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Brewster Confirms His Retirement from the Senate

McKeesport native says serving the district has been ‘an honor, privilege and pleasure’

By Staff Reports
The Tube City Almanac
January 11, 2024
Posted in: Politics & Elections

State Sen. Jim Brewster speaks to the media about the COVID-19 pandemic during the summer of 2020 as former Gov. Tom Wolf looks on. Brewster has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term. (Tube City Almanac file photo)

Confirming speculation that emerged in December, state Sen. Jim Brewster this week announced plans to retire at the end of his current term.

The McKeesport Democrat said Thursday that serving the 45th Senatorial District “has been an honor, privilege and pleasure,” but that after 14 years in the state senate, “it is time to explore other options and take on new challenges.”

Local elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, paid tribute to Brewster’s career in public service, which also has included stints as a McKeesport city councilman and mayor from 2003 to 2010.

“Jim Brewster has upheld a lifelong commitment to McKeesport and the entire Mon Valley,” Cherepko said in a prepared release. “He is a hardworking, goal-oriented leader, who has always strived for the growth of our region. He does this with a kind heart and genuine concern for his neighbors and constituents. I’m proud to call him a mentor and a friend.”

The race to replace Brewster is expected to be hotly contested.

Makenzie White, a social worker from Brentwood, has already announced her plans to seek the Democratic nomination to replace Brewster. She is announcing her campaign tonight (Jan. 11) during an event at the Liberty Borough Volunteer Fire Department social hall on Haslage Street.

State Rep. Nick Pisciottano is also running for the Democratic nomination for state senate. His campaign website recently went live.

Monroeville Mayor Nick Gresock has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Cherepko told Tube City Almanac last month that he is not running for the seat.

The 45th District stretches south to the Washington County line, east to Westmoreland County, west to Baldwin, Brentwood and Castle Shannon, and north through Monroeville and Plum.

“I have lived in the Mon Valley all my life and witnessed the economic devastation following the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s,” Brewster said. “Since then, by working together, we have been able to inject new funds, redevelop former brownfields and create excitement for business investment in the area.”

A longtime member of the boards of directors of both McKeesport Housing Authority and Pittsburgh Regional Transit, Brewster has been a tireless champion of pocketbook issues facing older and low-income residents of his district, including public housing and transportation.

State Sen. Jim Brewster speaks during the 2023 opening of the Penn State Greater Allegheny Mon Valley LaunchBox in Downtown McKeesport (Tube City Almanac file photo)

Brewster lobbied for the creation of truck ramps at the industrial parks in Duquesne and McKeesport to bypass railroad crossings that were impediments to their redevelopment, and kept pressure on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to resume construction of the Mon-Fayette Expressway when that project appeared to be dead.

His influence also has been felt in the expansion of the regional hiking and biking trail system and efforts to improve security at public school buildings.

Brewster’s office estimated that almost $350 million in state funding for infrastructure, public safety and education has been secured for the communities in the 45th District during his time in office.

“As a former mayor and councilman in an economically challenged city, I understand the importance of helping small cities, boroughs and townships,” Brewster said Thursday.

As mayor of McKeesport, Brewster led programs to demolish vacant and blighted houses and commercial buildings and attract new business investment to the Walnut Street and Route 48 corridors.

In the state Senate, Brewster has served as Democratic chair of two committees, Law & Justice and Game & Fisheries. He has also been a member of Education, Transportation, Banking and Insurance and other committees.

Brewster, who enjoys outdoor activities and was a long-distance runner in his youth, has been particularly vigorous on behalf of hunters and fishing enthusiasts. As chair of the Game & Fisheries Committee, Brewster led the effort to eliminate the so-called Sunday “blue laws” that forbid hunting.

He also sponsored the creation of a license plate to fund conservation initiatives by the state Game Commission and pushed for funding increases for both the Game Commission and the Fish & Boat Commission.

In 2018, Brewster served as one of the founding members of the state’s School Safety & Security Committee and advocated for millions of dollars in funding for additional measures to protect educational facilities. The following year, Brewster pressed the committee to establish baseline safety standards for every school, including physical safety, environmental health and safety, and mental wellness.

At times — as with his advocacy for hunters and gun owners — Brewster has served as a more conservative voice in the otherwise liberal Democratic caucus, and has prided himself on being able to work with both parties in the legislature.

“There is no question that the key to legislating is finding common ground where all sides can be satisfied that they’ve been heard and included in the finished product,” Brewster said Thursday. “I have been able to find middle-of-the road compromise as one of the most bi-partisan legislators in Harrisburg.”

State Sen. Jim Brewster speaks to the media during a 2019 celebration at the former McKeesport Daily News Building. (Tube City Almanac file photo)

Brewster overcame two serious challenges to his senate seat — one to the 45th district itself, and another to his re-election in 2020.

Following the 2010 U.S. Census, Republicans in the state legislature attempted to move the 45th District out of Allegheny County and into the Poconos. A proposed new map of state senate districts redistributed voters among three other districts. One borough would have been split three different ways.

Brewster and more than 70 other individuals and groups appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in a 4-3 vote ruled the proposed redistricting plan would disenfranchise voters.

Then, in 2020, Brewster’s opponent in the general election, Republican Nicole Ziccarelli, went to federal court to stop Allegheny County from counting mail-in and absentee ballots that had machine-printed dates, rather than handwritten dates.

The ballot challenge was rejected by a federal judge who had been appointed by President Trump.

“It was a historic ruling. I was clear that I wanted all the votes cast to be counted because that’s how democracy works,” Brewster said Thursday. “Politicians cherry-picking which votes should be counted is simply wrong.”

Brewster has overcome personal challenges, too, including the death of a daughter, McKeesport City Councilwoman Jamie Brewster-Filotei, in 2020 following a three-year battle with cancer.

Prior to being elected mayor of McKeesport, Brewster was a vice president of operations for the former Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh.

“I want to thank my wife Linda, my family, staff and friends for supporting me throughout four decades of public service,” Brewster said. He also thanked his office staff members for their work to solve problems for constituents.

“While I am concluding my service in the Senate at the end of 2024, I will continue to help the communities of the 45th District,” he said. “I’m not really retiring from public service, I’m just going to attack problem-solving from another direction.”

What people are saying about State Sen. Jim Brewster upon his retirement:

“Over the years, I have had the great fortune to have a number of political mentors and public servants who have inspired me on my path toward public service, but Sen. Brewster was there from the very beginning. As I started to speak up about the issue of gun violence in my hometown of McKeesport, then-Mayor Brewster encouraged me to organize with other young people and take action. He made me feel like my voice mattered, even when I was a high school student and couldn’t yet cast a ballot. I have always valued his kindness and honesty, and I appreciate how hard he has worked for the people of McKeesport for nearly 30 years. I wish him well in his retirement and hope he gets to spend some well-deserved family time with his wife, daughters and grandchildren.”

—Lt. Gov. Austin Davis

“I want to wish my dear friend and colleague Jim Brewster a happy and well-deserved retirement from his lifelong career of public service. For nearly 30 years, Jim has been committed to making the community he loves safer, stronger, and better. No matter what seat he held, from city council to mayor to state senator, he has always been a strong advocate for McKeesport and Allegheny County at large. I am eternally grateful for his work on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, as well as his work in the transit and transportation space, ensuring our roads and bridges are equipped to get our working families from place to place. Jim is a man of deep integrity, passion, and excellence, and his legacy will be one of profound love of his hometown. It’s been an honor to serve alongside him, and I will forever cherish the time we spent in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus together.”

—State Sen. Jay Costa

“In all the decades that I have known Jim, I can say there is no such thing as retirement for a man like him. He has devoted his life to working tirelessly to make sure his family, community and constituents receive the best government possible. Therefore, I will simply wish him good luck and much success on the next chapter of his life.”

—LuEthel Nesbit, McKeesport City Council

“As a former mayor, Sen. Brewster truly understands the challenges our communities face – he has worked tirelessly to pass legislation and bring funding solutions back to his district. For example, Sen. Brewster has been an important ally in the complicated battle against blight. I will miss working with him, and the quick wit and humor he often brought to our conversations.”

—Amanda Settelmaier, executive director, Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments

Originally published January 11, 2024.

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