The best news coming out of the Nov. 3 general election locally for African-Americans was appointed Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III winning the race to keep his seat. In a large field with five seats up for grabs, Williams had the fourth highest total—110,465 votes or 14.4 of the votes cast.
“It was quite a process. Walt (Little) asked me to do this and then after saying he’d shepherd me through, he died. But I couldn’t quit,” said Williams. “I went places where I was the only Black guy in a room of 300. But my dad said you have to practice the things you aren’t good at to grow, and I did. So, it was a wonderful experience. Only now, I have a little post traumatic stress syndrome, thinking there’s some place I have to go, someone I have to meet or call. But that will pass.”
Though the Common Pleas race went as expected, in the statewide judicial races, Allegheny County ballots reflected almost the exact opposite of the eventual winners in two of the three contests, and were well off on the third.
For Supreme Court local Republican and Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin Defeated fellow Superior Court Judge Jack Panella by more than 100,000 votes, 53 percent to 48 percent. In Allegheny County the vote was 51 percent to 49 for Panella.
Similarly, in the Commonwealth Court race, Republicans Patricia McCullough and Kevin Brobson garnered 28 percent and 26 percent respectively to sweep the two available seats beating Barbara Ernsberger with and Linda Judson with. Locally Ernsberger and Judson both led with 29 percent.
Finally, in the Superior Court Race, with 15 percent and 14 percent of the votes respectively, Republicans Judy Olson and Sallie Mundy took two of the four available seats with Democrats Robert Colville and Anne Lazarus winning the other two. In Allegheny County, Olson and Mundy finished fifth and sixth.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl handily defeated independent candidates Franco Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin with 55 percent of the vote to Harris’ 25 percent and Acklin’s 19 percent. Though Ravenstahl’s 28,538 votes were 1,652 more than he tallied in the May primary, his opponents also earned more votes. Harris, with 13,060 won 550 more votes than Patrick Dowd and Acklin’s 9,903 votes were 4,477 more than third-place primary contestant Carmen Robinson.
Ravenstahl’s winning total was the lowest for a city mayor in more than 30 years. He won the primary with 59 percent of the vote and the 2007 special election to fill out the late Bob O’Connor’s term with 63 percent. Whether or not that signals vulnerability for 2013 remains to be seen. But he is without two city council allies, Jim Motznic, who ran successfully for district justice and Tonya Payne, whose last-ditch write-in campaign against Primary winner Danny Lavelle failed.
University of Pittsburgh Political Communication professor Gerald Shuster said Ravenstahl can’t get away with being “young Luke” anymore.
“He can’t go off on negative behavioral antics anymore,” he said. “He’s got to prove that this city has some problems, he is attempting solutions, and he has to bring results.”
Though incumbents, as expected, won the bulk of municipal and school board races across the county and state, there was some history made in York and Harrisburg. In Harrisburg, City Council President Linda Thompson became the first Black candidate and the first woman ever elected mayor, and in York, retired Air Force sergeant and former city Economic Development Director Kim Bracey became the first African-American, and only the second woman to be elected mayor.
Franklin & Marshall College political science professor Terry Madonna said, “There is reason to celebrate that another barrier has been broken and another level of leadership reached by Black women. It’s another step in the political evolution of women and African-Americans.”
(Send comments to cmorrow @newpittsburghcourier.com.)