Five Democrats and one Republican are seeking their parties’ nominations in Tuesday’s primary to run for longtime U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle’s seat in November.
The Democratic congressman, who is in his 14th term representing a district comprised of Pittsburgh and suburban Allegheny County communities, said last year he would not seek reelection.
Because Pennsylvania is losing a congressional seat starting next year, the newly redrawn district will now include Westmoreland County communities such as Murrysville, North Huntingdon, Penn Township, Sewickley Township and parts of Hempfield in addition to Pittsburgh and eastern and southern Allegheny County suburbs.
Coincidentally, the lone Republican candidate also is named Mike Doyle. He’s president of Plum Council.
The contested Democratic primary features University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson, Pittsburgh lawyer Steve Irwin, state Rep. Summer Lee, entrepreneur William Parker and nonprofit head Jeff Woodard. Their race has been dominated by outside spending, negative ads and support pouring in from high-profile politicians.
Dickinson, 35, is a constitutional law expert who lives in Swissvale with his wife and two children. He previously worked as a lawyer defending people facing evictions.
Raised in Allegheny County’s foster care system, Dickinson said his past has motivated him to run for Congress.
“Throughout my life, whether it was in the foster home with 11 siblings, whether it was in the courtroom advocating for tenants in eviction proceedings or whether it’s when my students disagree in the classroom at Pitt Law, I’ve always been a consensus builder,” said Dickinson. “I know getting things done in Congress won’t be easy, (but) nothing in my life has been easy.”
He said he has a “bold, progressive” vision for the district and believes he can set a national policy agenda for Pittsburgh and beyond by bringing the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party together. Dickinson supports a $15 minimum wage, a wealth tax on billionaires, Medicare for All and reparations for Black Americans.
Dickinson criticized the outside spending that has poured into the 12th District race. Super PACs have spent more than $2 million in ads, which have mostly attacked Lee and supporter Irwin. He said he would represent the district’s residents, and not special interests.
Irwin, 62, is a lawyer and partner at Leech Tishman. He lives in Squirrel Hill, and said while he grew up in New York and Florida, he has lived in Pittsburgh longer than any other region.
He has been endorsed by Congressman Doyle. Irwin praised Doyle’s voting record, commitment to constituent services and leadership.
“My goal is to build on that admirable record by bringing my own extensive experience in infrastructure, health care, civil rights, financial services and criminal justice to the table,” Irwin said.
His campaign has been focused on infrastructure and he said, if elected, he would work to expand public transit like busways and light-rail in the Pittsburgh region.
He also wants to lower the eligibility age for Medicare, and expand vocational training opportunities for Southwestern Pennsylvanians. Irwin said the Environmental Protection Agency should have a stronger presence in Western Pennsylvania, as a means to increase environmental clean-up projects in the region. He said he supports President Biden’s agenda.
Lee, 34, was first elected to the state House in 2018. She was born and raised in the Mon Valley, splitting her childhood between North Braddock and Swissvale, where she lives now. Before serving in the legislature, Lee was a community organizer who advocated for issues at Woodland Hills School District and worked on political campaigns for Hillary Clinton. She has been endorsed by several progressive politicians, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
If she were to win, she would be the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress.
Lee said she wants to tackle issues like health care affordability, air quality, student debt, union-busting corporations and threats to democracy and elections.
Lee, the only woman in the race, said she understands the urgency of the future of abortion access and reproductive rights.
“As the only woman in this race, I have heard the same lack of urgency from my opponents that comes from men who have never had to worry about those rights before it became politically opportune to care,” Lee said.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh’s North Side, Parker, 40, is the CEO of VendSpin, a mobile delivery app that he founded. Parker lives in Garfield and said his campaign is focused on growing the region’s economy through entrepreneurship and technology.
“We’re at a time where voters don’t have to wait on real results or resources anymore. With the help of technology, we can deliver critical investments to areas in need faster than ever before,” Parker said.
He attended Pittsburgh Public Schools. Parker said, if elected, he would forge a new path for the district that is focused on an inclusive economy. He said Pittsburgh’s economy needs to grow more equitably and believes that increasing government investment is key in accomplishing that.
Woodard, 53, was born and raised in Erie and has lived in Oakland for nearly 30 years. He serves as director of PA College Access Program, a nonprofit that provides college preparatory assistance to low-income students.
He said he would try to build on Congressman Doyle’s legacy. He said he supports the Affordable Care Act, providing more support to veterans and backs the Equality Act, a bill that would provide nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
Woodard criticized his primary opponents for wanting to “defund the police” and said that efforts to decrease police funding “punishes the community and deprives the community of a necessary resource.”
He said he differs from the other candidates because he wants to address inflation issues and is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
“Those who legally own a gun should be allowed,” Woodard said. “We need to work on helping individuals with mental illness issues and keep guns out of the hands of those who are not allowed to possess them.”
Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .