An application for a mail-in ballot on a tan clipboard.

Election week was stressful in Pennsylvania. Will future elections look the same?

Pennsylvania was shoved into the spotlight of the week-long, real-life drama of an election unlike any other in modern history. Counties worked around the clock for days to tabulate a record number of mail-in ballots, and the nation waited to learn the fate of the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes. Cable news viewers across the world became intimately familiar with local geography, such as the voting tendencies of Philadelphia’s “collar counties” and Erie’s status as a presidential bellwether. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman caught national attention for saying that President Donald Trump could “sue a ham sandwich” and that every vote would be counted despite Trump’s protests. 

Is this our new normal? Every four years, will the country watch as Pennsylvania spends five days, or more, counting mail-in ballots?

Arnie Newsome, 67, stands at his shoeshine station in the Grant Building. He is one of the few shoeshiners remaining Downtown. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

My neighbor’s sole business is ‘closed until further notice’

I remember the day in late May when my neighbor Arnie went Downtown for the first time since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. “It’s a ghost town,” he said. For the past 27 years, Arnie has operated a shoeshine station in the Grant Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. “All of my customers are working from home. The shops where I get my supplies are closed,” he said. “ I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Democratic donkey on blue bacgkround

Commentary: Will the suburbs embrace progressives? What results for two very different Pittsburgh-area Democrats show.

President-elect Joe Biden’s victory hadn’t even been called before moderate Democrats –both at the state and federal level – began assigning blame to their progressive peers for tight margins in their own races. 

Rep. Abigail Spanberger – a moderate freshman Congresswoman from Virginia – recently stated that her too-close-for-comfort margin of victory was a result of the rhetoric of the more left-leaning members of the Democratic caucus, which was followed by rebukes from progressive members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

“We need to not ever use the word ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again...” Spanberger said on a heated, three-hour conference call with the Democratic House caucus. “We lost good members because of that.” 

Spanberger’s concerns were later echoed by Western Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb, who told The Washington Post: “Spanberger was talking about something many of us are feeling today: We pay the price for these unprofessional and unrealistic comments about a number of issues, whether it is about the police or shale gas.”

At least 10 congressional districts held by Democrats were flipped by Republicans, with more losses expected as four Democratic incumbents trail with votes still trickling in. But Democrats have managed to flip three Republican seats, giving Republicans a net gain of seven seats so far. Of those who lost or are behind, twelve are freshman members, elected as part of the historic “Blue Wave” in 2018. Others, like Lamb and Spanberger, just barely held on to their seats. 

These losses followed a bitter 2020 primary cycle for Democrats, in which three House Democratic incumbents lost the party’s nomination to challengers supporting progressive proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

A drawing by Asha McCormick of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris in front of an American flag.

Letters to Kamala: What the vice president-elect’s victory means to these Pittsburgh-area Black and Brown girls

'Dream with ambition'
Essay by Arathena McCormick

I vividly remember the moment I first heard that Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris to run for vice president on his ticket. My mother excitedly told my sisters and me that Kamala Harris, a half Indian, half Black woman, could possibly be our future vice president. I was thrilled to hear the news. In the history of the United States, there has never been a woman as vice president, let alone a woman of color, and she is half Indian like me! I remember telling my friends who were also biracial, and we were all equally excited.

A tale of displacement: A year-long fight against a landlord shows the struggles facing renters forced to move.

The long locs Linda Robinson lost by the fistfuls to chemotherapy five years ago had finally grown back when she lost her braids again, this time to a stressful eviction proceeding. “We, Black women, our crown is our hair,” said Robinson, 68, noting that in the Black community, hairstyle is a lifestyle. 

Robinson added, “When you lose your crown, it’s devastating.” 

Robinson scrambled to find housing before being forced out, even though her displacement was not due to a problem paying rent. And while her troubles began before COVID-19 shuttered the economy and prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to order a moratorium on evictions, her journey through the legal system is instructive to the tens of thousands of out-of-work Pennsylvanians that lawmakers and housing advocates expect will be swept up in a wave of evictions once filings resume. In an unprecedented move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] on Sept. 4 issued a temporary moratorium that expires at the end of the year.

Left to right: Alberto Benzaquen, of Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations; Cori Frazer of the City-County Task Force on Disabilities; and Morgan Overton of the Gender Equity Commission are helping to diversify the region's power structure in ways that weren't even envisioned 15 years ago. (Photos by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

All on board? Powerful Pittsburgh-area panels are more diverse, but progress is uneven

Women hold nearly half of the seats on major boards and commissions that make many decisions in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and Black residents hold more than one in every four, PublicSource has found as part of the year-long Board Explorer project. Both figures represent steps toward greater diversity in the region’s power structure. In 2005, women occupied fewer than ⅓ of seats on county and city boards, according to a study done then by Carnegie Mellon University students in partnership with the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania. Black residents held 23% of the seats for which the race of the member was known in 2005, but now hold 28%. Presented with PublicSource’s findings, diversity advocates were united in one sentiment: Progress is no cause for complacency.

Beth Cadman, of Glassport, spent election day passing out literature for a Democrat, after voting for a Republican for president. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Ever Trumpers? Some blue-collar towns in Allegheny County said yes to the Republican president, again

Beth Cadman was passing out literature for a Democrat on Tuesday, but voting for the Republican at the top of the ticket. “I just like the man and I think he has been very good with his decisions,” Cadman, an unemployed preschool aide, said of President Donald Trump. “He’s nobody’s puppet, and he’s doing it all on his own.”

She voiced her support for Trump while handing out cards for state Sen. Jim Brewster, a Democrat, to voters entering the Glassport Borough Building. The lifelong Glassport resident was not at all surprised that many of her neighbors in the traditionally Democratic town were darkening the Republican’s oval in the race for president. “I think it’s an old mill town, and [Trump] is for helping the people in the mills,” Cadman said.