by Chris Potter
There've been a few developments since we last checked in on the race to replace Patrick Dowd in City Council District 7.
Tony Ceoffe, who lost to Dowd in 2011 and is the son of a local district magistrate and longtime community advocate, announced his intention to run for the seat. Deb Gross, who was the first to toss her hat in the ring, yesterday earned the backing of City Councilor Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for mayor.
Today, Gross announced additional endorsements, garnering support from a somewhat surprising mix of public officials. It comes as no shock that Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Sen. Wayne Fontana are supporting Gross: They are Peduto allies who backed his mayoral run. State Rep. Ed Gainey's support is also to be expected for the same reason. A bit more intriguing, though, is the backing of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, whose uncle Jack, of course, ran against Peduto in the Democratic mayoral primary. State Rep. Dom Costa also endorsed Gross; Costa is a distant relative of Guy Costa, a former city Public Works director who served as Peduto's campaign manager. (The full statement from Team Gross is below.)
So what? Well, that brings us to the other development today: The Allegheny County Democratic Committee will choose its nominee for the race this coming Sunday morning, July 21. The election will be held at the Teamsters Temple in Lawrenceville. That's a potentially key development, because in a special election like this one, the nominee is the only person who gets to run as a Democrat; everyone else in the race must file as an independent or run under some other party's banner.
Over on Twitter last week, I had a bit of a discussion with some other political junkies about whether Gross needed the endorsement if she had Peduto and his fired-up supporters behind her. My argument was that she could win without the party backing: Dowd himself never had it in his two runs for the seat, and Peduto didn't need it to be the mayoral nominee. But that whole conversation sort of presumed that a "progressive" candidate had to win without the nomination, because that's just how it has played out in many cases. These endorsements, however, may offer some evidence to the contrary.
Just because Peduto won without the party endorsement doesn't mean he and Fitzgerald won't seek -- or wield -- influence over the party in the future. Assuming Peduto wins this November, they will be the two most powerful Democrats in the region, and that kind of influence tends to bring people into line. As I noted shortly after Peduto's win, in fact, there's already some talk about efforts to get progressive-friendly footsoldiers elected to committee slots next year.
That's not to suggest that a politician like Wagner -- who has feuded openly with Fitzgerald -- is being cowed here, or is just appeasing the political bosses. But all the sudden, a progressive movement that was often on the outs has grown new muscles overnight. Elections can have consequences even before anyone takes office.
And part of what makes the District 7 race interesting is that it will be an early test of how much leverage Peduto and Fitzgerald are able to wield, with voters and other politicians alike. A Ceoffe win would, arguably, trip up Peduto before he even took office. But if Gross wins the endorsement and the election, Peduto's own mayoral win may be the less telling race. And if that happens, of course, it will be a sign that progressives -- who campaigned against the "machine" -- will have shown they are learning how to work the levers.
Today's campaign announcement below:
Deb Gross Endorsed by City, County, State, Federal Officials for City Council
Fitzgerald, Fontana, Costa, Gainey and Others Announce Support
Pittsburgh, PA--In the lead-up to the Democratic Party’s endorsement to nominate a candidate for the special election to fill Patrick Dowd’s vacated seat on City Council, elected officials have lined up to express their support for Deb Gross.
Following yesterday’s announcement of support from Bill Peduto, Democratic nominee for mayor of Pittsburgh, the following officials who represent voters in the 7th council district have also announced their support for Deb Gross:
"Deb Gross is an accomplished community leader who will be a great asset to the neighborhoods in her district," Rich Fitzgerald said. "Along with Bill Peduto, who will be our next mayor, and the other leaders in our community, she will be there to make sure that city services are working for our residents."
Dom Costa added, “Our members in the Democratic Committee will have a great partner for our community be nominating Deb Gross to be our candidate for city council.”
Additionally, Deb Gross has also earned support from the following leaders around the region:
Pittsburgh's 7th district on city council includes the neighborhoods of Bloomfield, Friendship, Highland Park, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Stanton Heights, and the Strip District. The special election will take place on November 5, 2013.