Skip Navigation

Republicans, Democrats argue over date for special election to replace late Pa. Rep. Tony DeLuca

  • Chris Potter/WESA
The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg will have a new party in charge of the state House come January.

 Amanda Berg / For Spotlight PA

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg will have a new party in charge of the state House come January.

About this much can be said for certain: A special election to fill the 32nd state House seat long held by the late Anthony DeLuca, who died shortly before the November election, will be held early next year. It can also be said with a high degree of confidence that the race to replace him will attract interest from a number of contenders, among them Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese, a Democrat. And there is speculation in both parties that Republican Carrie Lewis DelRosso, who ran for lieutenant governor this fall, will also join the fray.

Beyond that? Who even knows. With control of the state House in the balance, almost everything is up for dispute — including who has the right to set a date for the election.

On Wednesday, which marked the final date of the current legislative session, House Speaker Bryan Cutler issued a writ of election calling for the special election to be held on Feb. 7, 2023. That’s almost the earliest date the election could be called, given a requirement that the date is set at least 60 days from the issuance of the writ, though Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, would also seem viable.

“Given the prospect of an evenly divided House of Representatives, it is imperative … this special election is called as soon as possible,” Cutler said.

On paper, Democrats would seem to have an edge in the House, having won 102 of its 203 seats last month. But one of those seats is DeLuca’s, whose name could not be removed from the ballot and who received more votes than his rival, Green Party candidate Queonia Livingston. That leaves both parties with 101 members. And the seats of two more Allegheny County Democrats will also be in limbo early next year when Austin Davis becomes lieutenant governor, and Summer Lee takes office in Congress. That will leave Democrats in just 99 seats of the 102 they won. Republicans will still have 101 seats of their own.

“With a vacancy created now, and more likely to come, it is a fundamental obligation [of] the House, and its speaker, to bring about predictability and certainty in representation for Pennsylvanians,” Cutler said in the statement.

Sam Dunklau / WITF

Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler addresses the media during a press conference in the state Capitol Rotunda on Nov. 9, 2021.

But Democrats say they effectively control the House now that the 2021-2022 legislative session expired at midnight November 30th. And they quickly responded, with their leader, Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia, asserting that “[T]he House Republicans and the soon to be former Speaker do not have the authority to issue a writ for the next session where he will serve as minority leader.”

“We agree that calling for a special election at the earliest possible date makes sense,” McClinton said. But as of Wednesday evening, it was not entirely clear that both leaders agreed Feb. 7 was that date. McClinton didn’t specify a date, and a spokeswoman said Wednesday that she couldn’t confirm it. McClinton is set to hold a press conference Thursday morning.

Both sides cite varying precedents for who controls the House in the period between the expiration of the last legislative session in November and the swearing in of new members in January. But even as debate swirled around the vote, interest in potential champions for both major parties was building.

Livingston, the Green Party candidate who lost to DeLuca, has said she would run as a Green again. That field is certain to grow, and Democrats already have a candidate in the running. Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese confirmed Wednesday afternoon that she would seek the seat.

“Rep. DeLuca has been my mentor for over a decade, and I’ve worked hand in hand with him throughout my tenure as mayor,” she said. As a result of that connection and her work as mayor, “I feel highly qualified to perform these legislative duties, and I think I’m in the best position to meet a Republican challenger.”

Calabrese, who was elected in 2019, is in her first term as mayor. She takes pride in her efforts to improve the health of municipal finances even as the coronavirus raged and touts investments in the community’s infrastructure and amenities. And Penn Hills is the anchor of the district: With more than 40,000 residents, it’s the county’s largest municipality after Pittsburgh.

Calabrese, a lawyer specializing in family law, has run for Common Pleas judge in the past, most recently in 2021. And while that most recent bid left her well out of the running in a crowded field, she noted that she has typically come out on top in precincts in Penn Hills and other communities in the district.

On the Republican side, the most frequently mentioned potential candidate is Carrie Lewis DelRosso, a state representative whose term just expired and who was the running mate to GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano in November.

Asked whether she planned to run in the special election, DelRosso did not provide a yes or no but said, “I know the people and community leaders of the 32nd district. My hometown of Oakmont is closely connected with Verona, Penn Hills, and Plum Boro. We need someone with experience and fortitude to properly serve us at home and represent us in Harrisburg.”

Mastriano and DelRosso fared poorly in the district last month: Even in her Oakmont base, the ticket never cracked 40 percent of the vote. But both Democrats and Republicans say DelRosso could be a strong GOP contender early next year.

She bested Frank Dermody, a three-decade legislator and the top Democrat in the House, in a 2020 race for the 33rd district. (Her hometown of Oakmont was drawn into the 32nd district in a legislative redistricting early this year, but she ran for lieutenant governor rather than challenge DeLuca for the seat.) DelRosso raised more than a half-million dollars in that race – a prodigious sum. And while her largest donation was a $100,000 from the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund, a committee tied to Montgomery County billionaire Jeff Yass, she also raised five-digit sums from prominent area unions, including the Laborers.

“The numbers might say it’s a heavily Democratic area,” Calabrese said. “But Rep. DeLuca has held that seat for so long. I won’t take anything for granted.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
National & World News

U.S. Soccer star and Pa. native Christian Pulisic mending, hopes to play in Saturday's match