By Aryanna Berringer
Pittsburgh Current Political Columnist
“I would like to acknowledge again, that I am a black woman, a proud black woman. And there are black people in the future.”
That isn’t a quote from me, although I wish it were.
Those are the words of Olivia Benson as she addressed Democratic committee members at the recent nominating convention for the now-vacated 37th state Senate district.
Why did Ms. Benson feel the need to make a point about her race and gender? Because it was a point made to her and about her over and over again while campaigning.
I wish I could say that it’s hard to believe that in this day and age, in the Democratic Party no less, while Ms. Benson was making the rounds to be considered the party’s standard bearer, that both openly and in behind-the-back whispers, people were questioning her viability with the electorate based solely upon her race and gender.
Nevermind the news reports that emerged following multiple candidate forums that were held around the district, that Ms. Benson was quite arguably the only candidate who demonstrated a depth of knowledge of the issues facing the commonwealth, along with well thought out and forwarding thinking solutions. Nevermind her degrees from Carnegie Mellon, an MBA from Point Park University, and another Master’s from one of the Ivy League’s most prestigious institutions, the University of Pennsylvania.
Those qualifications apparently didn’t matter.
Despite decision-makers in the Democratic Party completely overlooking her extensive credentials–coupled with steady composure and wisdom beyond her years–she shocked those in attendance by taking her game to a higher level; she shocked them when she took the decision of whether she was worthy of their nomination out of their hands. She rose above that myopic repudiation when she withdrew her name from consideration and announced her candidacy to become the next Auditor General of Pennsylvania in the 2020 election cycle.
In years past, when single-labeling a candidate occurred in the way that it happened to Benson, some candidates would’ve found it too prohibitive to keep running. But instead of turning tail, Benson double-downed and raised the stakes.
Benson has set out to become the first black person in Pennsylvania history to be elected to a statewide office.
Yes, in a state that gave birth to our nation’s democracy a person of color has never held the office of U.S. Senator, Governor, Lt. Governor, state Auditor General, Attorney General or Treasurer.
Following Olivia Benson’s announcement to run for Auditor General, state Democratic Party chairwoman, Nancy Patton Mills, quipped that she was announcing her candidacy for President. Many called for Patton Mills’ resignation. I am quite certain Patton Mills regrets her minimizing choice of words. In fact, she and the entire Pennsylvania Democratic Party should use this as an opportunity to do something historic.
At the top of the Democratic Party ticket for statewide office holders in 2020, you will have incumbents Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Treasurer Joe Torsella. Our current Auditor General, Democrat Eugene DePasquale is term-limited, leaving his office wide open.
So the real question here is what kind of political party do the Democrats want to be? A party that talks about diversity but then once again pushes through another white male for statewide office?
Or a party that embraces, fights for and proves their commitment to minority communities through action and not just token acknowledgment.
Black people, especially black women, are in the future.
But will they be in the future of Pennsylvania Democratic Party leadership?
Many eyes will be watching in 2020. Olivia Benson will be making sure of that.