Pa. attorney general candidate from Allegheny finds lots of support in Philly

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Pennsylvania Sen. Anthony Williams and other Philadelphia political and religious leaders endorse Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala for Pennsylvania attorney general. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Pennsylvania Sen. Anthony Williams and other Philadelphia political and religious leaders endorse Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala for Pennsylvania attorney general. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general Stephen Zappala is bringing people together in Philadelphia.

Take his new ad, which features Mayor Jim Kenney and Kenney’s primary rival, state Sen. Tony Williams, sitting on a stoop.

“When we ran for mayor, we didn’t agree on everything,” Williams says. 

“I’ll say,” replies Kenney with a laugh.

Finally something these two can agree on: They’re both endorsing Zappala.

Political races in Pennsylvania often pit the eastern half of the state against the western half, so how did a district attorney from Pittsburgh gain significant support in Philadelphia?

Kenney spokesman Marty O’Rourke said the mayor is supporting Zappala because of his experience.

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, the front-runner in the race, endorsed Kenney in the general election, but “in this case, the judgment was we need someone with that type of prosecutorial experience,” O’Rourke said. Zappala has served as Allegheny County’s top prosecutor since 1998. Shapiro, who is also an attorney, has spent much of his career in government.

O’Rourke said the mayor’s endorsement has nothing to do with John Dougherty, the powerful Philadelphia union leader who helped get Kenney elected and who is backing Zappala. 

Dougherty, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, said their two families go way back.

“The Doughertys and Zappalas have known each other for years,” he said. “I’ve known Steve, God, every bit of 20 years.”

Zappala’s father, Stephen Sr. — a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court — backed Dougherty’s brother, Kevin in his successful run for the high court last year and appeared in an ad supporting his candidacy.

“We worked hard together in a state that’s not accustomed to electing Democrats,” Dougherty said.

Another Philly Democrat behind Zappala is U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the local party chairman who said he has known his family for about 30 years.

Brady said other than his personal connection to Zappala, supporting candidates from the other side of the state helps garner more votes.

“A reason why Pittsburgh and Allegheny County out there comes out to vote, they have one of their own and that’s how we’ve been winning elections,” he said. 

Shapiro has his share of Philadelphia endorsements, including Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke, as well as former mayor and former Gov. Ed Rendell. President Barack Obama also recently took the rare step of endorsing a candidate in a local race and announced he was backing Shapiro. 

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli is also running in the Democratic primary on April 26.

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