Why Andrew Yang and George Soros are bringing national heat to the Allegheny County DA race

Port Authority and Pittsburgh police respond to a stabbing along Smithfield Street on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Downtown. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

A progressive megadonor is backing Democrat Matt Dugan in his quest to topple 25-year incumbent Stephen Zappala as Allegheny County’s top prosecutor. Zappala is asking voters to look to other cities to judge Dugan and reeled in a national political group’s endorsement.

by Charlie Wolfson, PublicSource

The race to be Allegheny County’s top prosecutor, between incumbent Stephen Zappala and challenger and Democratic nominee Matt Dugan, has drawn unusual national attention for a local election.

map of allegheny county collage

A local contest that’s usually sleepy and uncompetitive has become a flashpoint in the long-running debate over criminal justice reform, attracting outside attention and money and causing a longtime incumbent to switch parties.

Dugan defeated Zappala, who has served as district attorney since 1998, in the Democratic primary in May. But Zappala accrued enough write-in votes in the Republican primary to earn that party’s nomination, setting up a rematch before the broader electorate. 

Dugan’s campaign has attracted big money from a progressive mega-donor, reflecting a new strategy by the donor class to bypass federal and state politics and try to bring change at the local level. Zappala’s side has invoked scenes of chaos in cities from coast to coast to make their pitch, and he received an endorsement from the Forward Party, a centrist group with presence nationwide.

Dugan, who served as the county’s chief public defender, said in a press conference Friday that he has a plan to improve public safety conditions in Downtown Pittsburgh. Zappala countered that Dugan would go too far in catering to defendants, jeopardizing public safety in the process. 

Pennsylvania Justice & Public Safety PAC, a political action committee funded by billionaire progressive donor George Soros, gave more than $700,000 in in-kind donations — mostly in the form of TV ads — to Dugan’s primary campaign. That represented about 90% of the campaign’s total contributions through early June. 

Zappala’s campaign received mostly local money ahead of the primary, including some five-figure checks from labor unions.


Filings showing fundraising since June are due to be disclosed in October. 

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