At the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement proceedings on Feb. 14, incumbent state House Rep. Jake Wheatley easily received the party's endorsement over his three challengers in the upcoming race to represent the 19th legislative district.
The April primary election pits Wheatley against social worker Jessica Wolfe, nonprofit administrator Aerion Abney and former Pittsburgh Public Schools Director Mark Brentley.
Wheatley bested his endorsement opponents with 78 votes compared to 20 votes for Wolfe, 17 for Abney and seven for Brentley.
"Our district expects hard work and results," Wheatley said in a statement. "And that is exactly how we represent our office and how we set out to win this campaign.
"I thank all the Democratic committee women and men of the 19th district who stood up today and endorsed our campaign. We all recognize the problems going on in Harrisburg. Today's endorsement is a resounding statement that in order for us to make a positive change in our community, leadership matters."
But challenger Wolfe says the Democratic committee didn't give all of the candidates an equal shot at the endorsement.
"I don't want to sound like sour grapes, but the fix was in for the incumbents and it is a very big piece of why women can't make it into the legislature," Wolfe says. "The people who do the gate-keeping don't want them to succeed.
"Not one single ward convened a public candidates' meeting before the endorsement in my district. ... There was zero public process, [b]ut all of the chairs signed on as sponsors for a 'unity breakfast.' Jake Wheatley paid for that, and even though I was a committee member in the district, I was not invited."
Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the ACDC, told CP this morning there was not a concerted effort to keep anyone from securing the nomination, but added that “incumbents always have an advantage because they’ve been there and have made relationships. That’s the nature of incumbency.” More from Patton Mills on the subject can be found here,
Wolfe, whose husband Ken Wolfe previously worked for Wheatley, goes on to say she feels like she was slighted by the chair in her ward as well.
"Also, my ward chair Tony Mosesso, who is [a] legislative aide for Sen. Wayne Fontana, told me that he would not help me, as he was instructed by his employer, a sitting senator, to help Jake Wheatley," says Wolfe.
While Fontana confirmed Mosesso works for him, he said he doesn't instruct his aides on who to support in elections or endorsements.
"He wasn't told not to support her or to support anybody. That's not what I do. Tony made his own mind up to support Jake Wheatley. I support him also, but that happens a lot," says Fontana. "She's not the most qualified candidate in that race. That was reflected in the vote on Sunday."