunday, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee met and voted overwhelmingly to endorse Lee’s opponent, Roland. Much like the Labor Council’s endorsement, Lee was the only incumbent not to endorsed by the labor-dominated Committee. 

In addition to opposing Lee, the Committee voted to oppose progressive challenger Jessica Benham vying for a South Side based state representative’s seat. Instead, they choose to endorse Heather Kass, who openly bragged on social media that she supported President Trump. 

For Lee, who defeated a 20-year incumbent by a margin of 68%-32% to become state representative in 2018, the snub was yet another sign of the false promises of the white-dominated political machines of Western Pennsylvania. 

“The Democratic Party claims it wants more “diversity.” Claims it respects the Black ppl who form its base. Claims it supports women leadership. Claims it trusts the Black women who propel it to victory every time,” wrote Lee on Twitter. “The lie detector test determined…..that was a lie.” 

Since the announcement that the local Democratic Party would oppose her re-election, Lee says she has received more than 200 individual donations and an outpouring of support. She says that dozens of people have signed up to volunteer, and the campaign’s grassroots capability is growing as a result of the backlash against the white-dominated Western PA political establishment. 

“We know they never wanted us at their little table. We’re still eating, though!” wrote Lee on Facebook.

(Full Disclosure: My father, Gene Elk, is the elected Director of Organization of the United Electrical Workers (UE), which has endorsed Summer Lee’s campaign. Representative Lee and I both attended Woodland Hills High School together, while it was still under federal desegregation orders in the early 2000s). 

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a yinzer labor reporter who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: Melk@PaydayReport.com

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