Indiana, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Washington DC
|Opinion Haver||Jun 2|
In MD-05, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer faces an underdog challenge from young activist Mckayla Wilkes. Hoyer is Nancy Pelosi’s top deputy in the House, and the man behind Congress’s continued policy of going on vacation during a pandemic (and now during mass civil unrest/police violence against unarmed protesters.) He is absolutely rolling in money from corporations (and the same police unions who ferociously oppose any sort of accountability for violent and murderous police officers.) In short, he is very, very powerful, which makes him a heavy favorite for renomination.
Upsets do happen, though, and Wilkes has been running the kind of campaign that could pull it off if the stars align. She’s earned a selection of local and national endorsements, activated a network of enthusiastic volunteers, and even scraped together enough donations to go up on TV--a valuable tool most insurgent campaigns cannot afford. This district, which twists and turns through the suburbs of DC as well as rural Southern Maryland (a contorted mess drawn to ensure Hoyer would not face a majority-Black electorate), may be primed for a change: with rural areas’ shift to the Republican Party, white Democrats in this district are largely government workers, young college grads priced out of DC, and UMD students living on or near the massive College Park campus. The rest of the primary electorate is largely composed of the Black voters Steny Hoyer was unable to keep out of his district. Joe Crowley lost in part because he lost touch with his district’s large Latinx population and the white machine voters he used to rely on had long since departed the Democratic Party; if Hoyer loses, it will be because he fell victim to the same trap.
Hoyer, however, appears to be taking this race somewhat seriously, while Crowley didn’t until the very last second. Hoyer apparently was hiring a field team in January (based on job postings that were relayed to us), and had already spent over half a million on mailers and digital ads as of two weeks ago. Last week, he made a TV ad buy. It was for only $37,434, which is not much, but it’s also the first TV ad buy he’s ever made (as far as we can tell from FEC records), although in his competitive 1996 race, he did buy significant time on radio.
Wilkes, for her part, has finally been raising the kind of money that allows her an appreciable amount of paid media. In April and the first half of May, the campaign raised almost $90,000, a major change of pace considering they had raised about $200,000 in the past year. Because of this, the’ve been able to put about $50,000 into digital and mail, plus another $15,510 on TV. That’s much less than what Hoyer’s spent, but it is enough to introduce themselves to much of the district. What’s more, the campaign tells us they’ve raised over $100,000 since that last report, and have a strong get out the vote operation, which has hit a pace of 35,000 calls a day. As the campaign told us:
“The establishment is scared. Our campaign has the people power necessary to bring progressive change to Congress. Since voting has started, Leader Hoyer has pulled out all the stops in an effort to stop our grassroots movement. He has spent more money in the past few weeks than he has in the past few decades. He has campaigned with high-profile establishment Democrats. He is doing all he can to stop the progressive movement we have spent the last year building. But we are going to win.”
The campaign is doing its final push this afternoon if you’re looking for something to do today.
MD-04: Anthony Brown, who is a Maryland establishment politician typified, is running for reelection again. He will win. But progressive attorney Shelia Bryant is also running and has received a modicum of attention. Watch the margin here, but don’t expect it to be close.
MD-06: In 2016, rich dude David Trone ran for MD-08. He lost the primary to now-Congressman Jamie Raskin. Last cycle he ran for MD-06 and simply drowned out the three (yes three) more progressive options in the race with his money, and skated to a 40% showing, which was a win. We were hoping someone big, perhaps one of his 2018 foes, would challenge Trone, an annoying moderate, but we had no such luck. Teacher Maxwell Bero is the only other candidate in the race. He has basically no campaign, but he does have a nice enough-looking website where he calls himself a progessive and lists some issues where he’s to the left of Trone, so he’ll serve as a convenient measuring stick for the baseline level of voters who will automatically vote for an alternative to Trone’s left.
Baltimore has a number of races on the ballot; in the interest of brevity, because New Mexico and Pennsylvania are especially crowded with races to watch, we will try to keep the summary of each race here to a sentence or two. We owe a special thanks to David Pontious, who writes the Baltimore Bulletin, a great newsletter about city politics; he was a great source of information in writing our Baltimore coverage, and if you’re at all interested in Baltimore politics you should subscribe to his free newsletter and read his more detailed preview of the city’s hugely consequential elections.
For Baltimore Mayor, a clown-car field has emerged to be the city’s next mayor; among those candidates is incumbent Jack Young, who assumed the office following the resignation and indictment of disgraced mayor Catherine Pugh, but polling shows that he doesn’t have much of a chance. The main contenders here are Council President Brandon Scott, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, and former Obama Treasury official Mary Miller. Scott is solidly progressive and would provide a much-needed new voice; Dixon was forced out of the mayor’s office once before as part of a plea deal in her own corruption scandal, and Miller is a wealthy white financier parachuting into a working class, predominantly Black city. Former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah is also running, and he’s also less than great. Root for Scott.
For Baltimore City Council President, you should root for current Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, a progressive on Scott’s “Forward” slate; she faces state Del. Nick Mosby and former city councilman Carl Stokes. Like the mayoral race, this could go to any of the top three contenders; also like the mayoral race, there is a nominally serious contender (in this case, Councilman Leon Pinkett) who has become something of an afterthought.
Scott’s Forward slate is generally a good guide; the races to watch, and the Forward candidates in those races, are as follows:
District 2: incumbent Danielle McCray
District 3: incumbent Ryan Dorsey
District 5: incumbent Yitzy Schleifer (neither candidate here is good)
District 7 (open seat, vacated by Pinkett): James Torrence
District 8: incumbent Kristerfer Burnett
District 10 (open seat, vacated by retiring Councilman Edward Reisinger): Phylicia Porter
District 12: Phillip Westry (challenging incumbent Robert Stokes Sr.)
District 13 (open seat, vacated by Sneed): Jacqueline Addison
Jack Young has his own, much smaller slate; two are incumbents virtually guaranteed to skate to reelection, while Stokes rounds out the slate. (Labor and progressive groups are firmly behind Westry over Stokes.)
There is no Forward candidate in the open District 14, where businesswoman Odette Ramos faces off with Joe Kane, a local activist, and Rita Church, the daughter of a former councilwoman of the same name, for the right to succeed retiring Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. Both Ramos and Kane are good, and that’s reflected in the endorsements they’ve received (though the bulk of progressive endorsements have gone to Ramos.) Either one winning would be good.
There is also no Forward candidate in the open District 4, the district Bill Henry is vacating to challenge Comptroller Joan Pratt as mentioned above. Mark Conway, Logan Endow, and Nicole Harris-Crest seem to lead the pack here, but this race is wide open, with several other credible candidates, making things hard to predict. Conway is a former city official, Endow is a progressive activist, and Harris-Crest is the daughter of a former councilman; Conway and Endow are preferable.
As we are currently seeing with the generally abysmal responses of Democratic city governments to the outbreak of protests about the death of George Floyd and police brutality, the kind of Democrats a city elects is crucially important. Baltimore’s city government is very much in flux, with five open seats and many incumbents being challenged; today’s Democratic primaries will determine the direction of the city for years to come.
IN-01: Where to start here? This ballot has 14 candidates on it, of which 6 could plausibly win. Yes, it’s an actual 6-way race, and it could end with the winner getting something like 25% of the vote. We’ll just list them here, in our very rough guess of the order they’ll show in
Thomas McDermott Jr.
Known for: Mayor of Hammond
Ideology: the most conservative in the race, bar none. Beyond his conservative policy, he has a history of ugly or even bigoted statements toward the LGBTQ community. And his history of supporting violent cops is exactly the attitude that created the situation policing in America has gotten to
Who does he appeal to: Hammond residents, conservatives, old-school union guys, cops, retirees who vote based on the last ad they saw
How likely is he to win: Honestly he’s probably the favorite here. What a clusterfuck
Mara Candelaria Reardon
Known for: State Representative; accused state AG of sexual harassment
Ideology: liberal-to-progressive depending on the issue, someone you could imagine applying for the CPC and getting in because their standards are low, but at least they want to be there, ya know?
Who does she appeal to: Hispanics, voters who want to avoid nominating an outright moderate, maybe voters who want an outspoken MeToo advocate
How likely is she to win: Her, Mrvan, and McDermott are the big three in this race, and she and Mrvan are about tied behind McDermott
Known for: Highland Township Trustee, son of state senator Frank Mrvan Jr.
Ideology: The only one who can really compete with McDermott’s conservatism, but at least he doesn’t seem as stubborn about it
Who does he appeal to: Union members, moderates who don’t like McDermott’s impeachment stance, mega-fans of Pete Viscosky (who he was endorsed by), black voters (judging by his Gary Crusader endorsement)
How likely is he to win: A top tier contender. Again, what a clusterfuck
Known for: 2018 Secretary of State nominee
Ideology: best in the race. You wouldn’t confuse him for a socialist, but he’s a solid progressive who wants to fight for the big issues
Who does he appeal to: Progressives, voters in the two eastern counties of the district who don’t identify with the inner Chicago suburbs where most candidates are from
How likely is he to win: he’s certainly got a niche, but him winning would be an upset
Know for: nearly anonymous corporate employee with some history of lobbying
Ideology: Not as bad as McDermott, but not much better
Who does she appeal to: Black voters (she’s been endorsed by several CBC members), yuppie corporate types who live in Indiana for tax reasons
How likely is she to win: not very - her path to victory probably involved black voters voting as a bloc, and a near perfect split among the other candidates
Known for: nothing big before this, did some campaign work
Ideology: Also very good, pretty similar to Harper
Who does she appeal to: LGBTQ voters, progressives, animal lovers
How likely is she to win: Well, she got money early, so that may have helped, but her path to victory is unclear
SD-40: Bloomington, home of Indiana University and generally a progressive college town, will be voting on a new state senator this year. The contest comes down between John Zosy, Chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, and Shelli Yoder, Congressional candidate in 2012 and 2018. Yoder is by far the more progressive option here, and probably the favorite considering her name recognition from those congressional runs, and the fact that most local politicians are on her side. In general, Yoder’s just a better fit for a college town like Bloomington. There is another candidate in the race, Trent Feuerbach, but he’s openly ideologically heterodox at best, and his signature issue is gun rights, so his impact in the primary is likely to be small.
HD-01: First term state Rep. Carolyn Jackson is being challenged by 16 year Hammond City Council Member Anthony Higgs. Jackson has been a solid vote in the State House, while Higgs is running for state house because he lost his 2018 primary for Council 57% - 37% following accusations of financial impropriety and death threats. Hopefully he fares the same in this race.
HD-03: In 2018, Reagan Hatcher, Gary City Council Member and daughter of famous Gary mayor Richard Hatcher, won this open seat against Jessica Renslow by a close-ish 59% - 41% margin. This is a rematch, and the ideological stakes are unclear.
HD-06: Former Indiana House Speaker and House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer is retiring after half a century in office, but he’s trying to treat his state House seat like a family possession, doing his best to install his daughter Maureen as his replacement. Fortunately, Garrett Blad, a South Bend native and the national press coordinator for the Sunrise Movement, is also running, so voters have a chance to reject government by dynasty. (Plus it would kick ass to have a Sunrise leader representing most of Pete Buttigieg’s city in the state house.) Also running is local Democratic staffer Drew Duncan, but he seems to have failed to gain traction. Blad has managed to leverage his connections within the environmental movement to outraise and outspend Bauer, who has access to her father’s extensive network. If Blad wins, it’ll be symbolic in a number of ways—as a rejection of Buttigieg’s Boomer-bait youthful centrism in his own backyard, as a rejection of dynastic politics, and as a victory for the still-young movement behind the Green New Deal on the state legislative battlefield, where the center and the right have long dominated.
HD-12: Mara Candelaria Reardon is leaving this seat open to run for Congress. Pretty much the entire party apparatus has gotten behind Mike Andrade to replace her, and we hope that works despite his mediocre policy positions, because the other two options are a literal Trump supporter and a precinct chair who berated a female precinct chair to the point where she got a restraining order against him, which he has violated during this campaign.
When Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced he was running for Senate, it looked like NM-03 would be a wide-open, ugly, and crowded race featuring a pack of ambitious local politicians. On primary day, it’s clear that only two of those descriptors still apply: while the race remains ugly and crowded, it’s no longer wide open; two candidates have emerged as frontrunners, and neither is a local elected itching for a promotion.
Valerie Plame is a Bush-era throwback; the Bush administration infamously (and illegally) leaked her identity as an undercover CIA agent in retaliation for sharp criticism of the Bush administration by her husband, a former US Ambassador. To crack down on dissent, the Bush administration ended her career, plausibly put her life in immediate danger, and violated the law. However, that doesn’t make her good.
A lot of occupations are underrepresented in Congress: teachers, nurses, janitors, child care workers, public defenders, gig workers, grad students, food service employees, retail workers. CIA agents are not among them. And, of course, there’s the minor problem of Plame being a white woman from outside New Mexico parachuting in to represent a heavily Hispanic and Native district. On top of that, she came under fire in 2017 for tweeting an article blaming “America’s Jews” for “America’s wars” from a Stormfront-level website, so...that’s not great!
Attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez is very different from Plame. Leger Fernandez is Hispanic, a local, and does much of her legal work representing Native tribes in New Mexico. She supports Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other progressive priorities. She has the support of AOC as well as progressive Albuquerque Rep. Deb Haaland. She’s great!
Leger Fernandez seems like a slight favorite based on recent polling, but Plame has a ton of money; anything from a solid Plame win to an absolute blowout for Leger Fernandez would not surprise us.
While no one else in this race is a total nobody, they’ve all mostly become also-rans. DA Marco Serna is a moderate who raised a good deal of money but ran a directionless and mostly negative campaign, which is not a great strategy in a huge field. Outright conservative state representative Joe Sanchez simply never raised much money. Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya never really did either, but her surprise showing at the convention leads us to believe her life in politics earned her a lot of political friends, lawyer Kyle Tisdel’s focus as the environmental candidate may have led to more grassroots support if Leger Fernandez wasn’t also very good on the issues, and John Blair simply never stood out.
In 2009, Democrats had 27-15 control of the state senate, but eight more conservative members joined with 15 Republicans to create a fusion party control. While that ended in 2013, the threat lingered, and so one of those conservatives - Mary Papen - has been Senate President since then. Five are still in the senate, one is retiring, and one is running uncontested. The other three have progressive challengers, and if they fall, then New Mexico, a solid blue state, might finally be able to implement progressive priorities, like a minimum wage above $11/hr. In SD-04, incumbent George Munoz faces Noreen Kelly, a Navajo elder and domestic violence counselor backed by pro-choice and environmental groups. In SD-38, Mary Papen is facing two challengers, Carrie Hamblen and Tracy Perry, who are unfortunately both competent and equally matched, creating the distinct possibility of a plurality Papen win. Perry dropped out at the last minute to endorse Hamblen, but it was so late that not only had the ballots been printed, people had already started voting. In SD-35, John Arthur-Smtih is being challenged by Neomi Martinez Parra who is playing up the ideological angle of this race heavily.
SD-03: John Pinto was an enormously popular figure in New Mexico Navajo politics who had represented this seat for over 40 years when he passed away in 2019. Shannon Pinto, his granddaughter, was appointed to fill the vacancy, and she is now being challenged by her nephew, Shawn Nelson. Not much about this race is available online, and it seems like it mostly has to do with internal reservation politics which we have little knowledge of, but it’s always a fun story when family members run against each other.
SD-05: State senator Richard Martinez has been an absolute embarrassment for the last four years. There was the racist facebook post, the drunk driving conviction, and his simple refusal to apologize about any of it. Now everyone from progressive groups to local newspapers to US Senator Martin Heimrich are backing his opponent, Leo Jaramillo, who we hope gives Martinez something to be sorry about.
SD-17: State Senator Shannon Robinson was one of the most conservative Democratic members of the body, which is probably why he was defeated soundly in his 2008 primary (or maybe it was the corruption), and why he ran again in 2012 as a Republican. He was back to a Democrat by 2016 when he challenged appointed incumbent Mimi Stewart, only to lose 59% - 41%, and now he’s back to try again. Thankfully, after three straight losses, it seems like he doesn’t have much of a shot this time.
SD-28: Gabriel Ramos was appointed to this seat in 2019, and you have to wonder what the fuck the people who appointed him were thinking. Within weeks he’d almost killed an important gun control bill. A month later he voted to make abortion a crime in New Mexico if Roe v. Wade was ever repealed. Siah Correa Hemphill is challenging him from his left and has been endorsed by just about everyone, including Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who no one would call a progressive warrior and who has generally been as gentle as possible with the senate. If she’s backing a challenger, she thinks that challenger has a very good chance of winning. Oh, and when we said “you have to wonder what the fuck the people who appointed him were thinking” we meant Grisham. She’s the people who appointed him. Ramos is out of allies, aside from the energy industry, who are spending big to keep him around.
SD-30: Speaking of that vote to criminalize abortion in New Mexico should Roe v. Wade fall, Senator Clemente Sanchez was also on the wrong side. He’s on the wrong side of a lot of votes, really. He’s anti-marijuana and anti-union. Definitely anti-environment. It’s why fossil fuel companies have dumped millions into this race to re-elect him. Pam Cordova, a retired teacher, is challenging him, and unlike in many of these races, labor has gone in to help her, as has a coalition of progressive groups including the Working Families Party.
HD-13: Patricia Roybal Caballero entered the house under a flurry of controversy, specifically voter fraud because she voted under a different address than she ran for office under. It was big deal back then, but her name got cleared eventually. She’s been a good member of the house since then, so it’s really not clear why, in 2018, she barely cleared 44% against two low-profile candidates in the primary. This time around she’s being challenged by Edwina Cisneros, and while we don’t know Cisneros’s ideological leanings for sure (no issues page and worrying nonanswers to some direct questions), we’ll trust labor and local progressive groups, who are behind Caballero.
HD-14: Miguel Garcia has been in the state house for decades. Despite that, he’s pretty good on the issues. He even wants a fracking moratorium. This year he’s been challenged by Robert Chavez, who almost won a Bernalillo County Commission seat in 2016. Chavez seems solidly to Garcia’s right, so it looks like we’re rooting for the incumbent again.
HD-34: It’s time for round three. In 2016, state Rep. Bill Gomez turned back challenger Raymundo Lara 45% - 33%, but in 2018, he lost 51% to 49%.
HD-40: This seat is open after incumbent Joe Sanchez left it to run for Congress, and the choice is stark here. Matthew Gonzales, a member of the Cimarron City Council, is a proudly anti-choice, anti-gun control hardliner, while Roger Montoya, the founder of an after-school youth program that got him named a CNN Hero is running as a progressive, with a collection of pro-choice, labor, and pro-environmtal groups behind him. He is also openly gay. Gonzales is probably the favorite here, if only because this district has generally supported Democrats like him. But Sanchez only took 48% in the 2018 primary. Things may be changing.
HD-42: This open seat features environmental advocate and general progressive favorite Kristina Ortez running against small town mayor and Taos County Commissioner Mark Gallegos, who’s taking the interesting strategy of raising no money and having no digital presence and rather getting by as a member of the good ol boys club of Taos County politics.
HD-45: Though there are 5 candidates here, this is a three way race between current Santa Fe County Treasurer Pat Varela, ex Santa Fe City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez, and organizer Linda Serrato. Serrato is the obvious choice here, in another instance where every progressive and liberal issues group thought the same way. Of the other two, Pat Varela is backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and we’re sticking to our rule of never backing the cop candidate.
HD-50: Bruce King is a legendary name in New Mexico Democratic politics, having served three separate terms as governor, the last ending in 1995, but his family needs to stop running for things. Gary King’s 2014 run for governor was an utter flop, and now Bruce’s granddaughter, Rebecca King-Spindle, is running a largely substanceless campaign against a pretty good legislator, Matthew McQueen, based largely on her name. Well that and keeping gas taxes low. Pass.
HD-65: James Madalena was a respected legislator, who represented his primarily-Native American district for decades before stepping down in 2016 so his son Darryl could replace him. Except Darryl was a fuckup and lost to Derrick Lente, so now James is back to reclaim his seat. Both seem like solid choices, but we can’t help the nagging feeling that Madelena is running so that he can resign mid-term and get his kid appointed.
PA-18 Rep. Mike Doyle is nothing to write home about—he was anti-abortion long after most Democrats gave up that position, and he does his best to blend in with the marble walls of the Capitol. It got him a challenge from law professor Jerry Dickinson, who raised a good but not great sum of money and went nowhere with it. Doyle should win easily, but his margin matters—both as a measure of anti-incumbent sentiment and as a potential incentive for Doyle to retire in 2022 should voters be relatively receptive to Dickinson’s uphill campaign.
In SD-01, Nikil Saval is challenging incumbent Larry Farnese. Saval is an author, activist, and organizer known for co-editing the magazine n+1. He joined the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign, and after that primary, Saval helped transform the organizational efforts into the new grassroots group Reclaim Philadelphia. Reclaim scored two victories in 2018, when Saval successfully primaried longtime incumbent Ward 2 leader Ed Nesmith, and when Elizabeth Fiedler won the nomination for the 184th House District, beating machine-backed Jonathan Rowan, a Farnese staffer. This year, Saval is challenging Farnese for his seat—with the endorsement of Bernie Sanders, whose campaign got him into electoral politics in the first place.
SD-01 is a South Philly senate district that has for decades been the epicenter of machine activity in the city, and, consequently, machine corruption. Farnese won the seat in 2008, while the previous senator was being convicted on a whopping 137 counts of fraud. Farnese has had his own close calls with the law. Only a couple years ago, he was acquitted on bribery charges because the prosecution couldn't prove a $6,000 gift to a local politician influenced that politician’s vote. Farnese is part of a system that holds power for power’s sake. But a lot has changed in the last decade, and Saval is running on a bold platform of a housing guarantee, a Green New Deal, and universal healthcare and childcare, which may be just what convinces SD-01 to finally dump the machine.
SD-17 is the only non-ideological primary on this list, but it’s very important. The incumbent, Daylin Leach, has been accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women. The field against him has coalesced, leaving one challenger: former Planned Parenthood official Amanda Cappelletti. The urgency of ousting Leach has united everyone from moderate Gov. Tom Wolf to Bernie Sanders behind Cappelletti (who is, ideologically speaking, perfectly fine for this safely Democratic seat in the Philadelphia suburbs.) Leach, like Cappelletti, is a fairly solid progressive; however, voting the right way is meaningless if you harass and grope your staffers, as Leach allegedly did. We hope Democratic voters in SD-17 will show him the door, preferably by the humiliating landslide margin he deserves.
In SD-19, Kyle Boyer, a teacher, West Chester NAACP leader, and elected member of the Tredyffrin/Easttown school board, launched a primary campaign against conservative incumbent Andrew Dinniman on February 5, presenting himself as the progressive choice and focusing on education and criminal justice reform. Dinniman claimed to be confident of renomination at that point...then dropped out of the race two days later. On his way out, Dinniman presented his hand-picked successor: his legislative staffer Don Vymazal. Dinniman secured Vymazal the endorsement of the Chester County Democratic Committee. The other candidate in the race is state representative and former West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, who has the endorsement of governor Tom Wolf. While she isn't as frightening a prospect as someone running on the Dinniman legacy, her record speaks to the kind of quiet suburban authoritarianism that's all too common. As mayor she waged an anti-constitutional crackdown on street performance that extended to making it illegal for children to chalk sidewalks without a license, and as state representative, she's supported the ongoing criminalization of schoolchildren. Kyle Boyer is the obvious choice in this race.
In SD-43, Pennsylvania’s second-most powerful Democrat faces a well-deserved challenge in a test of whether his family’s beleaguered machine is truly dead. If you live outside Pittsburgh, chances are high you haven’t heard of the Costa family. If you do live in Pittsburgh, though, you’ve probably heard far too much of them. For years, five members of one white, conservative Democratic political family held important offices in an increasingly diverse and progressive Pittsburgh. And Pittsburgh fought back. In 2017, Mik Pappas ran as a DSA-backed independent for a district judgeship and unseated Judge Ronald Costa. In 2018, state Representatives Paul and Dom Costa were roundly defeated in their primaries. And in 2019, Guy Costa retired from his powerful position in the mayor’s office. Jay is all that’s left now. He’s been a state Senator for twenty-four years, and is now the chamber’s Minority Leader. While not quite the conservative that his relatives were, Jay is nevertheless a pro-fracking, pro-machine politician.
Jay faces a primary challenge this year in Bill Brittain. Brittain runs a local business—a tree nursery in Shadyside—while attending grad school and working with the Pennsylvania Farmers Union on legislation. He’s running on a platform of a living wage of $15/hour, banning new fracking wells, and fully publicly investing in Pittsburgh’s utilities, which is especially important in a city with a partially-privatized water system that has grown increasingly poisonous.
HD-20’s Adam Ravenstahl is, first and foremost, a legacy politician, first elected in 2010, when his brother (himself the third in a line of elected Ravenstahls) was the mayor of Pittsburgh. Adam considered himself “pro-life” as recently as 2017, and while he may have since backed away from the label, his commitment to reproductive freedom is tenuous, as demonstrated by his repeatedsupport for a statewide version of Stupak-Pitts, a twenty-week abortion ban, and regulating clinics out of existence. Ravenstahl also opposed gay marriage until at least 2013, and is pro-fracking.
Challenging him is Emily Kinkead, a local attorney who’s running on a progressive platform that includes a $15/hour minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, aggressive environmental action, and support for reproductive rights. Her campaign has secured the backing of local progressive lawmakers (a category which is a recent addition to county government), as well as the Unite! PAC, a project of state Rep. Summer Lee. Unlike other incumbents on this list, Ravenstahl is no stranger to primary challenges. In the previous five cycles, he has survived four of them by margins of 4 to 20 percent. This might be the year when his luck—and his name—finally runs out.
In 2018, Summer Lee and Sara Innanmorato ran grassroots, DSA-endorsed campaigns against the conservative Costa cousins, and won by large margins, upending Pittsburgh politics. Lee’s victory in HD-34 made her the first black woman elected to Pennsylvania’s state legislature from the city. Her and Innanmorato’s bold, democratic socialist politics and their displacement of the Costas earned them enemies in the establishment, so, last year, both garnered primary challengers from their right. Innanmorato’s has since dropped out, but Lee’s—the pro-fracking Chris Roland, a town councilor from North Braddock—remains a threat. The Allegheny County Democratic Party has endorsed him as part of its efforts to rid the party of the left. Lee is not without high-profile supporters—Bernie Sanders among them—but, just as in her 2018 victory, ordinary people will power her at the ballot box.
Jessica Benham was barely out of college when she co-founded the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy. Shortly after founding PCAA, she began her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, then joined in the ongoing grad student unionization efforts there. She would be the first openly LGBTQ woman in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as well as the first member of any state legislature in the country who is openly autistic. She’s exactly the kind of person we need in office—so the fact that she already scared a horrible incumbent into retirement just makes her even better. When she first announced her campaign, she was challenging HD-36 incumbent Harry Readshaw, one of the most conservative Democrats in the state house, known for his anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-immigrant views. Unfortunately, while Benham did scare Readshaw into retirement, that’s not the end of it. Readshaw’s handpicked successor, Heather Kass, is worse, if anything, than he was. Kass’s social media history is littered with conservative and bigoted posts, supporting assault weapons and Donald Trump, attacking on the Affordable Care Act and on trans people, and wishing for the mass deaths of drug users. In most of America, that would be enough to end a Democratic candidacy, but the Allegheny County Democratic Party, now at total war with the progressive insurgency, has endorsed Kass anyway. On her website, Kass brags about endorsements from anti-choice and anti-gun control groups too hardline for the NRA. It’s hard to overstate how insane it is that the party is pushing her. But they are, and the battle lines are drawn.
HD-188 sits in West Philadelphia, a predominantly black section of the city. It has a large youth population, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania, which lies in the district. Despite that, it has one of the longest serving representatives in the state, James Roebuck. While there are signs that Roebuck isn’t in tune with the youth of his district (he was one of the few votes to keep sexting a felony) and has gotten cozy with the Republican establishment of Harrisburg (he voted for their gerrymander), this primary election isn’t really about him. It’s about Rick Krajewski, his challenger.
Krajewski is an educator and artist who has spent years organizing for criminal justice reform in the city. He’s a leader in the aforementioned Reclaim Philadelphia. In 2017, he led a team of hundreds to help elect Larry Krasner, the now-famous reform-oriented DA who helped catalyze a national movement to rethink the role of the criminal justice system. Krajewski is now running for the state house on a bold platform of reform, from criminal justice (against a death penalty supporter, no less), to the environment, to housing. He’s great, and he was one of Bernie Sanders’s endorsements in what we hope is just the beginning of an effort to support like-minded state legislative candidates.
District of Columbia
There are four contested primaries for DC Council. We’ll walk you through them.
First, in Ward 2, the primary to replace disgraced crook Jack Evans (separate from the special election to fill the rest of his term, which occurs in 2 weeks on June 16) is a chaotic, wide-open race...a race which includes Evans, still. He resigned and then reversed course, running for his old seat. Do not vote for Evans.
The race is probably between four candidates: Evans, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Patrick Kennedy, attorney Brooke Pinto, and former Amy Klobuchar staffer Jordan Grossman. We say probably because this race is crowded as hell with plausibly-viable candidates. Kennedy has a good record of supporting transit and housing, two things DC desperately needs more of; however, he did serve as Evans’s campaign chair in 2016, and he’s getting support from charter school groups. Grossman has good policies, and is the favorite of organized labor as well as progressive groups; however, he is, um, a former Amy Klobuchar staffer, running with his old boss’s endorsement. Both seem likely to change the direction of Ward 2, though, so either one is a good vote. Pinto doesn’t seem to have many policies; we’ll pass.
In Ward 4, we have the barn-burner of the night. Incumbent Brandon Todd is a reliable minion of Mayor Muriel Bowser, voting to repeal a minimum wage increase passed by the voters of DC and generally not doing his job. (He’s also extremelybad at complying with campaign finance law.) Everyone from progressive and socialist activist groups to labor unions to DC Attorney General Karl Racine has, consequently, lined up behind former DC Assistant Attorney General Janeese Lewis George, who is running on a fantastic platform to boot. If any incumbent goes down in DC, it will be Brandon Todd.
In Ward 7, former mayor and current councilor Vincent Gray is being challenged from the left by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green. Green does not have the level of institutional support Lewis George does in Ward 4, and Gray is a stronger incumbent than Todd; however, the former statement is only true because of how high Lewis George sets the bar. Green still has an impressive amount of important organizations in his corner, including the DC Federation of Labor, the Washington Teachers’ Union, and the Working Families Party.
In Ward 8, incumbent Trayon White faces a split field of challengers which includes Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mike Austin, civil rights attorney Yaida Ford, and his own former campaign manager, Stuart Anderson. White is best known outside of DC for promoting a wildly anti-Semitic conspiracy about Jews controlling the weather; he has since apologized, by all accounts genuinely, and worked extensively to repair his relationship with DC’s Jewish community, but the incident still leaves a very bad taste in our mouths. However, it’s not clear that any of his challengers have a chance; he remains popular in Ward 8 because he is highly attuned to the needs of the population, which is overwhelmingly Black and working-class with a high poverty rate.