Progressive independent Lisa Middleman kicks off campaign for Allegheny County DA | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Progressive independent Lisa Middleman kicks off campaign for Allegheny County DA

click to enlarge Progressive independent Lisa Middleman kicks off campaign for Allegheny County DA
Photo: courtesy the campaign
Lisa Middleman
In June, Allegheny County District Attorney candidate Lisa Middleman told PublicSource she would need to gather about 4,000 signatures in order to challenge current DA Stephen Zappala in the November general election.

The 4,000 signatures marked the minimum to get on the ballot, but Middleman was hopeful her campaign would get more.

At her campaign kick-off event yesterday at Mr. Smalls Theater in Millvale, she told the crowd that they collected more than 11,000 signatures.

Running as an independent but on a platform of progressive criminal justice reforms, Middleman said she entered the race because she doesn’t believe the current DA administration is committed to tackling racial and economic injustices currently happening in Allegheny County.

Middleman pointed out that no one from Zappala’s office was part of a large 2016 University of Pittsburgh study that identified the best practices to ensure the fairness and cost-effectiveness of Allegheny County’s criminal justice system. Other high-profile elected officials and leaders, like Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and former U.S. Attorney Frederick Thieman, were involved in the study.

One of the things Middleman would tackle if elected would be the disparity of charges that Black and white people face in the county. Black teens in Allegheny County are 20 times more likely to be tried as adults than white teens, and Middleman said that "discretion is crucial” in these cases to ensure fairness and equity. The DA can decertify certain teen cases to avoid being overly punitive to minors, says Middleman, who worked for years as a public defender. She adds that she wants guidelines regarding when and how to do that in writing for the DA’s office.

Middleman’s platform is filled with other reforms like this. She wants to end cash bail, for her office to be transparent in racial disparity data, and to ensure that the DA’s office doesn’t cooperate with federal immigration officials. She said she would likely try cases as a DA if elected, much like Philadelphia's recently elected progressive DA Larry Krasner has promised.
According to the Middleman campaign, about 250 people attended her kick-off event, where there was a significant focus on the organizing that goes into campaigning. A slide broke down the 42 different zones that teams would need to canvass. And organizers stressed the importance getting volunteers committed to sign up to send text-messages in support of Middleman throughout the campaign. 

High-profile support for Middleman came from legendary former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht and from Christian Carter, one of the main organizers of the Antwon Rose II protests, during which criticisms of DA Zappala's handling of the case were vocal and frequent). Both spoke highly of Middleman at the event.

When Middleman addressed the crowd, she noted the urgency of her campaign and the change she believes is necessary for criminal-justice reform in Allegheny County.

“We have waited for leadership for 21 years,” she told the crowd. “The same DA, same failed policies, same results. We are done waiting.”