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SUMMER LEE (Photos by Dayna Delgado)

Earlier this year, Austin Davis became the first African American, man or woman, from outside the City of Pittsburgh limits elected to the state House of Representatives, as the McKeesport native now represents District 35.

Could Summer Lee become the first African American woman from outside city limits to do the same?

Sure, the November 2018 general election is months away, but a victory in the primary election, May 15, would put her in the driver’s seat.

Lee, a North Braddock native, a Woodland Hills High School graduate, jam-packed with degrees from Penn State University and Howard University Law School…

A woman who has a “boots-on-the-ground” mentality of uniting residents in her community to fight for better schools, better living conditions, and making a voice for the voiceless…

Support has been growing for Lee, especially financially, where Lee’s campaign told the Courier that she raised $92,399.26 in 2018.


So it would seem that Lee is in line for a slam-dunk victory, come six days from now.

Not so fast. Paul Costa, the incumbent, has been the state representative in District 34 for nearly 20 years. He touts his experience, his many supporters from elected officials, and a feeling that he is “for everybody.”

The Costa name is blanketed across Pittsburgh’s political landscape. Dom Costa, Paul’s cousin, is a District 21 representative (who’s also up for re-election). Jay Costa is a state senator.

Thus, the race for the House District 34 seat may turn out to be the most competitive, in races involving an African American candidate.

“Unfortunately we do have so many deeply rooted, entrenched issues that we have right now,” Lee told the New Pittsburgh Courier’s Dayna Delgado in an exclusive interview, April 28. “Step one, is we have to meet the needs of these people. We can’t talk about creating businesses without first talking about meeting needs, so my platform is geared around, how do we better the lives? How do we create upward mobility for Black folk, poor people, especially in these areas that I grew up in.”

Lee said that step two involves development in the Mon Valley. “We need to talk about the difference between someone who is benevolent in coming to our town to fix us, and realizing that we have inherent value in our towns,” she said. “Before you got here, we had value. When you leave, we’ll have value. It doesn’t go up and down depending on how attractive we are to people from the outside to come in. We need to change that narrative.”

Summer Lee, left, and Rep. Paul Costa, debate during a League of Women Voters forum at Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, April 28. (Photos by Dayna Delgado)

Lee is all about progression—as long as that progression involves people of her ethnicity. “Before we go and give free space to somebody to start up a restaurant from out of town, from out of this area, what are we doing to create opportunities for people that are already here?” she told the Courier’s Delgado. “People have talents in this community. I know people who bake, people who are chefs, people who have business ideas—they can’t get property.”

Lee made these comments during a political debate held at Unity Baptist Church in Braddock, April 28. The event featured both Lee and Paul Costa, and was hosted by Pittsburgh television personality Chris Moore.

District 34 includes, among others, Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek, parts of Homestead, Forest Hills, Churchill, Edgewood and Chalfont.

The winner of the May 15 primary is almost assured to win the November general election in this highly-Democratic area. And at least in the last four general elections, Paul Costa hasn’t had a Republican challenger. Paul Costa took the 2016 general election with every last one of the 27,737 votes cast.

As for endorsements, both the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and Allegheny-Fayette County Labor Council have endorsed Paul Costa. And the incumbent has made his way onto local TV screens with a campaign ad in hopes to garner more support at the polls.

Efforts to reach Paul Costa by the Courier for comment were unsuccessful as of press deadline.

Lee has been endorsed by, among others, the United Electrical Workers, Penn Environment, Planned Parenthood, Our Revolution, and the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club.

There have been debates, meetings, the combing through candidates’ financial records…

There’s been “Tweets,” Facebook comments, and Google searches…

One candidate is barely 30 years old and is vying to become a state representative for the first time. The other candidate has been a state representative for roughly 20 years. The only thing left now is for the residents of the District 34 Mon Valley communities to speak. On May 15, they’ll have that chance.

“Our biggest difference is just experience,” Lee said. “I have experience. I have lived in these communities. I have lived on $7.25 (per hour). I know what it’s like. I have practical experiences but also I have organizational experiences. When our community needed us, we organized. We made real change in our school district, for our students. And we want to take those voices right to Harrisburg.”

Lee added: “There is a clear choice here. Know that on May 15, we have an option to take a movement and move it forward.”


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