Long-time Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. fended off a challenge from newcomer Lisa Middleman on Tuesday to win his sixth term in office.
Ms. Middleman, a veteran public defender, announced her candidacy as an independent in June, vowing to bring progressive change.
But Mr. Zappala, 62, of Fox Chapel brought to the race name recognition and a long record in office — including creating specialized units to prosecute domestic violence and crimes against children; as well as bringing multiple stakeholders together to improve community safety. Ms. Middleman conceded the race Tuesday around 10:15.
Mr. Zappala arrived to cheers shortly after 9 p.m. at his election party at Cupka's Cafe II on the South Side. The bar was already crowded by supporters by the time he appeared, wearing a black winter coat over a black shirt.
Mr. Zappala was mobbed by supporters when he entered the bar. He slowly made his way deeper into the bar, shaking hands, giving hugs and taking photos with those who had come to see him.
Supporters sat at tables or crowded around them, drinking beer as they talked and laughed. Several people, including Mr. Zappala's son, Steve Zappala, sat at a table in the middle of the bar watching keeping track of the race as the incumbent pulled away.
Ms. Middleman, 57, of Franklin Park and her supporters gathered at Savoy in the Strip District to await results.
Mr. Zappala, who was appointed to the DA's seat in 1998, has participated in the creation of several specialty courts, including those that serve the mentally ill; veterans; those with substance abuse disorder; as well as others that target sex offenses and prostitution.
He has embraced the use of technology to help both prevent crime and solve it, including having cameras installed along Carson Street in the South Side, as well as license-plate reading cameras throughout the county.
Among the signature prosecutions under Mr. Zappala that resulted in conviction were two for corruption against a former state senator, Jane Orie, and her sister, then a sitting state Supreme Court justice, Joan Orie Melvin.
On Tuesday, supporters of Mr. Zappala passed out literature at the polls noting that, moving forward, he plans to lobby for stronger hate crime legislation, continue to use technology to better enforce Protection From Abuse orders and work to continue to eliminate cash bail.
Ms. Middleman, who often handles high-profile homicide cases as an assistant public defender, ran a grass-roots campaign, attending dozens of small events, like house parties, to garner support from individual communities.
Even though she entered the race with no background in politics or government, she excited her base by talking about major criminal justice reform issues, such as reducing imprisonment, eliminating cash bail, reducing racial bias and creating a conviction integrity unit.
In fundraising, both candidates collected similar dollar amounts — about $200,000 — through the Oct. 25 filing deadline. However, in the days after, Ms. Middleman collected more than $70,000 in late contributions, according to the Department of Elections.
During the campaign, Ms. Middleman collected a lot of small-dollar amounts — including $17,000 by people who gave $50 or less.
Mr. Zappala did not report any donations that small in his recent filing.
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