Former PNC executive Joe Rockey is the first Republican to enter the race for Allegheny County executive

While seven Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination in the May 16 primary election, no other Republicans have entered the race

A retired financial services executive has entered the race to succeed Rich Fitzgerald as Allegheny County executive — and he’s the first Republican to join the fray.

Joe Rockey, 58, of Ohio Township, announced his campaign for the GOP nomination during a Downtown appearance Wednesday morning. A former chief risk officer at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services, he identified as a political centrist — the North Side-born son of a union Democrat — and warned against “politics as usual” and “radical ideas driven by ideology and not common sense.”

“The economy is our No. 1 problem, and it’s at the heart of what we need to go after,” Mr. Rockey said at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh.

While seven Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination in the May 16 primary election, no other Republicans have entered the race. Mr. Fitzgerald, a Democrat who is term-limited and cannot seek re-election this year, will have served 12 years as county executive when his third term ends next January.

The leadership post, arguably the most powerful elected position in Pennsylvania west of Harrisburg, pays about $146,500 this year. It sits atop the county government system approved by voters in 1998 and put into place in 2000.

Since then, three men — including Mr. Fitzgerald — have held the position. Only the first, Jim Roddey, is a Republican. He served from 2000 to 2004 and is now chairing Mr. Rockey’s campaign.

“We need to govern from the middle and put solutions front and center,” Mr. Roddey told the gathering of Republican elected officials and supporters at the Wyndham. “The only thing extreme about Joe is his desire to get things done.”

Mr. Rockey said he would reinvigorate economic development efforts, prioritize workforce development and pursue partnerships with business, labor, foundations and universities. He told reporters he would take a bipartisan approach to consensus-building and “accelerate the way we bring jobs into our community and make sure that every single family has an opportunity for growth.”

“It’s time for those of us in the middle to take back Allegheny County and to create a future for everyone,” Mr. Rockey said.

Candidates in the Democratic primary include former County Council member Dave Fawcett, state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb and County Treasurer John Weinstein. 

Sam DeMarco, the county Republican chairman, said the party has a “very real chance” to win the executive’s seat for the first time in more than two decades. Republicans Matt Drozd and D. Raja lost to Mr. Fitzgerald in the 2019 and 2011 general elections, respectively (Mr. Fitzgerald didn’t have a Republican opponent in 2015). Democrats account for about 57% of registered voters in Allegheny County.

“The Democrats offered up a primary with career politicians out of step with the values of the majority of voters in our county,” Mr. DeMarco said Wednesday. Voters don’t like “loud disputes, impasses and arguments driven by ideological extremes and political posturing.”

“People are tired of fads and cheap drama,” Mr. DeMarco added. “They want the Allegheny County we remember, the county we can once again be — prosperous, growing, a place where generations of the same family can stay and raise the next generation.”

He highlighted Mr. Rockey’s work in the nonprofit sector, where he is a board member at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and the Little Sisters of the Poor home on the North Side. He also sits on the boards of Catholic Charities and Duquesne University, his alma mater, and was involved in establishing the Second Avenue Commons shelter in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Under the county charter, the executive submits legislation to County Council, appoints key officials with the council’s consent and leads the administration of county government, among other duties. Candidates for the May 16 primary races in Pennsylvania have from Feb. 14 until March 7 to circulate and file paperwork to get on the ballot.

Adam Smeltz: [email protected]@asmeltz

First Published February 8, 2023, 8:23am