District Attorney Zappala campaigns in Aspinwall, Bloomfield

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

A half dozen supporters of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. gathered Saturday on the front porch of his campaign manager’s Aspinwall home to drink coffee and eat bagels before fanning out through the neighborhood to deliver signs and literature. 

Low key and soft spoken, Mr. Zappala apologized for running late, then thanked people individually for turning out to campaign for him  on a gray, rainy Saturday. Among the volunteers was Eileen Kelly, who chairs the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.

“It’s an important election. There’s a lot of division in the community,” said Mr. Zappala, 62,  who became district attorney in 1998. His next stop was the Columbus Day parade in Bloomfield before socializing with campaign workers during a cookout at the Brookline home of Pete Landis. 

On Nov. 5, Allegheny County voters will decide between Mr. Zappala and his challenger Lisa Middleman, a veteran criminal defense lawyer and part-time public defender for Allegheny County.

During the spring primary, Mr. Zappala fended off a challenge by Turahn Jenkins, a criminal defense lawyer.

The incumbent’s campaign reports show that he enjoys strong support from local unions, including the boilermakers, Teamsters, steamfitters, iron workers and carpenters. Ms. Middleman did not formally enter the race until June and her first campaign finance report is not due until later this month.

Mr. Zappala told his supporters Saturday that Ms. Middleman is “not an independent, she’s a Democrat. Quite frankly, if you meet her, you’re not going to like her.”

Told of that remark, Ms.Middleman responded, “That’s interesting because I have not spoken to him in 22 years. I guess what we could do is have a candidate forum where I guess people could decide which candidate they like. Oh, wait we’ve had several of those and he doesn’t come.’’

Mr. Zappala has said he will not attend a candidate forum on Monday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Community College of Allegheny County on the city’s North Side. The evening, sponsored by the Allegheny County League of Women Voters, is being held at the Foerster Student Services Center Auditorium, 808 Ridge Ave. 

“It’s not really an issue-driven campaign. They call you names and they impugn your integrity,” Mr. Zappala said.

During an interview Saturday, Mr. Zappala said he wants to work with school district leaders and  local law enforcement to ensure that all 41 school districts in Allegheny County are safe places for students. He is also interested in using GPS technology to better track people accused of crimes once they leave the Allegheny County Jail and believes that will prevent crimes. 

The District Attorney’s office, on average, has 16,000 indictments each year, Mr. Zappala said, and about of third of the people charged are diverted into specialized courts for veterans, people with mental health problems or drug addiction.

Ira Weiss, solicitor for the Pittsburgh Board of Education, said that several years ago, Mr. Zappala was proactive in convening local law enforcement officers to address the problem of fights that began occurring on Downtown streets after school when large numbers of students left classes at Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, City Charter School and Urban Pathways School.

“Last June, the legislature took away the arrest power of school police. I’m working with Senator [Pam] Iovino to get that restored,” Mr. Weiss said.

Marylynne Pitz at mpitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1648 or on Twitter:@mpitzpg

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