Lindsay Powell celebrates her unofficial win as state representative for the 21st District. (Capital-Star photo)
PITTSBURGH – Democrats appear to have regained control of the state House of Representatives, as unofficial results of a special election in Allegheny County show Lindsay Powell defeating Republican Erin Autenreith. The Associated Press called the race for Powell shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
“This is not just about the 21st District, this is about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Powell told a crowd of supporters Tuesday at a victory party at the Rear End Gastropub in Etna. “Right now, we have the opportunity to send a progressive Democrat to Harrisburg, but we know this isn’t about me. This isn’t about us, it’s making sure that across this beautiful state that every single person has access to accessible and dignified housing.
“It’s making sure that we have a strong, equitable, local economy that we can all be proud of, that we can all participate in and more than anything, it’s about believing that we can do more. That government doesn’t need to be insular fighting, that government doesn’t need to be rhetoric and back and forth. That government can be something that we are proud of, something that we can look and say, ‘We are proud of this, we stand behind this. We are proud of the representatives that we send to Harrisburg. And we know that they have our back,'” Powell said.
If the results hold, and Powell had a wide lead Tuesday night according to the Allegheny County Elections Division, Democrats in the House will have a 102-101 margin when they return to session next week. She can’t be seated until the elections division certifies the results; the board has a meeting scheduled for Oct. 2.
Powell would be the first Black woman to represent District 21.
The seat in the heavily Democratic district, which includes Millvale, Etna, Shaler Township, Reserve Township, and part of Pittsburgh, was left vacant when Democrat Sara Innamorato resigned in July to pursue election as Allegheny County executive. A three-time state representative from the city’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, Innamorato won the Democrats’ nomination for county executive in May, beating Democratic Party stalwarts John Weinstein and Michael Lamb. She is favored to win in the general election against Republican Joe Rockey.
Innamorato said Tuesday that the job of state representative is a challenging one but that Powell is up to the task. “There are days where you have people come into your office, and it’s their worst day, they’re facing eviction, they’re getting their utilities shut off, they can’t get their unemployment and I know that you have the compassion and the empathy to serve our neighbors as well,” Innamorato said to the crowd of cheering supporters. “I know you are going to be a fighter in Harrisburg, you are going to fight to raise the wage, you’re going to fight for unions, you’re going to fight to protect our reproductive freedoms and our voting rights, and investments in housing, and everything that the Democratic majority wants to deliver.”
Powell is the director of workforce strategies for the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit economic development organization, InnovatePGH. A resident of Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood, Powell is also a member of the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Autenreith is chairperson of the Shaler Township Republican Committee and a real estate agent. “I ran a good race on a limited budget.” she wrote in an email Tuesday in response to a request for comment from the Capital-Star. “You have not heard the last of me.”
Indeed, Powell had a significant financial advantage in the truncated race: Campaign finance reports showed Powell’s campaign committee raised about $53,000 between July 24 and Sept. 4, compared to Autenreith’s committee, which raised just over $6,000.
Heather Williams, the interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), said in a statement Tuesday that Powell’s win was a rejection by voters of Republicans’ “extremist views and policies.”
“Republicans across the country are finding out what happens when thy run against crucial access to reproductive health care and run towards attacking Americans’ fundamental freedoms,” Williams said.
The special election was the seventh in the General Assembly this year, as lawmakers have either risen to higher office or resigned amid scandal. In five of those elections, the Democratic majority has hung in the balance.
This story was updated at 9:50 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19 to include additional detail and comments from Innamorato, Powell, and Autenreith.
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