Do you often wander around the city seeing dozens of brightly colored yard signs with random names on them and say to yourself “who are these people, and what the hell is a magistrate?” Well, this guide is for you.
Because of the well documented rural vs urban divide, the Democratic primaries in and around Pittsburgh are where most of local elections are decided. So I’m going to focus on how these democratic candidates match up when it comes to queer and trans issues. The Primary Election is on May 16th, and this election season has been full of confusing LGBT-related local politics drama! So let’s dive right in. I’ll start off with some of the lesser known, but still entertaining races.
Allegheny County Sheriff
The responsibilities of the Sheriff range from serving writs and mortgage foreclosures to apprehending criminals. The two candidates are incumbent Bill Mullen and Homicide Detective, George Satler. Mullen has stated his support for queer and trans people in Allegheny County, but at a meeting in the 14th Ward his challenger accused Mullen of not hiring LGBT people or black women. A staff person for Sheriff Mullen who was in the room countered this claim by stating: “I’m gay, and there are other gay people in the office!” Glad they cleared that up.
In Pennsylvania, unlike most states, we have partisan elections for our state’s judges. The system has 4 tiers that you can easily follow using the chart below:
Jk, you can basically think about it as a pyramid.
Allegheny County Magisterial District
Magisterial District Judges are the lowest ranked judges. In fact they aren’t even required to have a law degree. But if you ever have to go to court they’re the first and likely only judges that you’ll encounter so choose wisely.
The easiest way to find out what district you’re in is to find your ward number on this map, then find your district on this list. Once you know which district you are, you can go to this site, type in your street address, find your district and see who’s on the ballot. No one ever said being an active citizen would be easy.
One of the contested races in Pittsburgh is for the Squirrel Hill and Shadyside area District Magistrate. Incumbent Dan Butler faced accusations from his competitor of being against gay marriage because he doesn’t perform marriages for same-sex couples in his district. To refute this claim his campaign put out the ad below to clarify his position: he hasn’t performed any marriages at all since his son passed away.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas
Pauline Calabrese, Patrick Connelly, Rosemary Crawford, Jessica Lynch, Mary McGinley, David Spurgeon (Incumbent)
For the next tier, the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, there are 2 vacant seats and 6 candidates running for the democratic nomination. David Spurgeon and Patrick Connelly have been endorsed by the Steel City Stonewall Democrats and the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, and are also the only two men in the race. All of the candidates appear to support queer and trans people, so I guess it really comes down to who has the best official lawyer poses.
PA Commonwealth Court
Bryan Barbin, Timothy Barry, Irene McLaughlin Clark, Joseph Cosgrove (Incumbent), Ellen Ceisler, Todd Eagen
The 6 candidates for Commonwealth Court range from pro-life state representative Bryan Barbin, to outspoken progressive Ellen Ceisler, to the incumbent Joe Cosgrove who hangs out with Martin Sheen from the West Wing.
The Steel City Stonewall Democrats endorsed Todd Eagen, pictured below with Darth Vader, and Irene M. Clark who in her questionnaire wrote about how her transgender godchild helps inform her views on queer and trans people. Clark, however, is the only candidate not to be recommended by the Allegheny County or PA Bar Association.
PA Superior Court
William Caye II, Deborah Kunselman, Maria McLaughlin, Geoffrey Moulton Jr. (Incumbent), Carolyn Nichols
There are 4 vacancies on the Superior Court so out of 5 candidates for Superior Court Judge you will vote for 4 of them. Kunselman, McLaughlin (second picture), Moulton, and Nichols were all endorsed by the Steel City Stonewall Democrats and are supportive of queer and trans rights. William Caye II is the only candidate not recommended by the PA Bar Association and stated in a questionnaire for an anti-gay, anti-choice political group called PA Family Institute that he is personally anti-abortion.
The race for Mayor of Pittsburgh includes incumbent Bill Peduto, who is running for his second term, Rev. Dr. John Welch, and Councilwoman Darlene Harris. Queer and trans issues have taken a backseat to issues like bike lanes, but accusations of homophobia have played an important role in the Mayoral campaign.
Rev. Dr. John Welch entered the race by focusing on affordable housing. He criticized Mayor Peduto for soliciting campaign donations from developers and has made the issues of gentrification and safe drinking water central to his campaign. From the beginning of the race, however, Welch seemed to back himself into a queer corner (and not in a good way). He attended the Steel City Stonewall Democrats endorsement event, but spoke mostly about gentrification and policing and did not fill out the questionnaire to clarify his positions on queer and trans issues. He stated that he didn’t have time to answer the questions and responded to rumors of homophobia with a statement on his facebook page that read: “To those who have been inquiring whether or not I am supportive of LGBTQ issues let me state for the record that I am.” He went on to say he should not be painted as a homophobe just because he is ordained, and that he supports the Rainbow Covenant Group, an LGBT group within the Theological Seminary. But without addressing any specific policies related to queer and trans Pittsburghers, Welch left himself open to further criticism. Judah Fellowship Pastor Shanea Leonard stated for the Post-Gazette that “[she had] never known him to be a public supporter of LGBT causes.” Pastor Leonard is part of Mayor Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council that was appointed earlier this year. At the Advisory Council’s first meeting they identified some of the needs of the queer and trans community in Pittsburgh. One of those needs was safe, affordable housing.
Darlene Harris is also running for Mayor.
County Council District 12
If you live in certain parts of south Pittsburgh and the West End you can vote in a contested race for County Council. The race for the part time position is between incumbent Jim Ellenbogen and challenger Bob Palmosina. Ellenbogen has the endorsement of Vote Pro Life and voted against the LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in Allegheny County that passed in 2009.
Bob Palmosina, pictured below, is a former City Employee in the Public Works Department who sued the City after claiming that the new Peduto administration had fired him because he had supported Peduto’s opponent, Jack Wagner. That lawsuit ended in a settlement in 2015. His position on queer and trans rights, and many other issues, are unclear.
City Council District 4
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is stepping down after 8 years of representing the neighborhoods of South Pittsburgh. There are two candidates competing to fill her spot: her Chief of Staff Ashleigh Deemer, and roofer Anthony Coghill.
Coghill is endorsed by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. It’s weird how white men just seem to end up with these types of endorsements. I’m sure it’s just random though. Anyway, he has stated his support for queer and trans people in Pittsburgh, but lost the Steel City Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement to Deemer, who also has the support of several labor unions and environmental organizations.
That’s your ballot on May 16th! Polls are open from 7 am to 8 pm, and you can find your polling place here. Happy voting!