Shapiro defeats Zappala in Democratic primary for Pa. attorney general
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro on Tuesday defeated Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. in the Democratic primary for attorney general, based on unofficial election returns.
Shapiro, 42, of Abington, beat Zappala, 58, of Fox Chapel, 47 percent to 37 percent, with Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli trailing with 16 percent based on 80 percent of precincts reporting.
“I’m running because I believe Pennsylvania needs real reform,” said Shapiro. “Too many people feel the system is rigged against them.”
Zappala told his supporters at the IBEW Local 5 Hall in the South Side, “We just didn’t have the votes in the western part of the state. We had to overcome a lot in southeastern Pennsylvania. It was a good fight.”
In the November election, Shapiro will face Sen. John Rafferty, 63, a Republican from Montgomery County.
Rafferty defeated Joe Peters, 58, a former Scranton policeman who has worked as a state and federal prosecutor. Rafferty served as a deputy attorney general prosecuting Medicaid fraud cases and helped push through a gas tax and transportation funding bill in 2014. Rafferty handled a range of civil law issues in private practice.
“I want to thank my voters and supporters for the work they did to help me win the nomination and ensure our party is set up to win this race in November,” Rafferty said.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Scranton Democrat facing criminal charges, did not seek re-election, creating an open race for the state’s chief law enforcement officer also vested with broad civil powers.
“Overall, it’s a contest that’s been about experience, reform and vision of the office,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
Zappala emphasized his 18 years of experience as a prosecutor running the second largest district attorney’s office in the state, despite not trying a case as head of the office.
Shapiro, as a member of Gov. Tom Wolf’s transition team was a key adviser on preparing a state budget in 2015, but portrayed himself as a reformer. He was not a prosecutor but served as a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., in the state House where he co-chaired the Speaker’s Reform Commission, and more than four years as county commissioner.
Zappala said he could replicate the work he’s done as Allegheny County’s top prosecutor — establishing a domestic violence and abuse task force, cracking down on illegal guns and pioneering police use of video — in Harrisburg and establish an office of civil rights. Shapiro wants to expand the scope of the office, using its powers and bully pulpit to protect seniors from scams, children from online predators and the environment from natural gas development.
Morganelli spent most of the race on the offensive, viciously attacking Shapiro during debates and press conferences for alleged connections between campaign contributions his campaign received and Montgomery County contracts he voted to award as commissioner. Several questioned whether Morganelli and Zappala had teamed up to take down Shapiro, a suggestion both campaigns denied.
Shapiro defended his work as commissioner, touting reforms he fought for in Harrisburg as a state representative and as head of the county commission. A pair of ads late in the race questioned Zappala’s stance on abortion, women’s rights and race.
Women and black leaders supporting Zappala organized a pair of press conferences to denounce the ads.
The candidates fought heavily for votes in Philadelphia and surrounding cites. Zappala spent two or three days a week campaign around the city of brotherly love. He stopped campaigning for more than a week to focus solely on the investigation into gunmen who ambushed and killed six people in March in Wilkinsburg.
Shapiro visited the Pittsburgh area on a few occasions, once visiting shops and talking to voters with city Councilman Dan Gilman, who endorsed Shapiro early in the race.
Shapiro raised more than $3 million during the campaign, including about $1.2 million he transferred from previous races. Zappala raised nearly $2.3 million, including $620,000 of his own money he loaned to the campaign.
Shapiro picked up key Democratic endorsements from President Barack Obama, Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Zappala received heavy support from John Dougherty, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Philadelphia, which donated nearly $135,000 to the campaign, and he garnered the support of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Committee.
Brad Bumsted and Aaron Aupperlee are Tribune-Review staff writers.