Debate for next Allegheny County Executive held at Carnegie Mellon University

Written By Nicholas Konopka, For The Globe

In a forum held at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, the seven Democrats running for Allegheny County Executive struck more contrasts with the current chief executive than with each other.


While Rich Fitzgerald’s name was only mentioned once during the forum, many took coded shots at the three-term executive who has fallen out of favor with local Democratic activists.


“We also need a county executive who’s going to attend the Jail Oversight Board,” said State Representative Sara Innamorato, targeting Fitzgerald who often sends a proxy to attend the meetings on his behalf.


Endorsed by Mayor Ed Gainey and Congresswoman Summer Lee, Innamorato is the progressive wing’s prized horse in the race. In her closing argument, she called the county budget a “moral document” that should reflect the wants of the community.


County Controller Michael Lamb also made it clear that he would attend the oversight meetings and called for new leadership at the jail. Although he made similar comments in the past, Lamb has avoided calling out the jail’s warden directly.


The only candidate to call for the firing of the warden was activist and entrepreneur Will Parker. He was also the only candidate on stage to come out against the reopening of the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, which was shuttered in 2021 for repeated violations from the State Department of Human Services.


Even after the forum, the contrasts were made clear when County Treasurer John Weinstein reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the center county-run at a press conference. The event was held on the same day Rich Fitzgerald floated the idea of a public-private partnership to run the facility.


The clearest rebuke of the current county executive came when the candidates were asked if they would support expanding fracking in the county. All seven said no. Fitzgerald infamously vetoed County Council’s proposed ban on fracking in public parks last summer, sullying his reputation with many Democrats.


Lawyer and former County Councilman Dave Fawcett touted his long-supported concept for a county-wide riverfront park as a means for sustainability.


 “You can’t just have a pretty city,” Fawcett said. “You have to have a beautiful city and a clean and pollution-free world.”


County Department of Human Services project manager Erin McClelland — who had two unsuccessful runs for Congress —brought the most energy to her answers, with more shots aimed at Republicans than the Democrats on stage. She was the only candidate to call out Rich Fitzgerald by name.


“Rich Fitzgerald ran on economic development and not raising taxes,” said McClelland. “And that’s exactly what we got.” 


Multiple times, McClelland called for the county government to operate under a “zero harm” principle.


Allegheny County Councilwoman Liv Bennet emphasized the need for equity in county government, citing an increase in Black infant mortality. She also drew upon her experience as a current resident of public housing and called for the reinstatement of pandemic-era rental assistance to keep people in their homes.


The next Allegheny County Executive debate is set to take place at Point Park’s updated Center for Media Innovation in West Penn Hall. Sponsored by NEXTPittsburgh and Public Source, the debate will take place in April, with a formal date yet to be set.