by Chris Potter
It seems like everyone is getting swept up –- almost literally -- in the primary battle between state Reps. Harry Readshaw and Erin Molchany.
Yesterday afternoon, more than two dozen protesters showed up at Readshaw's Brownsville Road office in Carrick. Organized by Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, the political arm of Planned Parenthood, the demonstration called out Readshaw for a slew of votes against abortion rights and women's health generally. As protests go, it was standard fare, with chants like "Hey hey, ho ho, Harry Readshaw's got to go," and signs insisting "Keep politics out of my doctor's office."
What made the demonstration unusual was the welcoming committee it received. A Readshaw supporter pulled up along the sidewalk in an SUV, rolled down the window, and noisily played bad pop music at the demonstrators. A guy with a push broom, meanwhile, apparently decided the protest would be a good time to sweep the walk in front of Readshaw's office. He later swept it again, just after the march broke up, thereby ensuring that the 1900 block of Brownsville was the most redd-up section of Carrick's business district yesterday. As the marchers shifted their ground to accommodate the sweeper, the SUV backed up to follow along -- apparently in an effort to be maximally annoying. (The radio station she had on, by the way, was broadcasting Christian contemporary. That, my friends, is hardball.) Some jawboning ensued.
Basically, if you wanted to compose a portrait of what's driving much of the dynamic in this race -- social progressives squaring off against conservative Democrats -- this is the tableau you would have created. Right down to the NRA decal on the SUV's rear window.
Readshaw opposes abortion, and Planned Parenthood has listed 31 Readshaw votes they regard as anti-woman. But while Readshaw's campaign has previously claimed he "has worked on behalf of women throughout his career," citing his support of a prescription-drug assistance program as one example, Planned Parenthood Advocates spokesperson Aleigha Cavalier is not impressed. One of Readshaw's 31 votes, she notes, opposed an amendment to create a statewide "buffer zone" requirement keeping anti-abortion protesters 15 feet from the entrance to the doors of a women's health clinic. (Pittsburgh already has a 15-foot buffer by local ordinance.) Noting that those clinics provide a range of non-abortion services as well, Cavalier says the buffer zone "isn't event about abortion as much as about ensuring women have access to health services without intimidation." Readshaw's record on women's health, she adds, "speaks for itself," and after 20 years in which Readshaw has faced no opposition, "Voters finally have an opportunity to make a real choice."
Planned Parenthood's opposition to Readshaw is no surprise: By all accounts, few Harrisburg Dems have opposed abortion rights so staunchly. Molchany, conversely, has become a standard bearer for women's issues. (Several of yesterday's demonstrators were wearing pro-Molchany buttons or T-shirts.) What is unusual, at least in Pittsburgh, is for a third-party group to take such a visible stance in a primary fight among local state reps. In fact, two groups have waded into the fray thus far: Keystone Progress has taken on Readshaw with an ad and a satirical website. And their criticisms of Readshaw have been much harsher than any made by Molchany, whose own TV ad has been a sunny spot featuring her father. Don Friedman, a longtime local political consultant, says that while such third-party activity "happens more often in other parts of the state, like Philadelphia and Harrisburg, we haven't seen a lot of it here."
How much it helps Molchany remains to be seen: Much of the 36th skews working-to-middle-class and more socially conservative. While Molchany's City Council ally Natalia Rudiak has made headway for progressives in the area, it's not clear how deeply into neighborhoods like Carrick -- let alone adjoining Brentwood -- the progressive reformation really extends. Carrick itself is Readshaw's base, and a stroll down some nearby residential streets turned up clusters of lawn signs for him.
Still, Readshaw seems not to be taking anything for granted. Less than an hour after the Planned Parenthood demonstration broke up, Readshaw sent out a blast e-mail to constituents, advising them that next week is National Women's Health Week. The week, he noted, "serves as a reminder to women that taking care of their health is essential for both themselves and their loved ones."