Youthful choices lead Wheatley to Pittsburgh and public service
May 11, 2010
As a younger man, State Rep. Jake Wheatley wasn't interested in being an elected public official.
The son of a Ford Motor Company auto worker growing up in Detroit, he was always around and interested in politics, but never figured he would be an elected official.
"I wanted to work around it. I didn't [necessarily] want to be an elected official, I wanted to be a powerful chief of staff," he says with a laugh.
After high school the family moved to Marion, MI. It was here Mr. Wheatley entered the United States Marine Corps. In his 3½ years with the Marines he served in Operation Desert Storm where he was injured. For his service he received the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal.
Following his return from the service he "decided to do something with his life" and entered the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro where he graduated with honors with a bachelor's degree in political science. During his college years he began getting involved in politics by working on then mayor of Charlotte Harvey Gantt's campaigns against Sen. Jesse Helms.
While in college he met a young lady from Pittsburgh and followed her back to her hometown.
Mr. Wheatley found he "loved the area"after moving here from North Carolina. It was here he entered the University of Pittsburgh and earned a master's degree in public administration.
After graduation he served as executive assistant for City Councilman Sala Udin. He later worked as a senior associate for training and education at the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.
In 2002 Mr. Wheatley decided to challenge William Robinson, a seven term incumbent, in the Democratic Primary. The newcomer first garnered his party's endorsement and then defeated Mr. Robinson by more than 700 votes in the Primary and eventually propelling him to victory in the General Election.
In 2003 Mr. Wheatley was sworn in as the representative for the 19th Legislative District.
In the Legislature, he serves on the Appropriations Committee and the majority chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and the majority chairman of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee on Mental Health. He also sits on the Education and Transportation committees and as the vice chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and serves as the deputy majority whip for the House Democratic Caucus.
Rep. Wheatley is particularly concerned about educational opportunities for both adults and children in the state. He says he is working with others to make sure that although the standards are set high, that every child will get the support they need to succeed.
He concedes there are many underserved neighborhoods in his district. He noted the skills and the training of the residents in those neighborhoods don't necessarily match the job opportunities that are in the market.
"We have to break down the geographical barriers holding people back," he says.
"Regionally, how do we move ahead," he asks and then answers by adding "by sharing revenue sources."
"We can't get caught up in regional stuff."
Other concerns of the four-term legislator include how the state does business with small businesses, particularly women and minority owned businesses and blight. He has a 10-bill packet concerning how the state does business with small businesses that he hopes will be passed sometime later this year.
He is also encouraged that after seven years his anti-blight bill has been voted out of committee and will soon go to a vote before the full legislature.
Rep. Wheatley also talked about disparities in the law that allow those with DUIs to get a limited license permitting them to be able to drive to work, but prohibiting those with drug convictions from being treated in the same manner. He described it as a "major flaw" in the law stating both offenses should be treated the same in this respect.
Another disparity he sees is in adult protective services for those ages 10 to 59. While younger and older people have protections under the law, those with emotional and physical problems that are under the care of another and between the ages of 18 and 59 years have no law specifically protecting them. Mr. Wheatley is looking into how protection can be extended to those of any age in need.
The commitments of a state legislator often include spending three days a week in Harrisburg and leaving little time for relaxation. Mr. Wheatley noted because of serving on some of the important committees he does, it has recently limited his free time even more.
While he enjoys reading a good book and looks forward to getting out of the public eye occasionally by having dinner with friends or going out to a movie he says he gets the most enjoyment from spending time with his four year old daughter.
Mr. Wheatley noted from the time she was born, his daughter spent a lot of time in Beltzhoover with her caregiver. He said his goal is and always will be to spend as much time as possible with his daughter. Her recent move to Chicago makes this even more of a challenge.
After consideration, Mr. Wheatley also said he enjoys his 3½ hour drive between home and Harrisburg each week giving him time to reflect and time to think.
The 19th Legislative District is located entirely within the city of Pittsburgh and includes all or parts of the South Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Allentown, Arlington, Arlington Heights, Beltzhoover, and South Side.