Upsets resonated through local Pennsylvania elections on Tuesday as incumbent mayors in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg lost Democratic primaries to Black candidates and the one in Allentown is too close to call.
In Pittsburgh, state Rep. Ed Gainey toppled two-term Mayor Bill Peduto and is an overwhelming favorite to become the Steel City’s first Black mayor.
“It will feel better when we bring the city together and really be productive. That’s when it will mean something,” Gainey told reporters above the din at a North Side union hall.
With 98% of precincts reporting, according to the Allegheny County Board of Elections, Gainey, 51, received 46.2% of the votes counted, over Peduto’s 39.3%. Retired Pittsburgh police officer Tony Moreno had 13.1% and a fourth candidate, Michael Thompson, had 1.2%, the tallies showed.
“I just called [Gainey] and congratulated him on earning the Democratic endorsement for mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. Wishing him well,” Peduto said on Twitter.
Peduto, 56, has been mayor since 2014 after sitting on the City Council since 2002. Under his watch, the city received a series of bond rating upgrades.
No Republican, third-party or independent candidates have surfaced to date. Pittsburgh has not had a Republican mayor since the 1930s.
In capital city Harrisburg, City Council President Wanda Williams, 67, upended two-term Mayor Eric Papenfuse by only 56 votes. Papenfuse conceded late Tuesday night.
Williams in November will face Republican Tim Rowbottom, who wants to become Harrisburg’s first GOP mayor since 1977. A victory would make Williams the city’s second Black female mayor. Linda Thompson held the position from 2010 to 2014.
Papenfuse, 49, led Harrisburg through a path from near-bankruptcy, after the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania approved a recovery plan in September 2013. Escalating debt from cost and bond-fee overruns related to an incinerator retrofit project made the city insolvent.
In Allentown, economic development official Matt Tuerk was holding a 115-vote edge over Mayor Ray O’Connell, 2,048 to 1,933 in the Democratic primary, with provisional ballots still to be counted.
City Council President Julio Guridy and council member Ce Ce Gerlach were right behind with 1,907 and 1,802 votes, respectively.
O’Connell in 2018 succeeded Ed Pawlowski, who resigned amid a pay-to-play corruption scandal and is in a federal prison. O’Connell served out Pawlowski’s term and voters in 2019 elected him for two more years.
With nearly 75% of ballots counted statewide, two separate but related constitutional amendment proposals were leading, with the yes vote totaling about 54% in each case.
The ballot measures materialized over disputes between Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over Wolf’s COVID-19 declarations.
One measure would expand the legislature’s control during emergencies. The other would limit a governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days.
Another constitutional amendment, prohibiting denial of rights based on race, passed with nearly three-fourth of the vote.
A fourth ballot item similarly passed. While not requiring a constitutional change, it enables borrowing for fire departments and emergency medical services organizations.