Politics | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Friday, March 9, 2018

Posted By on Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 3:12 PM

click to enlarge The Pirate Parrot at a 2017 Pirates game - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
The Pirate Parrot at a 2017 Pirates game
In the 2017 baseball offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away two star players in Andrew McCutchen and Gerrt Cole. The fans were upset with Pirates management and many Pittsburghers were gearing up for a disappointing season for the Buccos.

Then, for some, there was another reason this week to be upset with the Pirates. According to a tweet from Washington Post reporter James Hohmann, on March 8, Pirates president Frank Coonelly spoke in support of Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), who is running for U.S. Congress in a special election on March 13 against Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon). According to Hohmann's tweet,  Coonelly spoke at the Republican Party of Allegheny County's "Spirit of Lincoln" dinner in Green Tree on March 8 and he also brought the Pirate Parrot with him. The dinner served as a fundraising event for Saccone and featured President Donald Trump’s counsel Kellyanne Conway.

Regis McDevitt, a Pittsburgh resident and Pirate fan, wrote on Twitter on March 8 “@Pirates this is shameful,” in response to Hohmann’s tweet. McDevitt also tweeted that the Pirates should address Coonelly’s involvement with Saccone and wrote that “inserting the organization into a political argument is true cause for a boycott.”

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 4:28 PM

click to enlarge Conor Lamb (left) with Joe Biden at March 6 event at Robert Morris University - PHOTO COURTESY OF SEBASTIAN FOLTZ
Photo courtesy of Sebastian Foltz
Conor Lamb (left) with Joe Biden at March 6 event at Robert Morris University
On March 6, former Vice President Joe Biden visited the Robert Morris University campus in Moon to stump for U.S. Congressional candidate Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon). Lamb is facing Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) in a special election on March 13 for an open seat in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.

Biden spoke inside RMU’s Yorktown Hall to a crowd of more than 400 people about Lamb’s dedication to supporting middle-class Pennsylvanians and to lifting up labor unions. But Biden also focused on issues pertaining to creating a better future for the country. He said that he has never felt more optimistic about America than right now, and said that it's young candidates like Lamb who give him hope.

“Character matters. The man I am campaigning for, he reminds me of my son, Beau Biden,” said Biden referencing his late son, an U.S. Army veteran who died of cancer in 2015. “He has character.”

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2018 at 3:24 PM

Polls in recent weeks taken of potential voters for the March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District have shown candidates Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) in a close race. Since the second week in February, no poll has given either candidate a significant lead. Two polls from February gave Saccone leads of three points and six points, respectively, but the most recent Emerson poll, released March 5, gave Lamb a three-point lead.

But political observers should remain wary, as a fake poll of the 18th District race is circulating. A Virginia-based group called the Blumenthal Research Daily released a survey on March 2 at 1:45 p.m. which showed Lamb with a one-point lead over Saccone. The survey was announced via Twitter and has since been retweeted 34 times and liked 46 times, even though the BRD Twitter account only has 36 followers.

Three hours after the survey was released, Timothy Blumenthal, of BRD, posted a statement about the survey announcing that it is fake. “Hello everyone. I guess I’ll just start off with the obvious. Yes, Blumenthal Research Daily is a fake pollster,” wrote Blumenthal on March 2. “The numbers used were random, and I did little to no research before piecing together a rather sloppy google doc.”

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 3:57 PM

click to enlarge Bob Casey at an event in Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Bob Casey at an event in Pittsburgh
Political ads for the upcoming March 13 special election between former U.S. assistant Attorney Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) have taken up the new tax cuts as a central issue. The National Republican Congressional Committee has put out attack ads stating that Lamb is aligned with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who called the tax cuts “crumbs” for middle-class families. (Lamb has said the tax cuts are a “betrayal” to the middle class, but stated in January that he doesn’t support Pelosi.)

Since the bill's passage in December, headlines about the tax cuts have focused on some large corporations that have doled out $1,000 bonuses to workers and others that have slightly increased workers' wages. Also, according to nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, households making $60,000 a year will have their after-tax income inch up about 1.5 percent after 2018, but those will tax savings will tick down by 2025 and be eliminated in 2027.

And some Pennsylvania Democrats are starting to point out who they believe are the real winners of the tax-cut bill: the wealthy.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 3:49 PM

click to enlarge IMAGE COURTESY FACEBOOK
Image courtesy Facebook
When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its new drawings of Pennsylvania's U.S. Congressional Districts on Feb. 19, state Republicans immediately criticized them and said they would challenge the maps in federal court. The state’s 18 congressional districts were redrawn earlier this month after the state Supreme Court ruled the original 2011 maps violated the Pennsylvania Constitution as a partisan gerrymander.

Federal judges have scheduled a March 9 hearing to listen to arguments concerning the new congressional district maps.

While the outcome of the federal district court's decision will undoubtedly have a big effect on how Pennsylvanians vote in upcoming elections, a grassroots group wants to remind people that having legislators draw maps and then battle in the courts is not the only way to reshape districts in Pennsylvania.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 10:19 AM

click to enlarge Erika Strassburger - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
Photo courtesy of the candidate
Erika Strassburger
Before Erika Strassburger worked as chief of staff for former Pittsburgh City Councilor Dan Gilman (D-Squirrel Hill), she worked as an environmental advocate in Pittsburgh and in New Hampshire. She told City Paper back in January that her environmental chops would be valuable on city council, especially considering the ongoing problems at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA). Strassburger is running to replace Gilman’s former 8th City Council District seat in a special election that will take place March 6.

“I spent a decade fighting for clean water, and right now the PWSA has $4 billion in capital needs and a federal mandate to lower lead levels,” said Strassburger in January. “We have to keep water publicly owned, but make sure important changes are implemented. Green infrastructure needs to be a priority first, and I believe there are ways to raise money for that.”

And now one of the state’s biggest environmental-advocacy organizations, PennEnvironoment, has thrown its weight behind Strassburger.

“When it comes to protecting our environment, there’s no one better than Erika,” said PennEnvironment director David Masur in a press release. “For nearly a decade, Erika put her money where her mouth is when it comes to protecting our environment and health — now, and for our kids and future generations.”

Masur notes in the press release Strassburger’s focus on improving Pittsburgh water quality was a key factor in PennEnvironment providing its endorsement. According to samples taken in December 2017, more than 100 sites in Pittsburgh had lead levels in drinking water above the federal standards. The PWSA is looking to replace 2,100 lead service lines this year.

PennEnvironment deputy director Adam Garber said in a press release that he believes Strassburger will fight for clean water, as well as other environmental causes in the city.

“Erika has walked the walk in so many ways, and her priorities are clear. We know she will be an excellent ally and advocate for Pittsburghers who want clean air, clean water, and great open spaces when she is elected to City Council,” said Garber in a press release.

Strassburger, previously registered as a Democrat, is running as an independent against Democrat Sonja Finn, Republican Rennick Remley and Marty Healey, of the newly created Inclusion Party.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 5:02 PM

click to enlarge Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right) - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Liz Fishback (left), of Sen. Bob Casey's office, with Dreamers Lesly Moran (center-left), Hortencia Ortiz (center-right) and Ana Alberto (right)
The immigration debate in the U.S. Senate has begun, and it already looks like a standalone bill to grant recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) a path to citizenship is off the table. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, and have since been given temporary-protected status and are allowed to legally work in the country.

This week, starting on Mon., Feb 12, the U.S. Senate opened up the floor to allow debate on a number of immigration issues. By and large, Democrats are looking to provide protections and a path to citizenship for Dreamers, and Republicans are looking to bolster border security and reduce the number of immigrants entering the U.S. through family reunification (in which immigrants can sponsor family members to join them in the U.S.).

But instead of starting with that debate, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) proposed an amendment to defund so-called “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that limit communication and cooperation with U.S. immigration officers. The Atlantic Monthly reported on Feb. 13 that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) struck down Toomey’s amendment and complained it “does absolutely nothing to address DACA, does absolutely nothing to address border security.”

(It also should be noted that in 2016 when asked if he supported a path to citizenship in concert with ending sanctuary cities, Toomey told City Paper that those were “separate” issues.)

Although the Senate’s immigration debate is off to a rocky start, Pittsburgh-area Dreamers are still hopeful their needs will be met. On Feb. 14, three local Dreamers delivered letters to the Pittsburgh office of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton). Ana Alberto, Lesly Moran and Hortencia Ortiz are DACA recipients and are asking Casey to protect DACA and to pass a clean Dream Act, meaning a path to citizenship for Dreamers without any attachments like increased border security.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 5:20 PM

click to enlarge Mike Pence (left) and Rick Saccone (right)
Mike Pence (left) and Rick Saccone (right)
Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth) is running in the March 13 special election for the open seat in Pennsylvania’s U.S. 18th Congressional District. And campaign fundraising reports show that he is being out-fundraised by his opponent, Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon), by a 2-1 margin. Lamb’s $557,000 easily outpaces Saccone's $214,000 in campaign contributions.

In an attempt to even the balance, Vice President Mike Pence is visiting on Feb. 2 and is giving a boost to Saccone at an invitation-only fundraiser at the Bethel Park Community Center. It’s unclear whether fundraiser invitees must pay to attend, but a flier for the event posted on Facebook says that people who contribute $5,400 will get a photo op with Pence, and that those who give $10,000 get a meet-and-greet and a photo op.

And thanks to this event, Bethel Park officials have decided to close down the community center for six hours on Feb. 2, resulting in the cancelation of a daily lunch for senior citizens and other community events, like bingo.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 5:09 PM

click to enlarge Jewish activists and immigrant-rights advocates march on the South Side on Jan. 30 - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Jewish activists and immigrant-rights advocates march on the South Side on Jan. 30
Ever since President Donald Trump's administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last fall, the future for hundreds of thousands of immigrants has been in limbo. DACA recipients, also called Dreamers, are undocumented immigrants who were brought across the border as young children and have since been given work permits and temporary legal status in the U.S. In March, Dreamers will no longer be able to apply for DACA and could face deportation.

Over the years, DACA recipients have gathered allies amongst many liberal, and even some conservative, groups, because many Dreamers have known no other country than the U.S. And here in Pittsburgh, a group of Jewish activists is providing Dreamers a boost, too.

On Jan. 30, about 50 people gathered to protest in front of Pittsburgh’s U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement office, on the South Side. The group was made up of members of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, a progressive Jewish organization, as well as local Latino-advocacy groups Casa San José and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Tammy Hepps, a Squirrel Hill resident and member of Bend the Arc, said during the protest that the action was meant as a reminder to Trump, in advance of his State of the Union address that same evening, to focus on keeping Americans united in their embrace of immigrants.

“Let our people stay,” said Hepps. “A diverse America is a better America.”

Hepps also said that Pittsburgh’s Jewish community stands in solidarity with undocumented immigrants because the Jewish people have been mistreated throughout history. She sees parallels between the Jewish experience and present-day treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“We don’t need a calendar to remind us what can happen when people choose to scapegoat other people and harden their hearts to those seeking refuge,” says Hepps, alluding to how the U.S. and other Western nations initially refused to take in Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

During the rally, local rabbis read letters from local Dreamers, and the group sang Jewish worship songs and other protest songs.

Casa San José’s Monica Ruiz, who works with the undocumented community in Pittsburgh, told the crowd she was grateful for its support. She said many Dreamers she knows are anxious about their future, considering that “everything they know could go away in one tweet,” referencing Trump’s habit of issuing policy guidelines on Twitter.

Ruiz told the crowd that Pittsburgh’s DACA recipients have acted as model residents their whole lives and they deserve full, legal status in the U.S.

“These folks need a pathway to citizenship,” said Ruiz. “If not them, then who?”

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Posted By on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 6:24 PM

click to enlarge Pennsylvania's current U.S. Congressional Districts
Pennsylvania's current U.S. Congressional Districts
No more packing all the Democratic votes into a small number of urban Pennsylvania U.S. Congressional districts. No more Goofy kicking Donald Duck, a common descriptor for Pennsylvania's 7th U.S. Congressional District.

On Jan. 22, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state's current U.S. Congressional District map, which was drawn by Republicans in 2011, was unconstitutional according to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The 5-2 decision affirmed the plaintiffs' claims that Republicans sought partisan advantage when drawing the maps. The decision was cast along partisan lines, with Democrats calling for the current map to be struck down and the court's two Republicans dissenting.

According to the order issued by the state Supreme Court, the new maps will be redrawn by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, currently in Republican control, by Feb. 9. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) will then have until Feb. 15 to OK the map and submit it to to the state Supreme Court. The new maps will be available by Feb. 19 and will apply to the May 15 primary election and subsequent elections. However, they will not apply to Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District special election on March 15 between Conor Lamb (D-Mount Lebanon) and Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth).

The order also says "congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population."

In the current map, county splitting is very common. The 12th Congressional District, which stretches from Beaver County in the west all the way to Cambria County in the east, splits five different counties. Berks County in the eastern part of Pennsylvania doesn't have enough population to support its own congressional district, but is split up into four different districts regardless.

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Marcel L. Groen issued the following statement on the decision: “The order issued by the Supreme Court today found that the congressional map violates Pennsylvania’s constitution and has provided the methodology for new maps to be submitted and acted upon before the end of February. I want to thank and compliment the attorneys and parties who brought this before the Supreme Court and helped right this obvious wrong.”

The Pennsylvania Republican Party has yet to put out a statement. But Mark Davin Harris, of Pittsburgh-based conservative political firm Cold Spark Media, tweeted after the decision that "PA Supreme Court ruling is an insane and unconscionable power grab. It’s a legal joke and a thinly veiled partisan hack job. They should be ashamed."

However, it's unclear if anything can be done to change it. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) tweeted it's "not clear" if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case if it is appealed, since the issue pertains to the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.


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