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Black to the Future

State House primaries in majority-black districts are mirror images

Having trouble telling the state House April 27th primary races apart in the local districts with the largest black population? Here's some help: In one, a newcomer is taking on an elected official with over 20 years experience at the state level; the other finds a newcomer being challenged by an elected official with over 20 years of experience at the local level.


In the 24th (East Liberty, Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington, Larimer, Wilkinsburg, Highland Park and parts of Aspinwall and Point Breeze), Ed Gainey, former aide to Mayor Tom Murphy, is challenging the incumbent Joseph Preston after 11 terms. Gainey recently grabbed the surprise Democratic Committee endorsement over Preston, to whom he was a legislative aide for six years.


Meanwhile in the 19th (Hill District, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, parts of Oakland, North Side and South Side), Jake Wheatley, who captured the seat less than two years ago from former 14-termer Bill Robinson, is being challenged by long-time committeeman and Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley, Sr.. Wheatley also has the Democratic Committee's endorsement.


In each case it looks like old school versus new school (though Preston will argue that he is the new school in the 24th). Regardless, comparing their yearbook entries might be helpful:


Joseph Preston Jr., current 24th legislative district state representative

Class: Senior

Major: Home Economics

Superlative: Most Popular

Most Likely to ... make the East End communities of Pittsburgh, which have many of the poorest communities, a priority for those in county and state government leadership. Preston campaigned to get both Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and governor Ed Rendell elected and will likely be seen favorably for that work. Preston has worked to reduce property taxes for his constituents' families while making sure they don't lose themselves in the process -- identity theft has been a major issue for the House's Democratic chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee.


Edward Gainey, former special projects manager under Mayor Tom Murphy

Class: Freshman

Major: Economic Development

Superlative: Most Active

Most Likely to ... help turn East Liberty's strangulated Penn Circle business district back into the thriving and breathing market it once was. Gainey's position under Murphy and his former work with East Liberty Development Inc. has already produced results: the Whole Foods grocery store, Home Depot and the redesign of some of the East End's more blighted housing projects.


Jake Wheatley Jr., current 19th legislative district state representative

Class: Sophomore

Major: Health

Superlative: Best Transfer Student -- a Detroit native who moved to Pittsburgh in 1997

Most Likely to ... get the state involved in bringing grocery stores to Pennsylvania's poorer neighborhoods -- such as the Hill District -- and work to get more senior citizens access to affordable health care. In his first year, Wheatley made his way onto the House's Appropriations Committee as well as the Health and Human Services committee, where he's the Democratic chairman of the Health Subcommittee. There he, along with Preston, worked to get the state to expand PACE/PACENET -- the state-sponsored prescription drug benefit program for seniors -- and to examine why grocery stores were missing from the neighborhoods that need them most.


Mark Brentley Sr., Pittsburgh Public Schools board member

Class: Junior

Major: Education

Superlative: Most School Spirit

Most Likely to ... fight for the hard-working/soft-earning class and for improvement in education. Until a few months ago, Brentley had for years been a laborer with Pittsburgh's Public Works department. Now unemployed after disputes over rules concerning whether a school board member can hold a city job, Brentley knows first-hand about working-class plights. He remains committed to his unsalaried school board position while, as a foster parent, he has helped over 45 children and raised his own five kids, who have attended those very same schools.