May 21 event to feature Democratic candidates for 18th Congressional
District; Primary is June 2
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
The Pittsburgh NAACP is taking its talents to the virtual arena, and, just in time for the June 2 Pa. Primary Election, stepping into the ring will be the incumbent, Rep. Mike Doyle, against the newcomer, Jerry Dickinson.
With the coronavirus pandemic understandably being top-of-mind for most people, don’t forget about 2020 being a pivotal year in the world of politics.
The NAACP sure hasn’t. The virtual debate between Rep. Doyle and Dickinson in the race for the U.S. Congress’ 18th District will occur May 21 at 6 p.m. To access the online debate, visit http://www.pittsburghnaacp.org or visit the organization’s Facebook page.
THE INCUMBENT: REP. MIKE DOYLE, a mainstay in U.S. Congress.
Representative Doyle has been a mainstay in the U.S. Congress, representing the 18th District (which includes the City of Pittsburgh and other nearby municipalities) from 1995-2003, the 14th District from 2003-2019, and currently back to the 18th District.
But Rep. Doyle, 66, the Swissvale native and Penn State University graduate, is being challenged for his seat by Dickinson, an upbeat, forward-thinking constitutional law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who says on his website, “after 25 years of the same representation, people are ready for change.”
Dickinson, who is African American, was separated at a young age from his parents, who, in his words, were too poor and too sick to care for him. Dickinson was in the Allegheny County foster care system and was adopted into a multi-racial foster family with 10 other kids.
THE CHALLENGER: JERRY DICKINSON, a 33-year-old law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dickinson, as a Fulbright Scholar in Johannesburg, South Africa, mobilized the poorest of the poor whose slums were being gentrified by major corporations and developers, according to his website. Dickinson litigated in South African courts to uphold the people’s constitutional rights to housing and clean water.
Upon returning to Pittsburgh, Dickinson helped establish the first community land trust in a Black neighborhood that was affected by increased investment by corporate developers, according to his website.
And now, Dickinson has decided to put on the virtual boxing gloves and attempt to TKO a well-known incumbent in Doyle who’s had his share of support from local African American elected officials and residents.
“This is one of the least livable cities for African American women, we are losing our Black population due to unemployment and displacement; the school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately affects African American girls and boys,” Dickinson said in a May 5 video. “Those are major issues that are concerning the African American community that have to be resolved and debated between the two candidates.”
But the May 21 NAACP debate almost wasn’t going to include Rep. Doyle. At first, he turned down the NAACP’s invitation, instead asking the NAACP to send questions to a debate forum that he was scheduled to attend for the League of Women Voters, according to WESA Radio. The NAACP balked at the idea.
Representative Doyle’s position was that he wasn’t sure what dates he would be available to be in the Pittsburgh area due to the pandemic and his duties as a congressman in Washington, D.C. But that didn’t stop the Pittsburgh NAACP from issuing an open letter to the congressman, of which it said they were “disheartened and disappointed” that Rep. Doyle wouldn’t commit to its debate.
“This extended back and forth combined with an ultimate rejection of a debate on issues of great significance to the Black community is wholly unacceptable,” the May 7 letter read, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier. “Not only does the Black community constitute 22 percent of the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District, but it forms a key and historically loyal constituency of the Democratic Party. As such, the issues and concerns of the Black community must be properly addressed.”
The letter brought the coronavirus pandemic into focus, saying: “Pittsburgh was found to be one of the least livable cities for Blacks in the country prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color throughout the nation, it is more, not less, necessary to address these underlying issues before they further cripple our community. A dialogue must be had on how our candidates plan to move forward out of this particular crisis without leaving Pittsburgh’s vulnerable Black community even more behind.”
By the next day, May 8, Rep. Doyle switched gears, and confirmed that he would participate in the NAACP’s May 21 debate.
Dickinson jumped on the opportunity to capitalize on Rep. Doyle’s perceived slight of the NAACP. “Mr. Doyle’s delay, equivocation, and denial pertaining to his acceptance of the debate prior to this point underscore the need for his replacement,” Dickinson said in a statement, May 8. “After a quarter century in office, it is clear that he has not done enough for the African American community, or for residents of his district as a whole.
“This is a safe-blue district,” Dickinson continued. “The representative of this district can be a bold leader, an advocate, and a fighter who is eager to take on the hard problems we face. Mr. Doyle has demonstrated a clear reluctance to even discuss these problems, much less to use his seat as a bully-pulpit to solve them. I look forward to a vigorous debate with Mr. Doyle focused on issues facing the African American community.”
FEATURED IMAGE: JERRY DICKINSON, a 33-year-old law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)