THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The Pittsburgh region faces a political choice more stark than it has in many years, and perhaps many decades. Allegheny County can choose to be inward- and backward-looking, satisfied with stagnation and timid in the face of a highly competitive marketplace for jobs and growth. Or it can choose to reach beyond its borders, to seize opportunities and to finally defeat the spirit of decline.
Joe Rockey represents moving forward. He is the clear choice to lead the Pittsburgh region as the fourth Allegheny County Executive.
Solidity vs. inconsistency
Mr. Rockey, 58, an executive who retired as the chief risk officer at PNC Bank, is a newcomer to politics, but has shown a keen understanding of the issues facing the county. On the debate stage, he has looked significantly more prepared to step into the office, the third most powerful elected position in the state, than former state representative Sara Innamorato, 38.
Importantly, Mr. Rockey has demonstrated that his views on policy are not constrained by ideological purity. On the Allegheny County Jail and the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, for instance, Mr. Rockey has emphasized both that these facilities are necessary and that they fulfill their purposes best when people there are treated with dignity. That means a comprehensive study of all jail operations; aggressive efforts to recruit a full complement of corrections officers; and working toward bringing Shuman back under competent county management as soon as possible.
Ms. Innamorato, on the other hand, seems to be caught between her more radical past positions and the necessity to appeal to a broader electorate.
The result has been platitudes about going to the root of criminal behavior while shifting her policy positions toward pragmatic reform as opposed to radical transformation. This is a welcome change, but voters should wonder which Sara Innamorato they’re going to get: the Democratic Socialists of America activist who was committed to the abolition of all incarceration, or the mellower version tailored to this broader electorate.
Experience vs. intentions
Strategic ambiguity has been a consistent feature of Ms. Innamorato’s campaign, on issues from juvenile justice to property reassessments to her own political views and history. It’s hard to know what she really thinks, or plans to do. This does not inspire confidence in her ability to direct a 6,000-employee bureaucracy with a billion-dollar budget — especially when faced with an increasingly ideological and confrontational County Council.
Take arguably the county’s most important responsibility: social services. Ms. Innamorato speaks passionately about issues such as mental health and homelessness, but she has little experience with the bureaucratic complexities of delivering social services. And where she does have experience — as vice chair of the Allegheny County Housing Association board — she doesn’t have much to show for it.
It’s only necessary to view the disaster in City Hall to see how far mere intentions go.
Ms. Innamorato and Mr. Rockey agree, rightly, on the necessity of low-barrier shelters and public-private partnerships, such as Second Avenue Commons. But it was Mr. Rockey who actually participated in its creation while at PNC. Further, Mr. Rockey has served on the boards of multiple charitable organizations that work with the county’s Department of Human Services: Despite being a political neophyte, he has significant experience in this crucial aspect of county government.
Voters can only hope Ms. Innamorato would learn on the job. While corporate experience doesn’t correlate perfectly with government, voters can be confident Mr. Rockey is ready to lead.
Moving forward vs. looking backward
But most of all, Mr. Rockey’s campaign is forward- and outward-looking. He emphasizes the importance of going out and selling Allegheny County to businesses, including a pledge to court 100 corporations to locate in the county. And his policies, such as streamlining permitting and expanding employment training in collaboration with unions and business, are oriented toward outreach and growth.
Ms. Innamorato’s campaign, on the other hand, is inward-looking. She emphasizes what’s wrong with Allegheny County while offering only vague promises to fix those faults. Meanwhile, all of Ms. Innamorato’s social justice promises, from “housing for all” (which comes directly from the DSA platform) to “restorative justice,” require resources that can only come from a growing tax base — or, more likely, raising taxes.
There is no evidence Ms. Innamorato is prepared to meet the challenge of competing in the national market for jobs and investment, and good evidence she will shrink from it: Her allies in city government and County Council are publicly contemptuous of economic development through private enterprise.
Mr. Rockey, on the other hand, would bring a welcome return to bipartisan government in Allegheny County, last experienced under the popular moderate Jim Roddey. Especially as the local Democratic Party has lurched to the left, Mr. Rockey’s practical centrism will ensure local government is not captured by a single ideological faction.
A clear choice
The 2010s were the most optimistic decade in southwestern Pennsylvania since at least the 1950s. Pittsburgh finally had an identity that wasn’t based entirely in the past: tech, education, energy, medicine, the future. Decline had petered out — Allegheny County’s population increased for the first time in generations — and new growth was on the horizon.
Then the COVID pandemic, as it did everywhere, smothered this optimism. Social upheavals turned our attention to what was wrong with Pittsburgh — an essential reckoning, but one that can also stifle real solutions. As the county’s population began to decline once again, the feeling returned that Pittsburgh is a place doomed to stagnation, at best.
Joe Rockey is the candidate more likely to restore not just economic growth, but the spirit of optimism that has slipped through our fingers.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette endorses Joe Rockey for Allegheny County Executive.
By BRANDON MCGINLEY
Now is the time for members of the quiet, bipartisan Joe Rockey faction in Pittsburgh’s political class to make their move.
World events have managed what no electoral opponent of local progressives has: placing a left-wing candidate, in this case former state representative Sara Innamorato, in a pincer between her perceived authenticity and her perceived moral rectitude.
At the same moment, a poll showing Mr. Rockey within a single percentage point of his opponent — conducted for a pro-Rockey super PAC but by a respected nonpartisan firm — is circulating among local politicos. While few believe the race is that close, myself included, the memo provides hard evidence for the growing feeling the race may be slipping away from Ms. Innamorato.
Few will dispute that Mr. Rockey, the 58-year-old retired bank executive, is a more credible administrator of a billion-dollar county government than Ms. Innamorato, the 38-year-old short-time state representative. Whether that matters has always been the question.
The appeal of progressive candidates in the Pittsburgh region has never been that they have impressive resumes or are competent administrators. It’s been that they’re perceived to be personally authentic and morally correct. It’s been that they’re on the right side of history.
This week raised the dangerous question: What if they’re not?
Sara Innamorato made national news in 2018, along with now-U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, when she unseated an established Democratic state legislator as an unapologetic member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Her DSA sympathies remained a core part of her public political identity, even as she established herself in more mainstream Democratic politics.
Until this week. On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh DSA chapter released one of the most pro-Palestinian statements of any local in the country, excusing last Saturday’s Hamas terror attacks as Israel’s predictable comeuppance. And two days earlier, both Ms. Lee and Ms. Innamorato were conspicuous no-shows at a Jewish Community Center solidarity vigil.
The county executive hopeful was faced with a choice: Ignore the growing suspicions about her lack of sympathy for Israeli and Jewish terror victims, or denounce the organization that launched her political career. She chose the latter.
It was the right move, politically and morally. It also signaled her willingness to break with the left as part of embracing the responsibilities of countywide executive office, which will be essential to success in that role.
But the choice will still prove costly. First, she attracted predictably vicious scorn on her left flank. At a deeper level, however, the episode highlighted that the commitments of the actually-existing progressive movement don’t always lead to morally satisfying conclusions. And it raises the question of why she ever associated herself with the DSA to begin with.
At the same time, cutting ties with her past also threatens another pillar of the progressives’ appeal: their apparent consistency and authenticity. Publicly renouncing a now-inconvenient relationship is exactly what a regular politician would do, but part of the point of the young progressives is that they aren’t regular politicians. This moment, more than any other so far, shattered that illusion.
Fittingly, the polling firm Cygnal — which has a rare “A” rating from the analytics website FiveThirtyEight — was conducting its research as this drama played out, on October 9 and 10. The polling memo prepared for Save Allegheny County, a pro-Rockey super PAC, indicates a 45% to 44% race in favor of Ms. Innamorato, despite the two-to-one registration advantage for Democrats.
Most alarmingly for Ms. Innamorato, the poll has her opponent pulling about 25% support among Democrats, exactly the figure understood to be Mr. Rockey’s target.
There are numerous reasons to discount this result, beginning with the fact it’s very convenient for the organization that commissioned the poll. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a close observer of the race who believes it’s a dead heat, at least right now.
But there’s one very good reason to take it seriously, or at least to believe the real margin is in the low single digits: Ms. Innamorato is acting like it’s close. She’s playing frantic defense on DSA/Palestine, and is said to be seeking more traditional media audiences, specifically via radio, that her campaign had previously spurned as unnecessary.
Cultivating a sense of inevitability is a very effective way to keep your own party’s voters in line, and potential donors and endorsers away from your opponent. But it’s also risky: Once that sense is lost, there’s no getting it back, and often there’s no backup plan.
So you’re saying there’s a chance
It’s hardly a secret that Pittsburgh’s traditional political class, across party lines, is generally cool (at best) on the idea of Sara Innamorato as county executive. Whether they choose to act on that feeling may determine the outcome of the race.
It would be too much to say there’s as strong a groundswell of support for Joe Rockey in the Duquesne Club set as there was for Republican Jim Roddey in 1999. Mr. Roddey had a much more established profile in the political scene; faced an opponent, Cyril Wecht, who collected enemies like beanie babies; and operated in a less partisan environment than today, with dozens more moderate-to-conservative Democratic elected officials in play.
There’s also the looming threat that an Innamorato administration will freeze out people and institutions who pick the wrong horse, as has happened down Grant Street.
This week, however, may convince people with big names and wallets that supporting Mr. Rockey isn’t a waste. Will he win? I’ll still need at least a three-to-one payout to make that bet. Can he win? Yes, definitely.
But he won’t without a little more momentum from Pittsburghers whose names and reputations confer respectability. This would give fence-sitting voters permission to take Mr. Rockey seriously — and to ignore the coming attack ads.
Sara Innamorato has stumbled, and the run of play is now with Joe Rockey. It will be up to the quiet Rockey supporters, and Innamorato skeptics, in business and politics to determine whether this is a blip, or a turning point.
By Hallie Lauer
Allegheny County executive candidate Sara Innamorato on Wednesday denounced statements by the Democratic Socialists of America about last weekend’s Hamas attack on Israel and said she broke with the far-left group years ago.
“I strongly denounce the recent anti-Israel actions and statements of national and local DSA chapters, which coldly ignores the gruesome attacks on innocent Israelis,” Ms. Innamorato, the Democratic nominee for county executive in the Nov. 7 election, wrote in a social media post. “Anti-semitism is a real and deadly issue and as we approach the fifth anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, I’m focused on how we can build a county that provides safety and stability for all.”
Her comments came amid growing pressure for her to clarify her affiliation with the group. The Pittsburgh chapter of the DSA on Tuesday called for ending U.S. military aid to Israel. It also said that “violent opposition is the inevitable response to the conditions imposed by Israeli occupation.”
“Israel has a right to defend itself while minimizing civilian casualties,” Ms. Innamorato said Wednesday. “Additionally, I support a plan that offers safe passage out of Gaza for civilians because Hamas also uses innocent Palestinians as human shields.”
She also said that she hasn’t “been affiliated with the DSA since 2019.”
That marked the first time Ms. Innamorato has publicly said she left the DSA. Ms. Innamorato was a member of the organization when she was first elected to the Pennsylvania state House in 2018. She resigned over the summer to focus on her campaign for executive.
Since announcing her candidacy for the county’s top elected office, Ms. Innamorato has faced questions about her ties to the DSA. In the first debate of the general election last month, she was asked directly about her affiliation with the group and whether she is a socialist.
Ms. Innamorato did not, at the time, say she hadn’t been affiliated with the group in years. She did say that she is not a socialist, instead calling herself a “pragmatic progressive.”
Her social media post Wednesday went on to “urge my opponent to stay focused on who is actually being harmed in the conflict in Israel and Gaza instead of trying to score cheap political points off of people’s pain.”
Earlier on Wednesday, her GOP opponent Joe Rockey said on social media that “a lukewarm rejection of the attacks isn’t enough from Sara. She needs to renounce the enablers in DSA and stand with the Jewish people.”
After the attack over the weekend, Ms. Innamorato took to social media to condemn the “horrifying and brutal terroristic attacks” by Hamas.
“Many of us in Allegheny County and worldwide are watching this moment with apprehension and fear as violence escalates,” she said in a post Monday. “Like many, my hope is for peace to prevail through diplomacy that ends the cycle of violence.”
Mr. Rockey has called out Ms. Innamorato multiple times on social media over the past few days for her affiliation with DSA and the organization’s “anti-Israel stand.”
Many traditional Democrats, Mr. Rockey’s campaign said in a statement Tuesday, “find themselves alienated by Innamorato’s attempts to distract from her DSA roots.”
“It shouldn’t take this kind of teeth-pulling to get a candidate to split with organizations that justify mass murder,” Mr. Rockey’s spokesperson said. “Allegheny County needs someone who takes the right position when it matters, not when they’re cornered.”
By Hallie Lauer
The race for Allegheny County executive is shaping up to be more of a nail-biter than expected.
With a two-to-one voter registration advantage, Democratic candidates have cruised into the county’s top office over the last 20 years, never winning less than 60% of the vote. In Dan Onorato’s first reelection campaign in 2007, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate. The outgoing, term-limited Democratic incumbent Rich Fitzgerald won his first race in 2011 with 62% — easily the closest of his three races.
But this year just might be different.
“If this were a previous election with Rich Fitzgerald running against a candidate in the Republican Party, most people would say that’s a foregone conclusion,” said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think this time it’s a different story.”
If it is a different story, it will be because of a combination of the candidates and the moment. Democratic nominee Sara Innamorato, a staunchly progressive former state representative, faces Republican Joe Rockey, a former PNC executive campaigning as a centrist. And the election comes as growing concerns about crime — a poll from Pittsburgh Works Together last month found it to be the top issue for Allegheny County voters — threaten to put Democrats on their heels.
Ms. Innamorato, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America during her first campaign, won elected office in 2018 as a progressive challenger who unseated a longtime, establishment-backed incumbent from the politically prominent Costa family in a primary. With progressives increasingly on the rise in Democratic politics across Allegheny County in recent years, she emerged from a crowded primary field for executive this spring with less than 38% of the vote.
“[Progressive Democrats] are so far left of what the party typically used to represent in Allegheny County, because there are a lot of conservative people outside the city of Pittsburgh,” Mr. Shuster said. “And she has to remember that.”
In a region where some Democratic voters have historically been more conservative than in deeper blue enclaves across the country, most primary voters cast ballots for one of her more centrist rivals.
“How is Sara going to get people from Upper St. Clair … and Fox Chapel to vote for her?” asked Ed Meena, a longtime observer of Pittsburgh politics, referring to largely white, wealthy neighborhoods that voted for other Democrats in May.
“Maybe she doesn’t care if they vote for her or not, but when you only take 38%, that means there’s still 62% [of the Democratic votes] out there,” said Mr. Meena, a Point Park University history professor.
But it’s still Allegheny County — and she still starts with an advantage.
“It’s not necessarily that she has to meet Joe Rockey in the middle and battle over there,” said longtime Democratic political analyst Mike Butler, who helped run businessman Dave Fawcett’s primary campaign for executive. “She has to be the center of the Democratic Party. … As long as she gets enough Democrats to stick with her — and in our very partisan times that’s almost assuredly going to happen — she’ll be OK.”
Ms. Innamorato’s 2018 victory in a Pittsburgh-based state House seat was part of the first wave of progressive wins in Allegheny County. The movement has only gained momentum since then, including with Ed Gainey’s election as Pittsburgh mayor in 2021 and Summer Lee’s victory in a U.S. House seat last year. A win by Ms. Innamorato in the Nov. 7 general election would represent a high-water mark for local progressives — who would control both city and county government.
The expectations are lower for Mr. Rockey.
“Rockey’s got nothing to lose,” Mr. Shuster said. “She’s got everything to lose.”
In campaign appearances and in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of TV ads, Mr. Rockey has continued to pitch himself as a moderate — a “common-sense alternative” to Ms. Innamorato. While he benefited from running unopposed in the GOP primary, he has still walked a fine line between solidifying support from Republican voters, many of whom still back Donald Trump, and appealing to independents and moderate Democrats.
During the candidates’ first debate of the general election last month, Mr. Rockey tried to distance himself from the polarizing former president, calling Mr. Trump the “definition of divisiveness.”
“He’s not running this race on partisanship,” said Mark Harris, a Rockey campaign adviser. “I think voters, including Republicans, respond to that. We’re talking about the issues that matter to voters in a way that connect with where they’re living.”
Mr. Rockey started pushing that message early, declaring the day after the primary that he is “a centrist who is focused on the middle.”
And as Mr. Rockey’s campaign, and a new political group supporting him, have swamped the Democrats’ TV spending by a margin of almost 9 to 1, Ms. Innamorato has increasingly tried to link Mr. Rockey to the GOP — particularly on the potent political issue of abortion.
“Mr. Rockey is a Republican even after January 6, even after overturning Roe v. Wade,” she said during the first debate, referring to the deadly 2021 Capitol riot and last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning a constitutional right to abortion. “He’s still committed to a party that [is] trying to disrupt our election cycle and trying to take away reproductive health care.”
Clearly aware of how the backlash to overturning Roe v. Wade has repeatedly boosted Democrats up and down the ballot, Mr. Rockey has been careful to not publicly take a position on the issue.
“My personal opinion on abortion is not relevant because the Allegheny County executive does not set policy for abortion,” Mr. Rockey said during a second debate last Tuesday. (A third and final debate will air Oct. 15 on WPXI.)
In debates and in a series of TV ads, Mr. Rockey has avoided national topics and focused on kitchen-table issues. Those include a pledge not to allow a county-wide property tax reassessment like the kind that helped get the county’s first chief executive Jim Roddey — the only Republican to ever hold the office — voted out in 2003.
Ms. Innamorato has also addressed those issues — often in more general terms, with a focus on improving quality of life for Allegheny County residents by getting at the “root cause” of problems like crime and homelessness with more mental health care and addiction resources.
As Ms. Innamorato has sought to nationalize the race with issues that favor her party, Mr. Rockey has responded by painting Ms. Innamorato as too liberal for Allegheny County. He said Tuesday that the election isn’t about issues like abortion, but about “choosing between a centrist in the middle… and the far-left ideology that my opponent has offered.”
Mr. Meena, the Point Park professor, said voters in local elections tend to care more about local issues, and that Ms. Innamorato “needs to focus” on those topics.
There has yet to be any public polling in the contest. And a fuller financial picture of the race won’t emerge until later this month, when candidates are required to disclose their fundraising and spending activity.
But at least on the airwaves, the campaign has been hugely lopsided. As of Friday, Republicans had spent almost $1.2 million on TV ads, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising. About $704,000 of that came from Mr. Rockey’s campaign, with another $480,000 from Save Allegheny County, a group formed last month to back his candidacy.
Ms. Innamorato’s campaign, which spent about $550,000 on ads during the primary, had spent only $141,000 for the general election as of Friday, according to AdImpact. It remains to be seen if the Working Families Party, a union-backed progressive group that spent about $512,000 supporting her in the primary, will air ads before Election Day.
Mr. Rockey’s weeks-long head start on the airwaves gave him time to pitch himself to voters as different from the Washington Republicans whose far-right members just ousted their own House Speaker. Emphasizing Mr. Rockey’s North Side roots, the ads promise more jobs, no tax increases, and “a sensible road because extremism doesn’t work.”
“He almost sounds like a conservative Democrat more than a Republican,” Mr. Shuster said of Mr. Rockey’s ads.
“He’s giving her a hell of a race,” Mr. Shuster added.
When Ms. Innamorato did hit the airwaves on Oct. 1, her first 30-second spot split time between promoting “shared values” such as safety and healthcare access, and tying Mr. Rockey to national Republicans like Mr. Trump.
The Rockey campaign blasted it as an “attack ad” — but also pointed to it as clear evidence that Ms. Innamorato’s campaign sees the GOP nominee as a legitimate threat.
“Anytime a Democrat in Allegheny County has to start their campaign out negatively, you gotta love being in that position,” Mr. Harris said. “We’re still the slight underdog, but we’re very encouraged by what our data shows.”
“Sara’s been invisible,” Mr. Meena said of Ms. Innamorato’s late start on the airwaves. “I don’t know if she’s waiting for a bunch of money to come in, but I do know that Rockey started out pretty good in a kind of ad that would play well in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.”
Ms. Innamorato, whose campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment, says she’s taking a grassroots approach.
“We’re meeting Allegheny County voters where they’re at — in parks, parking lots, and playgrounds — to share our vision about building a County for All!” she wrote late last month on social media. The post was accompanied by photos of Ms. Innamorato gathered with groups of people outside.
In an email to supporters last week, Ms. Innamorato said she had taken her campaign to “every municipality in Allegheny County.” In that same email, she asked supporters to help reach a fundraising goal of $15,000 to “keep our message on air until Election Day.”
Save Allegheny County, the pro-Rockey group, received $100,000 from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, one of the top conservative political groups in the state, according to financial filings. Commonwealth is largely funded by Jeffrey Yass, a GOP mega donor and Pennsylvania’s richest man.
Ms. Innamorato has criticized the outside funding — while also bracing for more mud being slung her way.
“You’re going to see a lot of negative ads about me,” she said during last week’s debate. “Those ads are funded by an out-of-touch billionaire who supports MAGA Republicans and has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting those folks.”
Both Mr. Shuster, the Pitt professor, and Mr. Meena forecast a close race to the finish line.
“Six months ago, it may have been automatic. But not now,” Mr. Shuster said. “This is by no means an automatic [win for] her. And anyone who thinks it is is pretty naive.”
“It’s going to be close,” Mr. Meena said. “Closer than it was in May.”
-Mike Wereschagin contributed to this article.
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 hosted the second and final televised debate Tuesday night between the candidates for Allegheny County executive, partnering with the League of Women Voters and airing exclusively on WTAE.
Republican Joe Rockey, a retired PNC executive from Ohio Township, and former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Lawrenceville Democrat, faced off in a one-hour debate at the WTAE studios.
The debate began with Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 anchor Shannon Perrine asking the candidates about concerns over public safety.
Rockey said he has a five-point plan to improve safety in the county.
“I believe it’s imperative that we focus on the actual crimes that are going on and we enforce the law that’s in front of us,” Rockey said.
Innamorato said people should not vilify police as a profession and that county leaders need to attract the best talent in policing with financial incentives. She added, however, that she does not believe policing is the “end all, be all of safety.”
“If we want to get to the root cause of what makes people really feel safe, we need to make sure that we are also addressing root causes like investing in housing and remediating blight,” Innamorato said.
The candidates also fielded questions about the Allegheny County jail, especially staffing issues at the facility.
“So staffing and the lack of adequate has led to the deaths of more than 20 people who recently were in the Allegheny County jail,” Innamorato said. “When we are selecting the new warden, we will have a process that will involve community members so that we are ensuring that we are selecting a warden that can rebuild the trust that has been broken between the community and the Allegheny County jail.”
Orlando Harper retired as the jail’s warden last month.
Rockey said corrections officers have told him that morale at the jail is “at an all-time low.”
“We will begin with a full assessment of every aspect at the county jail,” Rockey said. “With that assessment, we will then begin a conversation to determine who the next warden will be.”
The candidates both reiterated their shared belief that the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center should be owned and operated by the county, rather than being managed by a private entity.
The Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania recently announced it had entered into an agreement with Adelphoi to reopen the Shuman Center.
Innamorato said she would convene an oversight board — similar to one associated jail — to ensure Adelphoi is “meeting standards.”
Rockey said he believes a facility needs to be opened, but added he was not in favor of the “outsourcing of the care of our children” to a private entity.
Although they stressed that they do not support a private entity running the center long-term, the candidates both acknowledged it might be the most practical scenario to get the center open.Play Video
Perrine also asked the candidates about their views on gun laws.
Rockey said he would support a gun buyback program.
“There are so many illegal guns on the street,” Rockey said. “What we have to do is create an environment where the guns that are in the population can be brought and taken out of population where there is an opportunity.”
Innamorato leaned on her record of advocating for stricter gun laws as a state representative in Harrisburg.
“These were things like universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders,” Innamorato said. “So I will continue to use the bully pulpit of the county executive’s office to go to Harrisburg and advocate for these regulations.”
Innamorato and Rockey answered questions on a slew of other topics, including racial disparities in maternal health care, job creation, and housing.
Democrat Rich Fitzgerald is serving his third and final term as Allegheny County executive.
The last day to register to vote before the election is Oct. 23, and Oct. 31 is the last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot.
If you plan to vote by mail, your ballot must be received by the time polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 7.
Calling for a ‘Jobs Renaissance’ for Allegheny County, Joe Rockey, Republican nominee for Allegheny County Executive, launched a six-point plan for economic growth and increased employment. The Rockey plan centers on six major themes:
1. Maximize federal programs enacted to encourage re-shoring of manufacturing of components needed by industries from automobiles to computers.
2. Leverage the abundant natural resources of the Allegheny County region.
3. Expand employment training programs while encouraging population growth.
4. Streamline regulatory processes that have held back business location and expansion, the recent loss of U.S. Steel’s $1.5 billion modernization in the Mon Valley as “Exhibit A.”
5. Spark a new industrial renaissance by encouraging an “all-of-the-above” menu of jobs ranging from technology to legacy manufacturing.
6. Promote the region to job-creators with a 100-company outreach to promote Allegheny County as a place to locate and grow business.
Rockey’s plan also calls for a county initiative to reduce bureaucratic roadblocks to employment expansion and called for the county to work to create more “pad-ready” sites for businesses seeking to establish manufacturing facilities here.
Endorsed by one of the region’s largest private-sector unions, the Laborers International Union of North America, Rockey promised to conduct a comprehensive workforce analysis to match job openings with training skills, and said he would promote education and training in the trades.
Rockey also enthusiastically endorsed the creation of a so-called “Hydrogen Hub” to manufacture carbon-free fuel, a major industrial goal of the Biden administration that has won the support of present County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Gov. Josh Shapiro. Rockey’s opponent, Sara Innamorato, has voiced opposition to such a project, despite its promise of thousands of jobs in both construction and later staffing of the facility.
Rockey also promised to launch what he termed “The 100-Company Project.” He said he would market the region to 100 top companies and act as the county’s “top salesman.”
A retired top executive with PNC, one of the nation’s largest financial institutions, Rockey was born and raised in the North Side, the son of a union Democrat. He has stressed that he is a political moderate able to work with both parties as well as business and labor to reverse job decline, restore public safety and end politics-as-usual in Allegheny County.
By Kevin Gavin, Marylee Williams, Laura Tsutsui, Addison Diehl
On today’s episode of The Confluence:
Yesterday, a jury of his peers decided the man they convicted of carrying out the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 should be put to death. The formal sentencing hearing takes place this morning. David Harris, WESA’s legal analyst and law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, joins us to explain why survivors and victim’s family members get to share statements at this point in the trial, and if the case is likely to be appealed. (0:00 – 4:53)
Joe Rockey is the Republican nominee for Allegheny County Executive, and he will face off against Sara Innamorato, the Democratic nominee. Although Rockey has no previous political experience, he says he will bring his experience as a “problem solver” to lead from a centrist perspective. (4:57 – 16:00)
The City of Pittsburgh received $335 million dollars from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act. This week, Council approved shifting $21 million around, in order to meet a federal deadline. WESA’s Kiley Koscinski explains why the council is reallocating the funds and what’s left to spend. (16:01 – 22:30)
The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. For those who have enjoyed listening to the show, find more episodes of The Confluence here, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Rockey’s plan for public safety proposes important changes in a number of areas, notably the reopening of a juvenile detention and rehabilitation center to house underage youth accused of serious crime. The county closed the former Shuman Juvenile Detention Center two years ago after it lost its state accreditation.
Rockey’s opponent in the general election, Democrat Sara Innamorato, has opposed such a center, despite incidents in which underage assailants were back on the street within hours of arrest. Those charged with serious violent crimes have been housed either at the Allegheny County Jail or lodged in centers outside the county.
Another notable departure from the status quo is Rockey’s pledge to be hands-on in dealing with continuing problems with the Allegheny County Jail and to push past the political gridlock that has overtaken the Jail Oversight Board. Chief among his pledges is one to bring the jail up to a full staffing level while expanding medical and mental health services to inmates.
Among proposals in Rockey’s plan is the addition of 20 more officers to the Allegheny County Police Force, “designated to provide support to law enforcement agencies currently overwhelmed battling criminal activity.”
Rockey also proposed a Safe Streets Task Force, joining forces with city and county police, the office of district attorney, and various other stakeholders through the county.
Our EMS community faces multiple challenges and as Allegheny County Executive, Joe will work tirelessly to help them continue to deliver world-class service.
BY: SALENA ZITO
Twenty-four years ago, the people of Allegheny County went to the voting booth and cast their ballot for a single county executive — a dramatic change in governing after having a three-commissioner system for over 200 years. In that election and the years since, voters have selected three pragmatic and moderate leaders: Republican Jim Roddey, followed by Democrats Dan Onorato and Rich Fitzgerald.
All three had their challenges: assessments, eliminating the row offices, a pandemic. Yet three recognized that holding the region’s most powerful elected office carried the responsibility of good governing, and not so much little activism or partisan stridency.
That might all change come November when voters will decide between Democrat Sara Innamorato — a former state representative, grassroots activist and frequent UPMC protestor whose politics are rooted in the Democratic Socialist Party — and Republican Joe Rockey, a retired chief risk officer at PNC Financial Services.
Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 registration advantage in the county, and so some people are already measuring the drapes on Grant Street for Ms. Innamorato.
But Democrats close to county government are of two minds: They are encouraged by Ms. Innamorato’s behind-the-scenes willingness to understand how county government works, but remain concerned that she will be drawn back to her activist roots by the SEIU, Mayor Ed Gainey and Rep. Summer Lee — protesting the very business leaders and institutions she needs to work with to develop the region’s economy.
Mr. Rockey more clearly has the qualifications and temperament to follow in the pragmatic footsteps of the other three county executives.
“Donald Trump is what’s wrong — in many ways — with politics, which is it’s incredibly divisive, which is why I don’t support him,” Mr. Rockey said.
Mr. Rockey has seen too much to be easily bamboozled.
Born on DeFoe Street behind Perry High School, he was one of six children in an economically fragile home. “I’m a kid who grew up on the North Side. My father got sick when I was five; we used food stamps for my youth,” he said. His mother supported the family as best she could with a part-time minimum wage job. There was no family car.
“There were times in my life when we didn’t even have a television in our house,” he said, “so when the Steelers played Super Bowl X, I had to go to my grandmother’s to be able to watch it, so I could come back in at the lunch table at Nativity and be able to talk about it like everybody else.”
That success story — from poor kid on the North Side to PNC executive — might help him chip away at Ms. Innamorato’s partisan advantage.
Mr. Rockey said his track record as a senior executive at PNC, managing organizational structures often larger than the county government itself, helps qualify him to do the job. “My history is that of a problem solver, someone who was placed in situations where change was necessary, where problems needed to be addressed.”
If he is elected he said he would not go into the job with a clean sweep of agency heads or their departments, especially ones that are working well. “Throughout my career as a change leader and an individual who was focused on improving things, I have not done that by changing the people,” he said.
“In many parts of the county, we have really strong leaders. The Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis is a perfect example of that. Christina is an exceptional leader, and it would be my pleasure to work with her and have her continue the bright future she has created for the county airport and the entire area that she manages,” he said.
Mr. Rockey said the biggest issues facing the county going forward are creating jobs that attract young people, reversing population decline, combatting crime and relieving homelessness.
“When I say jobs, we’ve lost 50,000 jobs here in the last five years, and job loss directly relates to our decline in population. We’re one of the oldest communities in the country, but if we had jobs for young people, we wouldn’t be,” he said.
Last month, Mr. Rockey picked up the endorsement of one the region’s most powerful labor groups: the Pennsylvania District Council of the Laborers International Union of North America, which represents over 7,000 workers, of which 1,000 work for county government itself.
“Joe Rockey is without question the person for the job,” said Phil Ameris, who serves as the president of the Western Pennsylvania District Council.“We must elect a candidate who is qualified, has the knowledge on how to move Allegheny County forward and who understands that … extreme political views will only cause division.”
Mr. Rockey said he was pleased to have Mr. Amaris and his team backing him, and hopes to earn additional endorsements: “We’re working with the other trades. Nothing is finalized at this point, but we’re working with the other trades.”
As for crime, Mr. Rockey said no one should discount the crime problem in the region, and that the perception of insecurity affects how people feel about visited, shopping and doing business here.
“Under any scenario, there is too much crime … and not just in the city of Pittsburgh, but throughout the entire county. It’s unacceptable for us to brush over that by saying, ‘Oh yeah, but we’re doing better than last year,’” he said.
Mr. Rockey is also familiar with the realities and challenges of homelessness and homeless encampments in Allegheny County. He sits on the board of the Little Sisters of the Poor and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, which serves 60 men every evening on Bedford Avenue at the base of the Hill District.
His interest in addressing homelessness goes back to his C-suite days. He was the executive lead on the building of Second Avenue Commons, a low-barrier year-round facility for the homeless, and he and his wife Diana regularly feed the homeless at the Red Door on the Boulevard of the Allies.
“The homeless situation in Allegheny County is unacceptable for many reasons,” he said. “These are individuals who deserve compassion and care, and we should be taking the time and doing the right things to improve their lives and give them a brighter future.”
Mr. Rockey said it is unacceptable to assign the homeless issue to the City of Pittsburgh: “The reality is the vast majority of the support for the homeless comes from the Health and Human Services Department, which is an Allegheny County level function.”
He said he knows Innamorato will try to tie him to Donald Trump, or to portray him as someone who will take reproductive rights away from women — and he is having none of that.
Trump-style divisiveness is more likely to hurt the area than help. Mr. Rockey commends all three of the prior county executives — including the two Democrats — as leaders who have governed as centrists and were able to manage the breadth of this diverse county. “I’m very much a centrist and believe that the middle is actually the true majority here in Allegheny County,” he said.
“The reason I am running is to bring the county together, growing the future of the county, addressing crime and homelessness within the county, and really getting us back to where we need to be, which is a growing, vibrant economy,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”