Larry Ceisler on the May 18th PA Primary

Q: Let’s start with Democratic primary in Pittsburgh, where State Rep. Ed Gainey beat Mayor Bill Peduto. What turned that race and caused a two-term incumbent to lose?


Larry Ceisler: Number one, Pittsburgh has a history of two-term mayors. And the last mayor to win a third term, Tom Murphy, won his final primary by the skin of his teeth (48-to-47 percent in 2001). In a relatively low-turnout race, Gainey successfully got his people out.


In addition, Peduto got middled in the race – Gainey ran to his left and a third candidate (retired police officer Tony Moreno) ran to his right. If it were a two-person race, I think Peduto could have gotten those votes.


Finally, a lot of what happened in Pittsburgh and other large cities in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing last summer had a carryover effect in this vote.


Q: What challenges will Ed Gainey face as mayor?


Larry Ceisler: Pittsburgh is always facing challenges, but it’s poised for growth. I think Gainey’s biggest challenge is that he’s been in the minority party as a state rep, and being in the minority means you have relatively little influence or power. Now he’s an executive and calling the shots. So the challenge for him initially will be a change of environment and being the guy dictating business. It’s a completely different job with a different dynamic.


Q: Let’s talk about Philadelphia and the Democratic primary for district attorney. Did Larry Krasner’s wide margin of victory surprise you?

Larry Ceisler: Oh yeah. I expected Krasner to win, but the enormity of the win was very impressive. Because in the end, this wasn’t about Carlos Vega, this was a referendum on Larry Krasner and his politics. And he won an overwhelming vote of confidence.


Q: Would things have changed if Krasner had been opposed by a stronger candidate?


Larry Ceisler: It could have changed a little; maybe a stronger challenger could have brought out more voters. But when you see that result, the die was cast – at the end of day, it was all about Krasner.


Q: How was this race looked at outside of Philadelphia?


Larry Ceisler: He’s a national poster boy for progressive criminal justice reform and that was a big win for the national reform movement. People who are concerned about these issues did not want to see him lose.


Q: His impressive win came despite a rapidly increasing homicide rate in Philadelphia. That was the issue opponents tried to use against him.


Larry Ceisler: And apparently that didn’t resonate with voters. The challenge he faced was people equating public safety with the DA. Krasner kept saying it’s a societal issue, not about the DA’s office. And, obviously, that worked for him.


Q: Some Democratic leaders, including the mayor, steered clear of endorsing him before the primary. Do you expect them to move to embrace him?


Larry Ceisler: It’s more a matter of whether Krasner chooses to embrace them. I think if anything he’ll be more emboldened. Some of these other elected officials who didn’t endorse him will need to take note of this victory.


Q: Let’s move to the statewide ballot questions. All four passed Tuesday, including the two seeking to limit the governor’s emergency powers. I read a column last week saying that over the past quarter century, all 18 statewide ballot questions were all approved. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.


Larry Ceisler: The thing is, “yes” always wins. The fact that the “no” vote on those two was so significant (about 46 percent) shows that you do have an informed electorate. It’s not as if Gov. Wolf and the Democrats put in any political capital or effort trying to beat that. So not surprisingly, at the end of the day the Republican Legislature won.


Q: Will this win embolden the Republican-led Legislature to do more?


Larry Ceisler: Oh, they’re emboldened to begin with, so I don’t think it really matters. And the governor will continue to veto their boldness.

Larry Ceisler in a suit and button-down shirt smiling at the camera.

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