U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, a progressive Democrat who represents the 12th District in Pennsylvania, has won the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) for the first time in her political career. Lee defeated her primary challenger, Bhavini Patel, by a margin of 440 to 299 votes in the ACDC meeting on Sunday.
A milestone for the progressive movement
Lee’s endorsement by the ACDC is a significant achievement for the progressive movement in Allegheny County, which has often clashed with the party establishment. Lee, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, ran as an insurgent candidate in 2018, ousting longtime incumbent Paul Costa in the primary. She then became the first black woman to serve in the state legislature from Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Since then, Lee has championed progressive causes such as a $15 minimum wage, a ban on fracking, equitable funding for public schools, and criminal justice reform. She has also supported other progressive candidates through her UNITE political action committee, which endorsed four state House candidates in the April primary, including herself.
Lee said she was honored and grateful to receive the ACDC endorsement, and thanked her volunteers and supporters for their energy and enthusiasm. “Thanks to them, our coalition is bigger than ever,” she said in a statement.
A challenge from a moderate Democrat
Lee’s primary opponent, Bhavini Patel, is a moderate Democrat who has served on the North Braddock Borough Council for 12 years and works as a supervisor at Round Hill Park with the Allegheny County Parks Department. Patel launched her campaign in November, and has received the backing of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the region’s leading Democratic Party elected official.
Patel said she supports Gov. Tom Wolf’s progressive agenda, but also wants to build bridges and bring investment to the communities in the district. She said she respects Lee’s work, but believes she can do more to address the issues facing the district, such as poverty, blight, and environmental justice.
“I’m running because I believe that we need a representative who is going to be able to work with everyone, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of ideology, to get things done for our district,” Patel said in an interview.
A test for the voters in the district
The 12th District includes sections of the City of Pittsburgh, as well as Wilkins Township and the boroughs of Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, Edgewood, Forest Hills, Homestead, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek and West Homestead. The district is predominantly Democratic, with more than 70% of registered voters identifying as Democrats.
The primary election, which will be held on April 28, will likely determine the winner of the general election in November. The voters in the district will have to choose between two different visions for the future of the district: one that is more radical and transformative, and one that is more pragmatic and collaborative.
The ACDC endorsement is not binding on the voters, who can and often do ignore it in the primary. However, it can be a gauge of how party leaders view the candidates, and of the direction of the local party. The ACDC chair, Sam Hens-Greco, said the results of the endorsement vote reflect the incumbents’ performance and service as representatives.