Candidate forum won’t feature DA matchup between Zappala, Middleman |

Candidate forum won’t feature DA matchup between Zappala, Middleman

Jamie Martines
File photos
File photos
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and county Public Defender Lisa Middleman

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. will not attend a countywide candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on Monday, the Zappala campaign and the League of Women Voters confirmed Thursday.

The longtime district attorney is being challenged in November by Allegheny County public defender Lisa Middleman, who is running as an independent.

Darwin Leuba, campaign manager for the Middleman campaign, confirmed that Middleman will attend. She will be introduced and will not speak further.

The League of Women Voters requires all candidates for an office to be present in order for any of them to speak at the forum.

“The League of Women Voters is very disappointed that the district attorney has chosen not to appear,” said Judy Clack, voter services chair for the League of Women Voters. “The league likes to provide an opportunity for the public to be able to ask their questions.”

Zappala will instead attend a roundtable discussion about victims’ rights and school safety organized by the campaign, said Stevie Zappala, the district attorney’s campaign manager and son. The event was not advertised as a public event and attendees have not yet been finalized.

“First and foremost, we do have other events scheduled that evening that we’ve had scheduled for quite some time and don’t plan on changing those plans around,” Stevie Zappala said.

The candidate forum, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Community College of Allegheny County campus on the North Side, also will include candidates running for county controller and county executive. It is co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Black Political Empowerment Project and Pittsburgh United.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and his Republican opponent, Matt Drozd, are both confirmed to attend and to participate in the countywide forum, according to Clack.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner will attend and will be introduced, but is not permitted to speak because her Republican opponent, Brooke Nadonley, will not be present due to a prior out-of-town commitment, Clack said.

Invitations to the forum were sent to campaigns Sept. 20, Clack said. When she did not hear anything from the Zappala campaign by the Sept. 30 deadline, she attempted to reach out. The campaign corresponded with her via Facebook messenger, Clack said.

Facebook messages shared with the Trib by Clack show that she tried to contact the campaign three times this month to reschedule the forum so that the district attorney could attend.

When asked if the Zappala campaign would consider appearing at another candidate forum or debate, Stevie Zappala said, “I can’t foresee that happening.”

Stevie Zappala added that the campaign is disappointed that the League of Women Voters, ACLU and other forum sponsors have not spoken out against comments Middleman made in 1992 when telling a judge why she asked to strike several black people from a jury during jury selection.

Middleman’s comments were related to the weight and appearance of the jurors.

Attorneys are allowed to reject some jurors without giving a reason during jury selection. A Batson challenge, however, allows an attorney to object if they believe the other side excluded a juror based on race or sex.

In a statement posted to her campaign website, Middleman called the 27-year-old comments “satirical,” noting that they were intended to mock “the unkind, hurtful and nonsensical excuses that assistant district attorneys would give during a Batson challenge.”

Middleman also is the subject of an ethics complaint filed Thursday by County Council members Sam DeMarco III, R-North Fayette, and Denise Ranalli Russell, D-Brighton Heights, over a press conference held by Middleman at the rotunda inside the county courthouse earlier this week.

The council members accused Middleman of violating the county ethics code by holding a political event at a county facility during working hours.

The Middleman campaign called the move a “transparently false political attack” and argued that the event was held on the candidate’s lunch hour “in a public space on her own time.”

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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