WTAE, League of Women Voters host Allegheny County executive debate

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.