North Braddock native launches campaign for state House representative
Marcella Lee almost threw a fit when she learned her granddaughter, Summer Lee, was heading to France as part of a study-abroad trip during her junior year of college at Penn State University.
“Oh, absolutely not!” were Marcella Lee’s first words.
But Summer Lee was insistent on seizing the opportunity. “So, I gave her my blessings. I said, ‘you can go.’ I was a nervous wreck,” Marcella Lee recalled.
But Grandma won’t have any objections if Summer has to head away again. This time, say, to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“Harrisburg, you know, I can jump on the highway,” Marcella Lee told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “If she wins it, I can be in Harrisburg in three hours flat.”
Summer Lee, 30, has her eyes on state House District 34—she held a campaign kickoff party at Peppers N’ At in Braddock, Jan. 15, bringing out hundreds even with the snow outside taking up parking spots and attempting to ruin the fun.
The Pennsylvania 34th House district primarily encompasses Braddock, Churchill, Edgewood, Forest Hills, Homestead, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, and a small part of the City of Pittsburgh. Lee grew up in North Braddock, and since she returned to her roots after graduating from Howard’s Law School in 2015, she’s been all about her community.
Lee was an organizer for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign, which afforded her the opportunity to “make great connections,” Lee said. “I organized a lot of voters,” she added, inspired by the way her North Braddock and nearby communities responded to her grassroots efforts.
Lee, a current Woodland Hills commission member and 2005 Woodland Hills High School graduate, then decided to make her own run for elected office. “I just wanted to work in social justice, in the way where I can be most effective, at any given time,” Lee said. “Now maybe in 10 years that may be different, but right now I truly feel like where we need the most help in our community is in policy—we need laws written, we need political power in our communities—so I just felt like that’s where I could be most effective.”
The green light given on the party…bring out the “Summer for PA” posters and buttons, the sounds of classic R&B blaring, the plentiful food and drinks —Lee’s campaign is now in full swing.
“She’s an excellent listener,” said Braddock Council President Tina Doose at Lee’s campaign kickoff event. “And in order to solve problems, you have to be able to understand and know the people and listen to what their concerns are, and she’s got it captured.”
Doose, also a Woodland Hills commission member, worked with Lee in the organization of the group Concerned Citizens of Woodland Hills. “She has been in the trenches,” Doose said. “She is the life that we need to represent us in Harrisburg from this district.”
“If I was going to do any work in social justice and civil rights, I had to come home and do it first,” Lee told the crowd of supporters, Jan. 15. “If I can do something in my community, if I can change the landscape in Pittsburgh, which we all know is not necessarily the most livable city for everybody in this room, then we can change things in every community across the country.”
Lee also told the diverse group of supporters she is fighting for an equitable funding system for schools, “so that kids in Braddock are going to the same quality of schools as the kids in Fox Chapel, as the kids in Mt. Lebanon,” she said.
Lee believes the current state minimum wage is too minimal. She wants health care for all, cleaner air quality, and as for the school-to-prison pipeline, that must end now. “The money we spend on prisons can easily go to our children, to preventing our children from ever needing to see a jail cell, if only we wanted to, and if only we came together and demanded it,” she told the crowd.
Moreover, Lee told the Courier that she wants her campaign to act as a catalyst for others to take an active voice in their community, even holding elected office. “Whether it be on your borough council, Democratic committee, we have an opportunity with this campaign to really educate people,” she said.
Looking ahead to May’s primary, Democrat Paul Costa is the incumbent, a seat he’s held since being elected in 1999. The name “Costa” should ring a bell—his brothers, Dom, Guy and Jay, currently are in public office. Paul Costa, who considers himself a political moderate, hasn’t had any real competition for his 34th House District seat. But Lee told the Courier that the word “fear” is not in her vocabulary.
“As Black women, we’re used to navigating spaces where we’re not necessarily welcome, where we’re not wanted all the time, so were kind of used to just kicking down doors, instead of going through the process like they would expect us to do,” Lee said. “We’re used to hearing no, we’re used to even losing sometimes, so losing, it doesn’t frighten me.”
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