The Lead

Pittsburgh Dem Ravenstahl attracts primary challenger in Bellevue’s Marburger

By: - September 5, 2019 12:35 pm

A frequently primaried Allegheny County Democrat could be facing a new challenger.

Emily Marburger, the 32-year-old mayor of Bellevue — a borough bordering Pittsburgh — told the Capital-Star she is exploring a 20th House District run against five-term Rep. Adam Ravenstahl.

Emily Marburger

Her campaign Facebook page had previously been noted by Politics PA.

Ravenstahl, the 34-year-old brother of former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, has held the seat since 2010, when he won a special election.

“I think the days of seeing these political families holding these seats are over,” Marburger told the Capital-Star this week. “People want fresh faces, different ideas, [and] different perspectives representing them.”

The district includes such Pittsburgh neighborhoods as Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, the Strip District, and parts of the North Side, as well some North Hills suburbs.

Ravenstahl faced a primary challenge in 2018 from local DJ and Bernie Sanders supporter Mike Devine, and won with 59.5 percent of the vote. 

According to Ballotpedia, Ravenstahl has faced primary challenges every two years since taking office, except for 2016. His closest race came in 2012, when he won by less than 300 votes.

Ravenstahl noted his history of intraparty races, and joked that he often asks himself how he attracts so many. But he told the Capital-Star he doesn’t “think you’ll find much [difference] in policy between myself and any challenger I would have.”

Rep. Adam Ravenstahl | PA House photo

Marburger said she understands fundraising and energy could be difficult to attract as the political world gears up for the 2020 presidential campaign, and didn’t want to get in the way of the 2019 municipal elections.

She expects to make an official announcement come November.

Marburger said in an email that she is “challenging an incumbent not to tear him down or criticize his work for the past 10 years, but rather to bring change and renewed hope.”

But she did specifically point to Ravenstahl’s record on abortion as troubling.

“The biggest difference you’re going to see between me and [Ravenstahl] is reproductive rights,” Marburger said. “He leans pro-life.”

Ravenstahl also called himself “pro-life” to The Incline in 2017 as he faced Devine’s primary challenge. 

But talking to the Capital-Star on Thursday, Ravenstahl said that while he “can’t put a date on it,” after meeting with constituents and doctors, he now favors abortion access.

“As I stand here today, I am pro-choice and do not plan to change that going forward,” he said.

Long divided by abortion, House Democrats anticipate strong showing against Down syndrome ban

Ravenstahl acknowledged some past votes, including a yes on a 20-week abortion ban in 2016. He also voted for keeping abortion out of Affordable Care Act coverage in 2013.

But he waved aside those old positions by pointing to his vote against another 20-week ban vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017. He also voted against two iterations of a Down syndrome abortion ban, in 2018 and this year.

In 2018, Devine was endorsed by Planned Parenthood PA over Ravenstahl.

“I’ve changed my mind on that issue,” Ravenstahl said.

Marburger is not Ravenstahl’s only potential challenger. Emily Kinkead, a Pittsburgh attorney, has set up an Act Blue account to solicit donations for a run at the 20th, claiming the district “deserves better leadership with a real vision for the future.”

Pittsburgh’s Democratic political scene has been shaken by a forceful changing of guard over the past few years. Since 2017, at least six state and local incumbents have lost primaries to younger, progressive, and often female candidates. 

Many others, including Ravenstahl and Rep. Jake Wheatley, have beaten back energetic opponents.

The 2018 cycle specifically saw two long-time Democratic incumbents — distant cousins Paul and Dom Costa — lose their reelection campaigns to now-Reps. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato.

But Ravenstahl said he doesn’t think he should linked to some of the fallen incumbents. At 34, he’s still young, and he sees his flip on abortion rights as proof that he’s in touch with his district and its concerns.

“I’ve been a very good Democrat,” Ravenstahl said. “I think the support I’ve had speaks for itself.”

This story was updated with comment from Ravenstahl.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.