By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Jerry Dickinson got a call from a friend Tuesday morning asking the University of Pittsburgh constitutional law professor why he decided not to run against U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle.
Dickinson was puzzled by the call because not only was he still running against Doyle, who represents the 18th District (which includes the entire City of Pittsburgh), he raised a whopping $105,886 in the first three months of his campaign.
Dickinson has said repeatedly in interviews that he doesn’t believe Doyle is progressive enough for the district. But when asked about his opponent during an interview with Lucy Perkins on WESA Monday morning, Doyle replied:
“Well, first of all, I don’t have opponents yet. There’s three people that I’ve read that are interested in my seat, and I’m sure there might be more than that come the filing deadline. So … I don’t really pay much attention to [them]. My job is to represent the people of the 18th Congressional district, and if I do my job elections take care of themselves. I don’t waste a lot of my time worrying about what other people say who may or may not be on a ballot eight months from now.
I think my record reflects the people of Pittsburgh. … I think I have a pretty good idea what Pittsburgh and people in the 18th Congressional district think, and I think the fact that they’ve sent me back as many times as they have, is proof that I do reflect their hopes and dreams and their values.
Dickinson told the Pittsburgh Current Tuesday night that Doyle’s comments were not only dismissive and disrespectful, but that they also had far more egregious overtones. And in response, Doyle tells the Current that Dickinson is just “fishing” for some press.
“In 2020 you’ll be facing a constitutional law professor who has already raised more than $100,000, eight months out from the election and you’re going to say that you don’t have a challenger?” Dickinson questioned. He said that while a dismissing opponents is “straight out of the playbook” of long-term incumbents, Dickinson says he finds the comments to have a “far more insidious” connotation.
“These kinds of comments are dismissive and comments I’m all too familiar with as an African American man,” Dickinson says. “I’ve heard my whole life that I’m invisible, that my voice doesn’t count or that I’m not a legitimate option. I’m a lawyer, a law professor, I’ve clerked for a federal judge, I’m on the streets fighting for affordable housing in my neighborhood and I’ve already raised more than $100,000. I’m not just someone who is merely interested in running for office; I’m clearly qualified to do this job.
“But Mike Doyle wants to say I’m not a legitimate challenger.”
But Doyle says he wasn’t questioning Dickinson’s legitimacy as a candidate, just that it was too early to engage in the kind of political back-and-forth that begins in earnest after the November election at the earliest.
“I wasn’t dismissive of him, I just said there were candidates in the race now and there could be two more by the time the election comes around,” Doyle says. “There’s a time to get into this campaign stuff but now is not the time. All I said was if I took the time to respond to every comment made by a challenger that I wouldn’t have enough time to do my job.”
Doyle says Dickinson’s comments were an attempt to get some early press.
”Hey, I get it, he’s trying to get his name out there, If I was in his place, I might do it too,” Doyle says “But I can’t spend the next eight months responding to everyone who makes a statement.
“I probably shouldn’t have responded this time and I probably won’t again but but I take issue that he’s trying to make this about race.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with race. He wants his name in the paper and it’s disingenuous to imply that I am dismissing his candidacy because he’s a black man.”
Taking a look at both Dickinson’s and Doyle’s fundraising to date, Doyle has raised $183,121 to Dickinson’s nearly $106,000. But taking a closer look at the numbers, $152,000 of Doyle’s total comes from unions and Political Action Committees. All of Dickinson’s $106,000 comes from individual donors, compared to $31,121 from Doyle .
Doyle says he didn’t consider Dickinson’s fundraising because “it takes more than $100,000 to run a race. Also Doyle says the bulk of the donations come from attorneys at Dickinson’s old firm, attorneys from outside the district and University colleagues.
While Dickinson says he doesn’t necessarily believe that Doyle was being dismissive just because Dickinson is black, in today’s political climate, words like this can have a chilling effect
In a recent episode of the Pittsburgh Current Podcast (see the end of this story), Dickinson said that Doyle is not progressive enough to properly serve the 18th District. The seat is one of just a few in America that has little to no chance of being won by a Republican. Dickinson says, Doyle is too much of an “old-guard” style politician who doesn’t like to rock the boat. However, Dickinson says the near invincibility of the seat makes it one that should be used as a “bully pulpit” to improve the lives of those living in the district and across the country. That’s why, he says, he has no intention of dropping out.
“I have been ignored, dismissed and deemed irrelevant many times in my life and I’ve come out victorious,” Dickinson says. “Mike Doyle hasn’t had a legitimate challenger in 20 years until now. I’m not running for fun. I’m running to unseat him.