These are the Top Three races to watch on Election Day | Monday Morning Coffee

November 4, 2019 7:09 am

Independent Allegheny County District Attorney candidate Lisa Middleman (Facebook photo)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

This Tuesday, Nov. 5 is Election Day in Pennsylvania.

And while the 2020 presidential race may be devouring all the national media oxygen, there are a bunch of races up and down the ballot here in the Keystone State that are at least as dramatic — and perhaps just as determinative — as those at the federal level.

From Pittsburgh to Perkasie, voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots in a plethora of offices.

County commissioner hopefuls, aspiriting statewide appellate and county Common Pleas court judges, township supervisors and borough council candidates have spent the last few weeks pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and hobnobbing with voters, all with the goal of emerging victorious after the polls close.

So, with that in mind, here are three races, from across Pennsylvania, that we’ll be paying attention to on Tuesday night. We’re giving each one a ‘popcorn rating‘ to indicate its potential for drama or upset.

1. Allegheny County District Attorney:  Incumbent Democratic District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who’s been Allegheny County’s top prosecutor since 1999, faces a stiff challenge from public defender Lisa Middleman.

Middleman, who’s running as an independent, is a progressive in the vein of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Zappala is running with the support of the local Democratic establishment.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend, she’s promised to eliminate cash bail; end prosecution for cannabis possession and, in a part of the state plagued by rocky police-community relations, she wants to hold police officers accountable for their actions.

Future of Marsy’s Law unclear, but voters will still be able to see how it performs on Election Day

Zappala, the son of a former state Supreme Court justice “is locking up people who struggle with mental illness and addiction, instead of the truly violent criminals that plague our streets,” Middleman said in a campaign ad, the Inquirer reported.

Despite establishment support and the advantage of the incumbency, Zappala had a nail-biter of a spring primary.

Former county public defender Turahn Jenkins took about 40 percent of the vote, the Tribune-Review reportedMiddleman, meanwhile, has the support of insurgent state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, who’s made knocking off Democratic incumbents a bit of a cottage industry.

“It would … be a huge upet were he to lose,” Robert Morris University political science professor Phillip Harold told the Tribune-Review. “But there is certainly the possibility. And Zappala supporters are concerned.”

Popcorn Rating: 5 out of 5.

Left, a photo of Amanda Green-Hawkins. Right, the image in black and white run used in an attack ad by Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs.

2. Pennsylvania Superior Court: Pennsylvania voters will be asked to choose two candidates for the 15-member appellate court, which has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters.

These contests normally don’t attract much attention apart from a tightly knit circle of insiders and money people (and there’s been a ton of that),  but we’re paying particularly close attention given the recent controversy surrounding Democratic hopeful Amanda Green-Hawkins, who’s accused a conservative political group of employing “Willie Horton“-style tactics to derail her candidacy in a series of social media ads.

The group behind the ads, Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, run by former Commonwealth Foundation boss Matt Brouilette, has denied any suggestion it’s playing the race card, arguing instead that it’s just calling attention to Green-Hawkins’ qualifications and the fact that she got a ‘not recommended’ rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

It’s tough, but not entirely impossible, for non-recommended candidates to win a seat on the bench, so we’ll be watching this one closely.

Popcorn Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Delaware County Courthouse (Administrative Office of Pa. Courts image)

3. Basically everything in Delaware County: There’s no clearer sign of the ongoing blue-ing of the Philly ‘burbs than what’s happening in Delaware County right now.

As the Inquirer reports, and we reaffirm, Democrats could capture the majority of the five-member county council for the first time ever. There’s also a massive competitive race for district attorney. And just like he did for Philly DA Larry Krasner, progressive gazillionaire George Soros is putting his money into the race. Soros made a $100K contribution to the contest pitting Democrat Jack Stollsteimer against incumbent GOP DA Katayoun Copeland.

Democrats are bullish on the chances of wins in all four collar counties. And if that happens, that signals potentially good things for Dems (and, conversely, very bad things for Republicans) in 2020.

Canary, meet coal mine.

Popcorn Rating: 6 out of 5

WikiMedia Commons

Our Stuff.
Speaking of election stuff, Elizabeth Hardison has everything you need to know about the current state of affairs on the litigation-hobbled Marsy’s Law amendment that will be on the statewide ballot on Tuesday.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, a bill now before City Council would give nonprofits first dibs on buying affordable housing units in the city.

On our Commentary Page, a Georgetown University scholar breaks down U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ playbook for undermining public schools.

Y en la Estrella-Capital: Encuesta: Más de la mitad de los votantes del Pa. apoyan la investigación de juício politíco de Trump, por John L. Micek. Y tambíen, Como un debate sobre sentencias obligatorias para crímenes con armas de fuego podrían hundir los ahorros recogidos de una reforma a la ley de justicia criminal, por Elizabeth Hardison.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and a proponent of Medicare for All

A ‘pretend’ Bernie Sanders starred in an attack ad taking on candidates for Delaware County Council, the Inquirer reports.
Pittsburgh City Paper explains the political fight over Allegheny County’s proposed ban on conversion therapy.
PennLive has your guide to Election Day in central Pennsylvania.
Union workers at Mack Truck have approved a four-year deal, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

The state Superior Court has ruled that people who commit offenses as juveniles don’t have to register as sex offendersJurist reports.
Philadelphia is creating the first of its kind ‘urban agriculture manifesto,’ WHYY-FM reports. looks at efforts to ‘ferret out’ unnamed landlords.
The Pa. Turnpike will go 100 percent cashless by 2021. Toll-taker jobs will be phased out, WITF-FM reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
holds a 2 p.m. newser in the Reception Room to urge Pa. National Guard members to use the PA. GI Bill benefit.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out to Kelly-Anne Suarez at Lehigh Valley Health Network, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Tame Impala, it’s ‘It Might Be Time.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
got past Anaheim 3-2 in overtime on Sunday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.