State Rep. Joe Preston of Homewood came within 8 signatures of being kicked off the Democratic ballot yesterday.

Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini heard 9 hours of arguments between lawyersPreston for Preston and rival Ed Gainey (a former Ravenstahl aide), wherein the incumbents team dismissed entire petitions full of signatures and waived scores of others written "in the hand of another" (ie, were forgeries). Legislative candidates need 300 signatures to make the primary ballot and Gainey's attorney James J. Walsh and his campaign manager Matt Merriman Preston whittled the acceptable signatures down to 308. Preston's attorney Karen Balaban of Harrisburg -- assisted by Shawn Carter, the chief of staff to Homewood city councilman Rickey Burgess -- sweated out the defense of their client, but not before hearing it from Pellegrini.

“I would congratulate you on winning, but your petitions were terrible," the judge said, according to Gainey's campaign.

Preston has been serving in the General Assembly for three decades, having first taken office in 1983. He has previously has faced challenges from his three current Democratic opponents -- Gainey, William Anderson and Todd Elliott Koger, who all have worked for Preston in the past. He handily defeated Anderson and Koger in 2010, but Gainey came within 92 votes of toppling him in 2006, when Anderson also ran. The Gainey camp is also challenging Anderson and Koger's petitions this month. (UPDATE 11am: Anderson, after filing only 377 sigs, was kicked off ballot. UPDATE 4 pm: Koger was also tossed off ballot after Gainey challenge.)

 In past campaigns, Preston has touted his work on transit funding and the state grant dollars that he has been able to bring back to the district. He helped secure $8 million in grants and loans for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh in 2005 to assist with a hotel project in East Liberty. He also helping land a commitment from TriState Capital Bank to invest $1.8 million in Wilkinsburg economic development projects. He was the longtime chairman of the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority board during the Tom Murphy administration.

He currently is the ranking Democrat on the House Consumer Affairs Committee, and a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.

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