Dispatches from the polls: PA votes to shift emergency powers; Pittsburgh City Council incumbent keep their seats

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Imcumbent Mayor Bill Peduto voting at the Sterrett Classical Academy polling location in Point Breeze. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

PublicSource will be updating this story throughout Election Day and monitoring as results come in.

Wednesday results updates:

On Pittsburgh City Council —

Two City Councilors facing challengers in their reelection bids, Theresa Kail-Smith and Anthony Coghill, won by comfortable margins. Kail-Smith, the council president who has represented District 2 since 2009, defeated Jacob Williamson with 69% of the vote with 38 of 41 precincts reporting Wednesday morning. Coghill won a second four-year term representing District 4, capturing 62% of the vote to defeat Bethani Cameron with all precincts reporting.

On state ballot questions —

  • Pennsylvania voters approved two proposed constitutional amendments that will shift power from the governor to the Legislature when it comes to declaring, extending and ending states of emergency. Republicans campaigned hard on the issue, drawing on their complaints about Gov. Tom Wolf’s unilateral decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wolf had argued that the amendments would seriously damage the state’s ability to respond to emergencies. The first proposed amendment, which allows the Legislature to terminate or extend a disaster declaration without the governor’s approval, received a ‘yes’ vote from almost 54% of voters as of early Wednesday. The second proposed amendment, which limits a governor’s disaster declaration to 21 days, received nearly the same margin.
  • 72% voted to allow municipal fire departments or companies with paid personnel and emergency medical services companies to be eligible to apply for loans from a state program aimed at volunteer fire companies, volunteer ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads.
  • 71% voted to add an amendment to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution that prohibits "restricting or denying an individual’s equal rights under Pennsylvania law because of race or ethnicity." This guarantees anti-discrimination protections at the state level, separate from the United States Constitution and federal laws.

12:30 a.m. election update:

After a tumultuous school year, voters weighed in Tuesday on whether to keep incumbent members of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board or to give newcomers a shot.

Here's a breakdown of the election results:

  • Incumbent Sylvia Wilson of District 1 beat progressive challengers Grace Higginbotham, an education consultant, and Carlos Thomas, a chef, winning 56% of the vote with 96% of precincts reporting.
  • In the District 3 race, incumbent Sala Udin was leading with 51% of the vote with 96% of precincts reporting as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. His challenger, Lamont Frazier Jr., a father who works in construction and other trades, had 48% of the votes at that time. 
  • Tracey Reed unseated Terry Kennedy in District 5, garnering 58% of the vote. Kennedy assumed the seat in 2013 and is set for a rematch after cross-filing and winning the Republican primary. 
  • Jamie Piotrowski emerged victorious in a race against Khamil Scantling for the District 7 school board seat. Piotrowski had 65% of the vote with 98% of precincts reporting. 
  • In the District 9 race, Gene Walker was leading with 40% of the votes with about 92% of precincts reporting as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Incumbent Veronica Edwards had 37% of votes at that time. Edwards cross-filed as a Republican and won that primary. Delancey Walton, 18, earned 22% of votes in the Democratic primary.

—TyLisa C. Johnson


11:30 p.m. election update:
Voters weighed in on several ballot questions Tuesday. Here are the results as of 11:30 p.m. with 91% of precincts reporting:

  • Pittsburgh City Ballot Question: 82% voted yes to bar the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police from executing warrants at any residence without knocking and announcing themselves.
  • Allegheny County Ballot Question: 70% voted to impose new standards to limit solitary confinement in Allegheny County.

5 p.m. election update:

Khamil Scantling and Jamie Piotrowski are in the final hours of their face-off for the District 7 Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board seat. The seat will be vacated by Cynthia Falls, who held it since 2013.

Piotrowski, a social worker, has been camped out and campaigning since the morning at Fairhaven United Methodist Church in Overbrook, where she’s been emphasizing to a steady stream of voters her desire to bring a holistic approach to education in the school district. Voters trickled out to the polls, many with their notes on candidates in hand, she said.

Scantling, an entrepreneur and activist, also spent the morning at Fairhaven, chatting with voters in an effort to promote her message for district change.  She has since been across the city to talk with voters. She says a vote for her is a vote for parent-led leadership, district accountability and progress.

Scantling is on a slate of candidates endorsed by groups including Black Women for a Better Education, while Piotrowski is backed by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and advocacy group OnePA.

—TyLisa C. Johnson


4 p.m. election update:

Judges aren't usually household names, but they are influential in shaping the criminal justice system. And this election, there are a lot of contenders: Nearly 40 candidates are running for nine Allegheny County Common Pleas judge seats.

Justin Witmer of Whitehall, relied on Pittsburgh City Paper’s election guide to help sort through the candidates. He mostly voted for individuals who were highly recommended by the bar association and had multiple endorsements, including Nicola Henry-Taylor, Elliott Howsie, Bruce Beemer and Sabrina Korbel. “I know the endorsement process can be a cash grab, but if you have no endorsements and the bar doesn't recommend you, are you even trying?” Witmer wrote in an email to PublicSource.

A poll worker walking outside a polling station at Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

Adam Paulisik, of Highland Park, is voting for Mik Pappas for Common Pleas judge because, as a district judge, Pappas cut evictions, reduced reliance on cash bail and championed other criminal justice reforms, such as reimagining how to resolve court debt, Paulisik wrote on Twitter.

Social worker Beth Patterson, from Carrick, said Alyssa Cowan and Sabrina Korbel were her top picks for judge. Patterson is “excited to have judges that understand the needs of vulnerable populations involved in the court system,” she wrote on Twitter.

Zeke Rediker, a candidate for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, talks to voters outside of the polling place at Taylor Allderdice High School on Tuesday evening.

Zeke Rediker, a candidate for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, talks to voters outside of the polling place at Taylor Allderdice High School on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/PublicSource)

The Slate of Eight — a group of Common Pleas judge candidates running with the backing of progressive organizations 1Hood Power, UNITE! and the Alliance for Police Accountability’s PAC — earned the vote of G.L. Johnson from Lower Lawrenceville. “The candidates are solid but the real reason is the organizations backing it,” Johnson, who has been involved in activism in the city, wrote in an email to PublicSource, “and if they win, it will move judges both present and future to be better on avoiding incarceration.”


2 p.m. out at the polls:

Mayor Bill Peduto cast his vote midday in Point Breeze as he asks city voters to grant him a third term in office. He acknowledged that he faces a tougher challenge than in his 2017 reelection campaign and made a last-minute pitch for progressive-minded voters to stick with him for four more years.

“A third term is always difficult to win,” Peduto said, referencing early indicators that showed division in who the city might choose as mayor.

Many progressive groups and elected officials have endorsed his challenger, state Rep. Ed Gainey. But Peduto spoke Tuesday about his early days in local politics, claiming he forged a path for progressivism in the city.

Imcumbent Mayor Bill Peduto speaking with local news media outside of the Sterrett Classical Academy polling location in Point Breeze. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

"Just go back and look at my record since 2001 when I was the lone voice of progressivism in the city of Pittsburgh, when I took on the Democratic political machine, when I was able to clear a pathway for many of the candidates today who are standing against me,” Peduto said to reporters gathered outside Sterrett Classical Academy. "There had to be a trailblazer that was in front of them, willing to take the slings and arrows in order to give them an opportunity to run.”

He said Tuesday’s vote is a “referendum on our administration” and “on what is a progressive versus what is a socialist.”

He also suggested that support for his challengers is part of a natural tide that goes against incumbents as people want change.

Imcumbent Mayor Bill Peduto speaking with local news outside of the Sterrett Classical Academy polling location in Point Breeze. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

"No matter who you are or what you’ve done, records are not really looked at,” he said. "It’s sort of the establishment vs. anti-establishment indicator. So we’re going up against that tide and those headwinds, but at the same time I believe the people of the city of Pittsburgh realize the city is in a much better place than it was in 2013.”

Municipal primaries are typically low-turnout elections, making them harder than most to predict. 

“You never know on Election Day,” Peduto said. "It all depends on who are the people that come out to vote.”

—Charlie Wolfson


1 p.m. election update:

Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Veronica Edwards zipped between polling places across the city — from the West End to the North Side — on Tuesday to catch voters and compel them to support her re-election in District 9. 

Her sole message for voters today is to choose her. “Because I’m in it to win it for the children, ” she said. “I’m a voice for the children.” 

Edwards, who planned to visit 29 polling sites through 8 p.m. to gab with voters, is being challenged by Gene Walker, 44, and Delancey Walton, 18 and the youngest person in the race.

Masked and donning a violet T-shirt, Walker also traversed polling sites on Tuesday morning to win over voters.

“It feels like Marathon morning. Time to see the results of all the hard work,” Walker wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday morning. 

—TyLisa C. Johnson


11:30 a.m. out at the polls:

As reporters, aides and bystanders awaited Mayor Bill Peduto’s arrival at Sterrett Classical Academy to vote Tuesday morning, another candidate on the ballot stopped by to thank poll watchers and voters: Jill Beck, running for Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Beck spent 10 years as a law clerk at the Superior Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and in 2019 joined Philadelphia law firm Blank Rome as a litigator. This is her first run for statewide office.

She said her experience as an attorney in the state legal system and as a clerk on the other side of the bench qualifies her for the role.

Superior Court candidate Jill Beck outside of the Sterrett Classical Academy polling location in Point Breeze. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

“I’ve tried over 1,400 cases in those courts,” she said. “Under [former Superior Court Judge] Christine Donohue I drafted over 500 decisions at this court. I also bring empathy to this position and I’ve dedicated my career to public service.

“It’s less of a change and more of a work ethic that I would bring. I will dig deep into every single one of these cases to ensure that the decision is legally supportable and that substantial justice is achieved in every case.”

Beck is running for the Democratic nomination against Philadelphia common pleas judge Timika Lane and Bryan Neft, who was formerly the president of the Allegheny County Bar Association. Chester County prosecutor Megan Sullivan is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.

—Charlie Wolfson


11 a.m. out at the polls:

As mayoral candidate Rep. Ed Gainey walked out of Catalyst Academy in Lincoln-Lemington after casting his vote, a woman stopped him.

Mayoral Candidate Ed Gainey speaking with constituent Georgeann McEachern outside of their polling location at the Catalyst Academy school building in Lincoln-Lemington. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

“The only reason I’m here is because of you,” said Georgeann McEachern, a retired Port Authority bus driver. She told PublicSource she believes the city is ready for change. “Eight years is enough. Four more, that’s too many. Give somebody else a chance.”

Mayoral candidate Ed Gainey leaving his polling location at the Catalyst Academy school building in Lincoln-Lemington. (Photo by Nick Childers/PublicSource)

Gainey, who campaigned on a platform of improving police community relations and affordable housing, told reporters that a victory could transform the city.

“My team winning brings a new energy, it brings a new narrative, and it lets people know that we can come together. That we can have a city for all. That’s what this is about.” 

—Juliette Rihl


9 a.m. out at the polls:

Terry Kennedy, a District 5 Pittsburgh Public Schools board member since 2013, wore a mask bearing her last name and carried a Steelers tote bag Tuesday morning as she continued to rally votes outside a Swisshelm Park polling place on Windermere Road. She’s seeking a third four-year term in an election where the majority of the board’s seats are up for grabs.

She chatted up voters as they walked in and out of the polling station. One voter she missed was Sam Edelman, who said he is primarily interested in the school board election. He voted for Kennedy’s opponent, Tracey Reed, because he said the board needs change.

“The incompetence of the superintendent, the inability to deal with COVID in a timely manner, we need to shake things up,” Edelman said. 

Voters walked into the Swisshelm Park Community Center one-by-one, or in pairs, but no lines formed. Earlier, one Hazelwood polling place saw just four voters in the first hour of voting. Kennedy wondered aloud if the small crowds would be a sign of low turnout, a sign that most people are voting by mail, or both.

Municipal primary elections have much lower turnout historically compared to presidential or midterm elections; and more than 120,000 Allegheny County voters requested mail-in ballots, a far higher number than did so in pre-pandemic elections.

—Charlie Wolfson


9 a.m. out at the polls:

At the Kingsley Association in Larimer, working the polls is a family affair.

Sisters Tina Banks, Lisa West and Donnie Green have been helping at the polls for more than 30 years. 

“Our mom did this to us. We didn’t have no choice,” West said with a laugh. She remembers her mother, a dedicated judge of elections, calling her at 4 a.m. from another part of the house to make sure she was awake to head to the polls.

Today started off with a delay when the workers for the five polling places condensed in the Kingsley Association weren’t able to enter the building until after 7 am. A handful of voters had to leave for work before being able to cast their votes, said poll worker Vincent Edwards, but most planned to return later in the day.

—Juliette Rihl


7 a.m. original post:

Pittsburgh voters are set to choose their next mayor Tuesday as in-person voting in the Democratic primary commences at 7 a.m. Incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto is trying to fend off a challenge from state Rep. Ed Gainey and win a third term. There is no Republican running for the office.

Polls close at 8 p.m., and voters have until 8 p.m. to turn in mail-in ballots at the county elections office.

Gainey, who was elected to the state House in 2013, has mounted the biggest challenge Peduto has faced in any of his mayoral runs. He raised more than $300,000 to Peduto’s $900,000 as of early May, and a political action committee backed by a healthcare worker union is pumping money into the race on his behalf.

Like in the November 2020 election, the process of counting and tabulating votes will be impacted by historically high levels of mail-in voting. More than 120,000 Allegheny County voters received a mail-in ballot for the primary, and county election workers can’t begin the process of counting them until 7 a.m. Tuesday.

In November, this resulted in a five-day wait to learn the winner of the presidential race. It’s unclear how long Tuesday’s count will take, as there are far fewer ballots than in 2020 but there also may be fewer staff in the county warehouse.

As of Monday, 81,020 mail-in ballots had been returned to the county out of 124,813 distributed to voters.

Gainey ran on police reform and affordable housing and got support from activists and progressive groups. He also emphasized revisiting efforts to make UPMC pay taxes and has criticized Peduto for pulling the city out of a related lawsuit.

In late April, Peduto announced that local nonprofits, including UPMC, would invest $115 million to city projects through his OnePGH plan. Opponents still said the sum was too small and the plan lacked accountability.

Peduto ran on his record over the past two terms, touting economic development during the pre-pandemic part of his tenure. In recent months, he has keyed in on racial equity, but critics have repeatedly brought up his statements in the wake of 2020 racial justice protests and the conduct of city police under his administration.

If Gainey wins, he would be the city’s first Black mayor and Peduto would become the first Pittsburgh mayor to run for reelection and lose since the 1930s, and the first Democrat ever to do so. 

If Peduto wins and serves a full third term, he would be one of the longest-serving mayors in the city’s history, joining Richard Caliguiri, Tom Murphy and David L. Lawrence as the only mayors to serve 11 years or more. Peduto joins those three as the only mayors to seek a third term. He took office in January 2014.

The bottom of the ballot on Tuesday is full of impactful races, too. A majority of school board seats are up for grabs, presenting a chance to shape the board’s future. City Council districts two and four have contested races.

There are several ballot questions, including statewide constitutional amendments and local questions about police and jail reform. There are 39 candidates on the ballot running for nine Common Pleas judgeships.

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org or on Twitter @chwolfson.

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at juliette@publicsource.org or on Twitter @JulietteRihl.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

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