LAUREN JESSOP, The Center Square | View Article on The Center Square
(The Center Square) – A third party seeking to bridge the political divide and offer more choices for voters has added two local Republicans to its roster.
One official, a longtime Democrat – although defeated in the primary election – won enough write-in votes to secure the GOP nomination. He will again be facing his opponent in November, but from the other side of the fence.
This month, Philadelphia City Commissioner Seth Bluestein and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala announced their affiliation as Forward Republicans – joining State Senators Tony Willians, D-Philadelphia and Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem – who signed on with the Forward Party in June.
Forward’s affiliates are elected officials who retain their party registration as Democrat or Republican, but pledge to govern according to the party’s value-based platform.
Forward was formed in 2021 by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. It bills itself as centrist and says they have “roadmaps for achieving legal party recognition and recruiting credible candidates in many states.”
Per an Aug. 10 press release, Bluestein said his job as commissioner “requires him to set aside partisanship and work to ensure free, fair, and secure elections for every voter in our city.”
“Partnering with the Forward Party – an organization committed to finding common ground among all voters and building a people-first election system – sends a strong message to every Philadelphian that I am putting the voters first,” he said.
Forward’s Managing Director for Communities and Building, Joel Searby, said they couldn’t be prouder to affiliate with Bluestein, citing his support from “across the ideological spectrum,” and his Defender of Democracy award from the Center for Election Innovation & Research.
“Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of American democracy,” Searby said, “and too many public officials are politicizing them for partisan gains. Commissioner Bluestein has proven himself to be a defender of our democracy in a time when it is under assault.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Steven Zappala is running for reelection – a position he has held since 1998.
His opponent is the county’s Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan, whose campaign website says the current system is not working, they are failing to address the issues that bring defendants into that system, and accuses Zappala of being “a vocal critic of criminal justice reforms.”
Dugan won the Democratic nomination in May. However, no candidates were listed on the Republican ballot, and write-in votes were cast for both candidates. Zappala won 9,697 to 636.
On Aug. 17, Zappala accepted the support of Forward.
In a statement provided to The Center Square, Zappala said he remains committed to ensuring the criminal justice system serves all citizens fairly and swiftly.
He said he is running for district attorney because Allegheny County is at a crossroads.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a prosecutor … and will fight against anyone who puts the rights of criminals above victims,” he said.
“Political extremists want to tip the scales in favor of those who break our laws and harm the people,” Zappala continued. “Time and time again, these extreme experiments in criminal justice have proven to make families less safe.”
“I will not let Pittsburgh descend into the lawlessness of San Francisco and Philadelphia,” he said. “There is simply too much at stake.”
Zappala said he is honored by Forward’s support because it indicates that his office “isn’t a Republican or Democratic office, it’s an effective one.” It also “affirms our American ideals that justice should fairly serve all Americans, regardless of political party, race, sex, religion or ideology,” he said.
Forward Party CEO Lindsey Williams Drath said Zappala’s 25-year career exemplifies a district attorney’s responsibilities of ensuring laws are applied fairly and keeping communities safe. “He’s the type of candidate that this country needs.”