McAndrew, Walker face challenges as they vie to succeed state Rep. Tony DeLuca in special election (2023)

Little time and little name recognition are two challenges the Republican candidate for the state House 32nd District sees himself and his Democratic opponent sharing.

Clayton Walker figures that helps level the playing field between himself and Joe McAndrew as they vie to succeed a titan of Pennsylvania politics in a special election Tuesday.

Walker, 59, a Republican from Verona, and McAndrew, 32, a Democrat from Penn Hills, are running to replace state Rep. Tony DeLuca, a Penn Hills Democrat who represented the district for nearly 40 years.

DeLuca, 85, apparently was so well-known and popular that he won reelection to the state House in November despite having died the previous month. No Republican candidate was on the ballot, and DeLuca won by a better than 6-to-1 margin over Green Party candidate Queonia Livingston.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, Livingston filed as an independent for the special election, but her nomination papers were rejected because she did not provide them in the proper format.

The state House’s 32nd District covers all of Penn Hills, Oakmont and Verona and most of Plum. Part of Plum is in the 25th House District, represented by Brandon Markosek.

While Walker and McAndrew each have little time to get voters to know who they are, or that there even is an election, McAndrew enjoys the benefit of running in a district where Democrats hold a more than 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans.

Both men have mounted campaigns that include social media and knocking on doors.

“We are working diligently and as quickly as possible to get to as many residents as possible to inform them about the election and ask them for their vote for me to represent them,” McAndrew said. “I’m a big believer in going and meeting people at their homes and understanding the issues in their neighborhoods. A lot of people are going to see my face in their neighborhood.”

Walker said he and McAndrew are equally unknown among the general public.

“It’s an even playing field in that regard,” he said. “We’re working hard to get the message out. A lot of people don’t know there is a special election, let alone who is running for it.”

The results of the election, along with special elections the same day for the state House’s 34th and 35th districts, will determine which party controls the chamber. Democrats are favored to win all three and will need to do so to have a majority in the House.

“This seat is pivotal to the House of Representatives and will decide the future of the state and the Shapiro agenda,” McAndrew said. “This special election will decide the direction that Pennsylvania is going to go for working people and families.”

Walker sees the race as pivotal in another way.

“Being an African American, a lot look at it as being a new opportunity for us to make additional inroads in government that we haven’t had a chance to make previously,” he said.

Neither man has held an elected office before. McAndrew ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oakmont in 2017.

‘The reward of helping people’

McAndrew, who grew up in the Harmar and Cheswick area, graduated from Fox Chapel Area High School in 2008 and the University of Dayton with a degree in political science in 2012.

He has experience in Harrisburg, where he worked in the Office of Demographics for House Democratic leadership and then managed the 2015 campaign of state Rep. Frank Dermody, another prominent Democrat in the region.

McAndrew worked in the private sector, first in sales with Sparq Design, and he created his own business, Onpoint Operations & Consulting.

In 2021, he became executive director of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, and in 2022 was a regional coordinator for Congressman Chris Deluzio’s campaign.

After DeLuca’s death, McAndrew said he set his sights on the seat instead of taking a role with Deluzio’s staff.

McAndrew and his wife of six years, Michelle, have three daughters, a pair of 20-month-old twins and a three-month-old. After living in Oakmont for most of his adult life, McAndrew said they moved to Penn Hills for a larger home for their family.

In Penn Hills, he is chairman of the Democratic Committee and a member of the planning commission.

McAndrew said he and DeLuca became friends after he learned they both attended St. Joseph Church in Verona. DeLuca attended his wedding and daughters’ baptism.

“He was a good man and he served the district well, and he did it for a long time,” he said. “I’m excited to honor what he had done. I’m also really looking forward as a young man to finding solutions to some of our more modern issues.”

McAndrew said he wants to see the area grow by bringing in modern industry that will bring well-paying jobs, along with skills training so there are workers capable of performing them. Safety and taking care of kids, families and seniors round out his priorities.

He said it was through helping people while working with Dermody that he gained an understanding for what they wanted.

“People were really appreciative. It was humbling and exciting to be able to have the opportunity to help people in that office,” he said. “I find the reward of helping people accomplish what they need to accomplish way more valuable to me personally. I really want to extend that service.”

‘A voice for the voiceless’

Born in Kansas to a Pittsburgh family, Walker grew up in Homewood. He graduated from high school in New York State and joined the Army, serving from 1981 to 1984, before returning to the Pittsburgh area in 1987. He used his military training as an avionics technician working on helicopters to become an electronics technician before changing careers to customer service.

Walker has been in the ministry for 30 years. Since 2006, he has been pastor of The Mustard Seed Church, a small, home-based ministry that gave up its physical location in Homewood after the pandemic and now streams its services online.

He and his wife, Denise, have been married for 30 years. While he had thought of running for a local office, such as school board, before, it wasn’t until after DeLuca’s death that he and his wife talked about him mounting a campaign for the seat.

As a conservative Republican, Walker said election reform, taxes and crime are among his concerns.

“I’ve always been politically minded, and I’ve always been vocal on political issues,” he said. “It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.”

Walker touted that he is not, at least yet, a politician.

“I’m coming into this as a concerned citizen,” he said. “I can be a voice for the voiceless. I want to be a voice for people who don’t have an opportunity to speak for themselves.

“I want to be the one that draws a line in the sand when it comes to the culture shifts that are forcing us into becoming a feelings-oriented society as opposed to a law-driven or a common-sense society.”

Walker said it has been through his ministry that he has learned of people’s concerns with issues such as homelessness, lack of food and domestic violence.

Since DeLuca had held the office so long, Walker said others didn’t bother to run knowing they didn’t have a shot. He sees the district as more winnable now.

If he doesn’t win, Walker said he’s already determined that he will run again in 2024.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian by email at or via Twitter .

Categories:Local | Penn Hills Progress | Plum Advance Leader | Valley News Dispatch

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