Allegheny County Democrat Committee is Not a Safe Space, Especially for Black Women

They had one job. Endorse Democrats best suited for their respective offices.

Somehow the Allegheny County Democratic Party interpreted that to mean 1) endorse a Trump supporter and 2) support misogynoir.

In so doing, the ACDC has once again demonstrated that they are an actual threat to democracy, common sense, good government, and marginalized folks. They are especially a threat to Black women, perhaps their strongest base of core voters.

Jessica Benham lost the endorsement to Heather Kass by a margin of 49 to 19 in House District 36, which includes southern Pittsburgh neighborhoods and suburban areas. Two of our niblings live in this district so we are paying attention. Jessica happens to be a queer white woman with a disability running a solid campaign.

The endorsed candidate Heather Kass is terrible, frightening, and not someone I’d want to around ever. From the City Paper

In December 2015, Kass wrote in all caps on her personal Facebook page that she hates Obamacare, complained about her premium payments, and decried, “THESE LAZY NO GOOD IDIOTS SUCKING THE SYSTEM DRY AND I STILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THEM.” At the end of the post, she wrote “GO TRUMP!!!!!!!!!!!!” with 12 exclamation points.

She bashes the Affordable Care Act, people living with addiction, people on public assistance and … of course, trans folks. And don’t overlook the coded welfare-queen racist comments.

Another post shared by Heather Ann SK from last August shares a meme popular on conservative websites of a rifle dressed up as a unicorn, reading “OK, we fixed it, so it won’t scare anyone. And don’t ‘assume’ its identity, it’s NOT an AR-15. It identifies as a wireless, handheld peacekeeping device.”

In addition to her hateful positions, she seems to be an idiot. Here are a few quotes:

On her creepy relationship with retiring State Rep Harry Readshaw:

“Harry is my mentor, and him being behind me 100 percent is the best,” Kass said. “I can’t fill his shoes, but I’d like to dip my toes into it.”

{Ewwwwww …..}

On her fundamental misunderstanding of how endorsements work:

Kass said the support of the party was crucial to her chances. “It means a lot. It means that everybody stands behind me.”

{Not so much, Heather. Literally the only people standing behind you are old white cis het men.}

On sitting out the 2016 Presidential election and not supporting Hillary Clinton

“I did not support anybody,” says Kass.

{She sat out the election that gave us Trump instead of voting for her party’s nominee.}

On this hullabaloo about social media

Some people say that people don’t change their colors, but they have never lived in somebody’s shoes …

{Clearly, the ACDC has not changed their preferred candidate color of white. Also, where was her empathy for other peoples shoes in her original comments?}

County Councilmember Bethany Hallam has this to say

“If you look at the comments that Heather Kass made, they weren’t 25 years ago, they’re recent. She says things like this, supports Trump and she blows Jess out of the water? We have candidates outwardly spewing anti-Democratic Party values getting the endorsement. [Kass] thinks gender identity is a joke, thinks people with substance abuse issues deserve to die and she gets the endorsement. We should all be taking this personally. What the fuck is going on here?”

Hallam and others are calling for an immediate change by the ACDC and the overall endorsement process.

So obviously Heather Kass is a rude, selfish, angry, and crass white woman who has zero to offer her district. The Pittsburgh Current implies that Kass is a distraction candidate put forward by Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill.

“The idea is that if Kass can pull at least some party support from Benham then Coghiil’s candidate can possibly sneak in,” the source said. “But it’s odd that [Coghill] says he won’t support Heather Kass but he’ll use her for his own political agenda. And apparently that agenda is sending a 60-year-old white man to Harrisburg to stop a young, progressive woman candidate.”

Coghill himself is quite a gem. He told the Post-Gazette:

But Mr. Coghill, whose committee ward partly overlaps with the 36th legislative district, told the Post-Gazette on Monday that he didn’t play a role in whipping votes for Ms. Kass, and said though he knows her and once supported her, “not one committee person in my district got a phone call from me saying, ‘I need you to support [Ms. Kass].”

“I’m flattered by the fact they think I swung that thing,” Mr. Coghill said. “I’m not that politically powerful.”

He’s flattered to be perceived as a lying despot-wanna-be who will use an ignorant white woman he doesn’t respect to achieve his own political aims, whatever they might be? That’s who sits in City Council. That guy. He’s flattered to be perceived a politically powerful, not indignant by the suggestion that he’s corrupt and willing to go Team Trump?

Okay, then.

This is both hilarious and horrifying. The outcome is not some relic of old school regional politics. It is a reflection of who we are as Democrats in Allegheny County right now. This is white Pittsburgh at its most vile and perhaps honest self.

To confirm this sobering fuckery, we need look no further than another endorsement by the ACDC this weekend – the decision to deny their support to the only black woman representative from this region, incumbent Representative Summer Lee, whowas defeated for the endorsement by Christopher Roland, a political newcomer backed by labor and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Christopher Roland is a white cishet pro-fracking man.

Summer Lee won her election in 2018, unseating an established member of a political dynasty – an impressive feat of a fearless campaign. She went to Harrisburg and did her job. She has shown up repeatedly to stand with people in her district. She increased voter turnout in her district. She did her job. In no reality did she not deserve that endorsement by her own party.

The opted not to endorse the successful Black woman Democrat.

The opted not to endorse the Black woman.

They opted to endorse the candidate who uses coded welfare-queen lingo.

The ACDC has cemented a legacy of racist, anti-LGBTQ, classist, ableist, sexist politics. They are not a safe space for me – a queer disabled woman. They are not safe for my friends, family, or neighbors.

But it is imperative that we remain focused on the threat the ACDC poses to Black women and other women of color.

And be grateful that in spite of that threat, leaders like Summer Lee put themselves out there while many, many other Black women keep the grassroots progressive machine running. They keep saving us while we keep propping up bitter white vengeance politics.

So here’s my suggestions on changing the narrative that the ACDC controls

  • Donate to Summer Lee’s campaign. Even $5 right now from someone outside of her district matters.
  • Donate to Jessica Benham’s campaign. Even $5 right now from someone outside of her district matters.
  • Like their respective Facebook campaign pages: Summer Lee and Jessica Benham.
  • Invite everyone you know to do the same.
  • Go to the ACDC website to find your committee folx. When you can’t find them, call ((412) 481-5646) AND email the office to get that information. Ask why it’s not public. Tweet them @AlleghenyDems
  • THEN contact your committee folx. Ask them to explain. Ask them how they specifically are working to address these concerns. Ask point blank if they support Summer and Jessica. Ask when their term is up and if they plan to run again. Pin them down.
  • Vote. Get your people to vote.

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee has made it clear who is not welcome at the table, regardless of their qualifications. And it is important for the readers of this blog to realize that most of us are among the unwanted. It is even important for Heather Kass to realize she’s not really wanted, merely tolerated because her bigotry, gender, and white skin are useful. I doubt she’ll make that leap and actually repent, but I do have hope that the rest of us – the actual Democrats in Allegheny County – are progressive, respectful, and moving forward. Unfortunately, we have to drag this dinosaur of a committe endorsement process with us so let’s get to work with reform and forward momentum.

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