Two candidates have signaled their intent to run against democratic incumbent Rep. Jake Wheatley for the District 19 seat in the state legislature this spring.
District 6 Councilwoman Tonya Payne announced her candidacy on Monday. After being defeated by fellow Hill District resident Daniel Lavelle, Wheatley’s former chief-of-staff, for her city council seat, she’s taking aim at the victor’s boss.
Also, perennial candidate and Pittsburgh School Board member Mark Brentley informed The Northside Chronicle of his candidacy.
Wheatley has been reelected to the seat three times since he beat Rep. Bill Robinson in 2002 and has already told the Tribune-Review that he’s not worried about his challengers and is only running on his own record.
His challengers are not amateurs, however. Both have multiple election campaigns under their belts.
Payne upset her former boss Sala Udin for the District 6 seat in 2005, when many thought the councilman would glide through an easy reelection.
Brentley, who works in Public Works’ traffic division and has served on the school board since 1999, has run for District 19 so many times that he couldn’t recall the number. But more than once, judges ruled that there were flaws in his petition signatures and removed him from the ballot. When he ran against Wheatley in 2004, Brentley was removed from the primary ballot because one of his main petition circulators lived outside the district.
Brentley, who lives in Allegheny Center and attends Central Northside Neighborhood Council meetings, has also run against Payne for the District 6 city council seat more than once.
A Democrat, Brentley will seek his party’s endorsement but has formed his own party in the past and also campaigned for Republican Lynn Swann’s gubernatorial campaign.
Payne said running for the state house has long been on her to-do list. “Honestly, this is something that I’m just doing sooner rather than later.”
But Payne said she didn’t want the race to focus on her and Wheatley’s storied rivalry.
“It’s not about me or about Jake. It’s only about the individuals who live in legislative 19,” Payne said. “I’ll be honest with you, this will be a brawl. So I don’t expect him not to put up a serious battle. I expect him to throw out the same lies he threw out in my reelection campaign,” she said, referring to the help Wheatley gave Daniel Lavelle in his campaign against her this spring.
Laughing, Payne joked, “I expect there to be violence toward me, because Jake has anger management issues.”
It appears even Payne has difficulty not focusing on the rivalry.
For his part, Brentley said he thinks that it’s unfair that the District 6 city council seat and District 19 state house seat, which cover much of the same ground, are always won by Hill District candidates.
But if Payne can cut Wheatley’s East End support in half, Brentley would have a chance at a narrow victory.
“I want to change the way the state assesses fees to certain individuals when you get involved in running for public office,” Brentley said. He also wants to champion education legislation to make public schools more “information friendly.”
Brentley also said Wheatley did not have Northsiders’ interests in mind during his tenure on the Stadium Authority’s board, which voted to allow the Steelers to develop North Shore property.