After a complaint was filed against a political group
with ties to Port Authority of Allegheny County board member Robert Kania, Gov. Tom Wolf has announced that Kania has been removed from the board. Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott said in a statement that the governor is appointing Jessica Walls-Lavelle as interim board member to replace Kania.
"We have been engaging stakeholders and legislators regarding potential appointees and that process continues in hopes of finding consensus," said Abbott in a statement. "In the interim, Governor Wolf is appointing Jessica Walls-Lavelle, the governor’s Southwestern Regional Director, to the board. Governor Wolf has full confidence that she will be a strong advocate for building and maintaining the transit network in Allegheny County."
This story has been updated, since Gov. Wolf announced removing Kania from the board after an initial article was published.
Earlier today, a coalition of transit advocates, nonprofit leaders and one local elected official called on Kania to be replaced.
The coalition, which is led by transit advocates Pittsburghers for Public Transit (PPT), wanted Wolf to appoint rider advocate Heather McClain. McClain lives in Beechview and works for Healthy Ride, Pittsburgh’s bikeshare nonprofit.
“In her role as the Community Initiatives Manager for Healthy Ride, Heather McClain has been a tireless advocate for increasing mobility and access, particularly for marginalized communities,” said PPT director Laura Wiens in a press release. “She is a long-time, regular transit rider, and is a leader in advancing equitable, inclusive growth in the Beechview community.”
On April 9, Campaign for Accountability filed a campaign-finance complaint
against Americans Against Socialism for failing to register with the state and complete required financial reports. Americans Against Socialism helped orchestrate a failed write-in campaign for former state Rep. Dom Costa
(D-Stanton Heights), after he lost the primary election to Sara Innamorato
(D-Lawrenceville). Kania, a local businessman, was listed on the group’s website and served with Costa on the Port Authority board for several years.
Campaign for Accountability counsel Alice Huling agreed with the coalition and said the Wolf should consider removing Kania because of his alleged role in the political group.
“Pittsburghers are right to question whether Robert Kania is fit to serve on the board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County,” said Huling in a press release. “Mr. Kania attempted to unfairly influence an election outcome by operating a secret campaign; he tried to dupe voters and appears to have run afoul of Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws.”
Kania’s lawyer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
that the financial registration for Americans Against Socialism “simply slipped through the cracks."
PPT is circulating a letter
calling on transit riders to pressure Wolf into replacing Kania with McClain. The letter is backed by 12 regional and statewide organizations, including One Pennsylvania, PennFuture, Group Against Smog and Pollution, and immigrant-rights group Casa San Jose
. Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill
(D-Beechview) also signed on in support of replacing Kania with McClain.