19th House District: Democrats have a reliable rep in Jake Wheatley

Written by Susan Mannella on .

There is no shortage of name recognition and political history in the quest for the Democratic Party nomination to the state House's 19th District seat.

Incumbent Jake Wheatley faces opposition from former Pittsburgh councilwoman Tonya Payne and longtime school board member Mark Brentley Sr. All three choices should be familiar to voters in the district, which includes Downtown, the Hill District, North Side, South Side, Allentown, Hazelwood, the Bluff, Knoxville, Beltzhoover, Manchester, Arlington, Arlington Heights and West, South and North Oakland. Victory in the primary is tantamount to election because there is no Republican candidate.

Mr. Wheatley, a one-time aide in the office of former councilman Sala Udin, beat veteran incumbent Bill Robinson in 2002 to take the House seat, and he has turned back challengers in subsequent elections. He is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on education and points with pride to increased funding for early childhood education programs and with intervening when initial plans called for Duquesne's high school students to be dispersed to six different districts due to the closing of their building.

He also chairs the subcommittee on mental health of the Health and Human Services Committee and, as such, said new legislation is being prepared that will offer increased protection for adults with mental health impairments that leave them vulnerable to victimization.

Mr. Brentley's chief complaint about the incumbent is that he won election to the state post without first serving in a local office, and he has challenged Mr. Wheatley without success in the past. For her part, Ms. Payne - who beat Mr. Udin to win a seat on council in 2005 - sees Mr. Wheatley as an extension of his political mentor.

She captured the city Democratic committee's endorsement in this race, and she filed a legal challenge to some of Mr. Wheatley's nomination petitions. She sat out the candidates' meeting with Post-Gazette editors, stung by our lack of support for her bid to stay on council last year.

In this race, neither she nor Mr. Brentley has convinced us that the incumbent does not deserve to keep the job he has been handling ably. The Post-Gazette endorses Jake Wheatley.


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