By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Jessica Benham, a progressive Democratic Party candidate for Harry Readshaw’s District 36 Pennsylvania House seat, is speaking out about recently discovered controversial social media posts from Heather Kass, her opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary.
Kass was a late entry into the race and on Monday she announced that she had been endorsed by the retiring Harry Readshaw and Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill. But after the Pittsburgh Current reported on Kass’ Facebook posting history, including posts that said about opioid addicts: “Freaking junkies get everything we should just make the drugs legal let them OD and less shit in the world,” as well as a number of pro-Trump posts, Coghill withdrew his support of Kass.
While it was initially unclear whether Kass planned to stay in the race, she answered that question on Wednesday night with an apology of sorts, but just for one of the posts she made about healthcare and disparaging people on Welfare. Kass wrote:
“Yes, I did make a post 5 years ago when I was frustrated and mad because I found out I had to pay 5,500.00 for a medical bill. I regret that I did that and pledge that if elected I will support the Democratic Party ideals, Labor, and will support the United States Constitution and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“Not in my defense I am sure everyone has said things they regret. I regret I did that since that is completely out of character for me.”
But not only did she not address the comments from that post about individuals on public assistance, Kass said nothing about the other posts that railed on addicts and took shots at the LGBTQIA community. The Current has reached out numerous times to ask Kass about her posts and positions on these subjects and she has not responded. And while Kass said the post was “out of character.”
On Thursday, Benham responded to Kass’ candidacy via text to the Current:
“It’s obviously troubling to many Democrats to have a Trump supporter remain in the Democratic primary. That said, I’m focusing on the issues that are driving my campaign like critical investments in infrastructure, access to healthcare, fully funding our education system, and defending workers’ rights.”
Both Benham and Kass are vying for the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, which meets Feb. 16.
Also today, Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus, who has been outspoken against Kass’ social media posts, not only reacted to Kass’ apology but also called out Readshaw for apparently still backing Kass.
Kraus said he wanted to “recognize the courage” of Coghill for “immediately stepping up after learning of Heather Kass’ positions. But he was less congenial about Readshaw’s silence on the matter.
“Harry has been serving in the statehouse for well over 20 years and now that he’s on his way out, he wants to protect his legacy,” Kraus told the Current. “It’s been three days since this story broke and his deafening silence on this is tarnishing his legacy, He came out and said, ‘this is the person I want in my seat.’
“I would have hoped Harry would have been the first one to come out and rebuke her comments as those that not only go against the values of Democrats but of most human beings.”
Kraus said Kass’ Facebook post Wednesday night “underwhelmed him.”
“Basically, she said she had a bad day and just spouted off,” Kraus said. “But her posts cover a multitude of subjects from her vitriolic support of Donald Trump to her remark about the LGBTQIA community and saying that we should just let drug addicts die and we’d all be better off.”
No one would ever confuse Harry Readshaw for a progressive Democrat, or at times even a moderate one, but Kraus said Readshaw has never gone to these extremes.
“Obviously Rep. Readshaw’s politics are more conservative than mine and many others,” Kraus said. “We differ on LGBTQIA rights, a women’s right to reproductive health and guns; he actually supported the “punish towns” law which punihed local communities for supporting gun legislation.
“But, I’ve always known him as a gentleman. And I hope he protects his legacy by swiftly and loudly denouncing the stands of his endorsed candidate.”