For almost 28 years, Joseph Preston Jr. has been the man to beat in the 24th Legislative District. And, like many state House members, the East Liberty Democrat has had to rebut charges that he is out of touch with the concerns of his constituents.
Fourteen terms is a long time in Harrisburg and when a legislator's track record is measured in decades, challengers are inevitable and necessary. In next month's primary, two men are opposing Mr. Preston, who has been endorsed by the county Democratic committee for the party nomination in the district that encompasses Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, Aspinwall, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Point Breeze, Larimer, Homewood, Highland Park and East Hills. With no Republican on the ballot, the results on May 18 will be tantamount to election.
The unresolved issues that plague the residents of these communities vary from lack of jobs to rising crime to troubled schools, according to the candidates.
The challengers to Mr. Preston, 62, are small-business owner William Anderson, 37, of Homewood, and Todd Elliott Koger, 48, of Wilkinsburg. Both Mr. Anderson and Mr. Koger, who is unemployed after working for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in the Duquesne School District, are veterans of previous primary battles in the 24th District.
During a meeting with the Post-Gazette Editorial Board, both accused Mr. Preston of complacency, with Mr. Koger calling him guilty of a "plantation mentality" as a black leader. Mr. Koger lists his ability "to walk the streets" in parts of the district he says Mr. Preston can't and insists he can maintain his community presence while effecting change in Harrisburg. Bringing the state budget in on time and working for what he calls "constitutionally correct" gun legislation to counter crime are two of his highest priorities.
Mr. Anderson, the owner of an auto body shop, has an extensive resume in grass-roots politics. Affable and intelligent, he rattles off a litany of ways in which he claims the incumbent has fallen short in representing the 24th District. Mr. Anderson identifies gun violence, education reform and community development as issues he'd like to tackle in Harrisburg.
Mr. Preston continues to stand on his record of constituent service, his early support of the CHIP health insurance program for children and efforts to help women- and minority-owned businesses succeed. He is a reliable vote for the Democratic leadership (as we suspect his challengers would be) and he has been involved in the new business developments that are reshaping East Liberty.
If given another term, Mr. Preston says he would like to do more for economic development, education and the phase-out of property taxes. He also believes that property assessments should be handled statewide and not county by county. Though hardly a reformer, Mr. Preston understands the issues and how government works. His constituents clearly know what he has to offer.
For as tempting as change might be in this district, it would be a gamble to nominate one of the challengers. The Post-Gazette endorsement goes to Joseph Preston Jr.