Pittsburgh magistrate race turns contentious as Election Day nears
By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — Things are heating up between a Democrat and an Independent candidate running on criminal justice reform issues in the election for Magistrate District Judge in Pittsburgh’s West End.
In Magisterial District 05-3-13 — which includes the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Sheraden, Banksville, Westwood, Elliot, Fairywood, Oakwood, Chartiers, Crafton Heights, and East Carnegie — the primary election was won uncontested by Nick Martini on the Democratic and Republican ballots.
Usually, this would mean Martini would see an uncontested general election, but East Carnegie resident Holly Hickling has mounted an independent campaign, and in the final days of the race, it is really heating up.
Hickling, a program evaluation specialist for the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Pharmacy, says she was motivated to run after no one emerged to challenge Martini, adding that she felt the West End deserved a judge focused on combating bias and reforming policies within the magistrate courtroom.
She said this contrasts with Martini’s campaign and believes that he will just follow the “status quo” in his father’s footsteps. Randy Martini, Nick’s father, is the incumbent judge and is not seeking re-election.
In this same vein, Hickling is also criticizing Martini for a campaign sign in the district implying that Martini has already won the seat, even before the general election.
At a ballfield in the West End, a banner reads “Magisterial District Judge Nick Martini,” complete with a large drawing of the state seal of Pennsylvania. The banner is next to several others on the fence of the ballfield, including banners for elected officials like Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith and state Rep. Dan Deasy, as well as advertisements for local businesses. She calls Martini’s banner “dishonest.”
“He won the primary unopposed, so maybe he thinks that means he won the general election,” Hickling said. “But he could have taken it down after he had a challenger. It is deceptive. People who drive by there are getting the message that he is the incumbent.”
Why is judicial candidate Nick Martini impersonating a judge? His father won re-election unopposed two times and now his son is pretending he isn't facing fierce competition from @HollyForJudge pic.twitter.com/TH8kKsLHKt
— Joseph L. Flatley (@lennyflatley) October 28, 2021
Martini said that the banner was put up after he won the primary election on the Democratic and Republican ballot unopposed, and that it was placed before he was aware he had any general election opponent. He said that a local West End athletic association is responsible for the banner and could take it down.
“At the time of purchase, I was the only person running. It was not purchased when [Hickling] was running,” Martini said. “When it was purchased, how was it dishonest or deceptive?”
In addition to squabbles over campaign banners, the race between Hickling and Martini offers two different visions for the Magistrate District Judge office. Magistrate District Court is directly below Common Pleas and judges are responsible for assigning bail conditions and deciding eviction cases, and is a defendant’s first introduction to the state’s criminal judicial system.
Hickling said she wants to reform policies that have become the norm within Allegheny County courts, wants to reduce the court’s reliance on things like cash bail, and use mitigation to help lower eviction rates. She said her campaign ideals are in line with Magistrate District Judges like Mik Pappas.
“Magistrates can reduce fines, but they can do so much more,” Hickling said, adding that she wants to lower the use of cash bail in her court if she were to win. “This could really affect someone’s life. You could use your judgment.”
Hickling grew up in the West End and moved back to Pittsburgh two years ago. She works at Pitt trying to evaluate how to reduce opioid-related deaths. She says that experience would be valuable as a judge.
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