With four weeks to go before the primary election, the seven Allegheny County executive candidates addressed questions about policy and experience, most of them submitted by engaged citizens, and all of them presented by professional journalists.
The county executive post is widely viewed as one of the most powerful in the state, given the county’s 6,000 employees, $1 billion budget and influence over numerous potent public authorities. Rich Fitzgerald has served as county executive since 2011 and is no longer eligible for reelection.
NEXTpittsburgh and PublicSource invited all executive candidates who will appear on the May 16 primary ballot, including six Democrats and one Republican, to the debate at Point Park University’s Lawrence Hall.
The debate was moderated by NEXTpittsburgh columnist Tony Norman, PublicSource reporter Charlie Wolfson and journalist Natalie Bencivenga. Members of the public submitted questions on topics including taxes, the county jail, public health, housing and more. For more on the race, candidates and issues check out the Executive Decision series.
Natalie Bencivenga: My name is Natalie Bencivenga, and I'm a journalist here in Pittsburgh, and I am honored to co-moderator for this town hall-style debate with journalists Charlie Wolfson of PublicSource and Tony Norman of NEXTpittsburgh. We would like to welcome everyone in attendance tonight and those watching the livestream. Thank you so much for your civic participation. PublicSource. and NEXTpittsburgh have partnered to co-host this discussion among candidates in this critical election for Allegheny County executive, an office that can set the agenda for the region. Voters have not seen a wide-open contest for this office since 2011. Current County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is term limited, and it is almost certain that one of the people on our stage tonight will take his place. The Allegheny County executive is the elected chief executive of the county government responsible for a multi-billion-dollar budget, more than 6,000 employees and critical policy decisions around public health, economic development, criminal justice and more. The executive selects directors for each of the county government's departments and appoints scores of people to influential boards like the Board of Health, Jail Oversight Board, CCAC board and so many more. The Allegheny County Executive is possibly the most powerful elected official in this half of Pennsylvania.
Charlie Wolfson: Candidates tonight will have 90 seconds to answer each question. Moderators will allow a rebuttal only if a candidate mentions another candidate by name or by implication, which will be limited to 30 seconds. Our first question will be addressed to each candidate, and then after that, we will ask each candidate a question specific to their experience and their record. And last but certainly not least, we will pose to the candidates a selection of questions from the audience in the room and the audience watching online.
Tony Norman: Our program tonight includes six Democratic candidates and one Repulican candidate. Voters should be aware that the two parties will conduct separate primaries on May 16, and only voters registered with a particular party can vote in the respective primary elections. I'm going to introduce the candidates now and then you obviously noted that one is missing, but I'm still going to read her her bona fides here. Starting from the end is Theresa Colaizzi who lives in Pittsburgh and served as a Pittsburgh school board member from 2001 to 2013. Dave Fawcett lives in Oakmont and is an attorney at ReedSmith. He was a member of Allegheny County Council from 2000 to 2008. Sara Innamorato, who is not here yet, but she will be joining us soon, has served as a state representative from Lawrenceville from since 2019. Mike Lamb has served as Pittsburgh's city controller since 2008. Will Parker lives in Pittsburgh and is a mobile app developer and former congressional candidate. Joe Rockey lives in Pittsburgh and is a former PNC executive. He is the only candidate on the ballot in the Republican primary. John Weinstein lives in Kennedy Township and has been Allegheny County's elected treasurer since 1999. Now the first question will be answered by each candidate. We've described the technical parameters of the county executive role. Oh, Sara, come on in.
Dave Fawcett: Dramatic entrance.
Sara Innamorato: Oh, sorry.
Dave Fawcett: You're good, you're good.
Tony Norman: OK, we've - welcome, Sara. We've described the technical parameters of the county executive role. In a broader sense, what is your vision for the office and what it can do for county residents? And this will be answered by each candidate. What is your vision for the office and what it can do for county residents? Let's start alphabetically.
Theresa Colaizzi: Thank you for joining us this evening. As far as the Allegheny County's chief executive position, it's is a pretty big position and it does oversee quite a bit of the county. It oversees your boroughs, it oversees the Port Authority, it oversees the airport, it oversees the water authority, there's a lot it oversees. And the vision that I have is that this county comes closer and closer together as a unit, as one unit together, working together where we can move forward.
Dave Fawcett: Hey, everyone, so the county executive does oversee the entire county, a multi-billion dollar budget. But from my standpoint, the real job of the county executive, in addition to running the county with integrity and knowledge and experience, is to ask the question: Where do we want to be as a region in 10, 15, 20 years, and what can we do now to get there? And I think we need big plans to do three things. One, to have jobs here, attract jobs. I hope we get a question on how we might do that. Number two, to take advantage of our natural advantages, our beautiful green hills and waterways, and make this place a beacon of sustainability. And thirdly, from my standpoint, a high priority would be this thing called crime in criminal justice. As a lawyer, I know about both things that you can't compromise on. We need safety. That's government's number one concern. And you need accountability. That means accountability for the bad apples. And I have walked people out of jail who are innocent but sentenced to life for crimes they didn't commit. You need both things. You need the big vision and we need a leader, and I think we want someone who's not a career politician, but has experience in government, but also has other really real-world important life experience.
Sara Innamorato: Good evening, everyone. So I come from the nonprofit sector before I was a state representative. And in nonprofitland, you always have a mission and you have a vision and values. And so when I entered this race as county executive my mission is to ensure we can create a region where we can all thrive and that we're creating shared and sustained prosperity for all of us. And when you have a budget of $3 billion, you have such an opportunity to tackle some of our region's greatest challenges and the people who have been left behind for far too long. I view the public sector as the foundation that everything is built upon. Business, our private lives, our community is. And when we have cracks in that foundation, it has a very real impact on people's lives. It means that we see a rise in homelessness. It means that we see a rise in overdose deaths or gun violence. It means that we have increased Black, maternal and infant mortality rates than anywhere else in the country. It means that we have human rights violations at our jail every day. So as county executive I want to center the people who have been left behind and use the full force of that position of county executive and convening power it has to bring together our nonprofit community, our private community and our municipalities and figure out how we can work toward that vision where we can all thrive.
Michael Lamb: I think it's critical that the next county executive build a new relationship with our municipal partners. These 130 municipalities, it holds us back, it hold us back in so many ways when it comes to decision making around economic develpoment, and when it comes to public safety, and every issue that we face. My idea is to create an Office of Municipal Partnership. We'll be working every day to helping to deliver value-added services in every community across all of Allegheny County. We want to have a local government that keeps people safe and healthy. We want to have neighborhoods that are clean and affordable and do that with financial responsible, do it in a way that we've always acted with fairness and equity. And if we can help our municipalities to do that, that's going to enable the county executive to focus on the thing for which the job was created. I helped the effort to create this job, and that effort is economic development, creating jobs. I think about it about development differently than most. To me, it's not about subsidizing some company to come here or subsidizing some land developer. It's about investing in us, investing in our communities, creating the affordable housing that is connected to transit with green space and walkable communities, and job opportunities within that 15-minute community, so to speak. That's the job, that's the job of county executive. And that also means investing in our young people. That's why I created the Allegheny Achievers Program, which enables every high school graduate in Allegheny County to go to community college for free. We know what that can do. We know that 60% of all job vacancies in Allegheny County right now require some form of certificate. We know we can fill that need.
Will Parker: Hello, my name is William Parker, and my platform is basically ran off of diversity, technology and the economy. I see the future of Allegheny County at a crucial point. I want to make sure not only are we inclusive when it comes to our social needs, but our financial needs, too. There's so much that we could do for everyone. But we need to work together. I also will work on making sure that we come together and increase our population. We need people to move back here to his county. We're pushing people away. And one of the reasons why we're pushing people away is because we're not accepting of so many other people and their ideas. We have to eliminate those barriers. We have to get rid of the racism that we're dealing here, the systemic racism. You know, no one wants to come here. They know that we're dealing with these issues. You don't want to come or work on a job if your coworkers are depressed because they're dealing with workplace bullying, or they can't get a raise from that being treated fairly. So I'm going to basically focus on inclusion and bring everybody out of doors to the table, and not just bring them to the table so that we benefit, but we increase our economic value. Thank you.
Joe Rockey: Good evening, I'm Joe Rockey and I'm running for county executive. I'm not just a former PNC executive. I'm actually a Pittsburgh story. I grew up on the North Side of Pittsburgh in a challenged financial environment as my father got sick when I was five years old. I know the experience of using the county services. I told a group a couple of weeks ago, that the teeth that you see, the smile that I have is because of county services. I'm an individual who knows what it means to shop with food stamps. And my mission as county executive is to create prosperity for everyone in Allegheny County. I believe that the administration of the county, its 7,000 employees, all the services we offer is critically important, as mentioned by some of the folks to my right. But the number one job is to create prosperity for everyone. In the last five years, Allegheny County has lost 50,000 jobs, more than any county in all of Pennsylvania and/or Ohio. We've also lost 12,000 residents in the last year alone. To create prosperity, what we need to do is create the opportunity for employment in Allegheny County. We need to go out and sell our county across this country. My commitment is, over the first year I will be in the buildings of 100 companies around this country selling the benefits of having your operations in Allegheny County and bringing jobs to every community in Allegheny County.
John Weinstein: Good evening, everyone. I'm John Weinstein, and I've had the honor and privilege of being the elected treasurer in this great county for the past 25 years. And the objective, I believe, as the next county executive, it's about being the marketing advocate for Western Pennsylvania. We need to, everyone talks about creating jobs, but you actually need to go out and cultivate those relationships. We need to bring the business community together, the labor community, the nonprofit and the foundation community all together as one for the betterment of the region. No one has really ever done that before, and I believe that's how we move this region forward. But in order to attract new businesses here, because government doesn't create jobs, we make it conducive for people to come here and build operations to create jobs. We have to make this region safe. Public safety is a priority. We need to make Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania safe. That's huge. We need to clean up the city. We need to make sure people want to come back to work Downtown and they feel safe coming back to work Downtown. And the county executive needs to utilize resources to be able to do that. Pittsburgh is a vibrant jewel of Western Pennsylvania. We can never lose the vibrancy of the city. If you lose that, it starts to spread to the neighborhoods and then we lose the vibrancy of Western Pennsylvania. And I'm committed to make sure that we never let that happen. And I'm committed to be the marketing advocate for Western Pennsylvania. Thank you.
Natalie Bencivenga: Thank you, everyone. We are now going to ask specific questions directed at individual candidates. The next set of questions will deal with the record and experience of the candidates we have on stage tonight. And also at this time, if audience members have filled out a hard with your questions for the candidates, we ask that you pass those cards to the end of your row on the door side so we can collect them to utilize. A little later on in our debates. The first question is for Sarah and Amerado Sarah. As a state legislator, you have been a consistent progressive voice as an executive. You'd be in charge of a government with very diverse constituencies, including law enforcement, development, interest, heavy industry, and an independent legislative council. How would you balance your ideology with the needs to work with those many constituencies?
Sara Innamorato: Thank you for that question, and I do identify as a progressive, but I also identify as pragmatic. As a state representative, I was able to build a coalition with Republicans, with private industry, with housing justice advocates to pass the first-of-its-kind bill called the Whole Home Repair bill, which dedicated about $125 million for folks to be able to repair their homes, also created local jobs or will create local jobs and reduces our overall energy use. I have experience working intergovernmentally across parties to get things done, to bring resources back to this region, to repair roads and bridges, build libraries and invest in people. I'm trying to join a long list of former colleagues like Mayor Ed Gainey and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, who I served with in the state House. The state House has produced a number of folks who are now in executive positions throughout counties across this commonwealth because it really prepares you with the skills that you need for collaboration, for understanding how a state budget works and how that impacts county government and your ability to serve the people that you represent. And I would be joining the ranks of folks like Governor Shapiro, who went from the state House to a county commissioner, and now serving as our governor. So I think I would love to be a part of that cohort of folks.
Charlie Wolfson: Next question's going to go to Dave Fawcett. You were a county council member. You've been out of county government, though, for about 15 years now. How do you have enough familiarity with the challenges and nuances of today's county administration to effectively take over as its next executive?
Dave Fawcett: Thanks for the question. I'm glad you asked it. I am the one person that really knows county government because I was on the County Council for eight years when it started up. It was a brand new form of government and we got a ton of things done at the time. We consolidated row offices, we passed air pollution regulations. We passed the smoking ban. I passed ordinances and had ordinances passed unanimously calling for the creation of a countywide riverfront park. It would be a transformative change for Pittsburgh and help raise our profile and make us become a beacon of sustainability. I've worked with Jim Roddy, Dan Onorato, Rich Fitzgerald, and so I really do know the county and know what needs to be done. And I come back to what I said in the beginning. Running the county is two things really. It's running the county with integrity and having the life experiences to deal with people, people in conflict, money and so on, like I have as a lawyer. But in addition, stepping back and taking the big view, okay, what are the big investments that we can make, particularly in our underserved communities that will raise our profile, that will be real investments that will generate jobs and help to keep people here? And what can we do to raise our profile as a sustainable area? What can we do to grow jobs? And we can be an innovation hub here, we can capitalize on our robotics institute, our innovation center, and really have tons of manufacturing jobs. Those things are things that I know from being on county council and in addition, real life experiences that I can step back and take the broad view.
Tony Norman: This next question is for Mr. Lamb. Your office recently terminated fired someone who was found to be working another job with a public school which put them in violation of the city code. The person was also accused of living outside of the City, which also violated city code. How did this come to pass under your oversight, and why should people then trust you to oversee the county government?
Michael Lamb: Let's understand, first off, there was never any actual finding of fact that lived outside the city. In fact she lives inside the city. Her children do live with their father out in the suburbs and go to school out there. She was on her own time working part time for a school district. That's a violation of city policy. Unfortunate. She lost her job. The entire time that she worked at that school was, I believe, less than 10 hours over that time of that period of time. She was doing it on her own time. We had no idea that she was doing that. When we found out she was rightfully terminated and we took the right action right at that point when it was disclosed. And, you know, it's unfortunate for her. I feel bad for the situation that she's in, but the city rules are very clear that you can't work for another government. That's what she was doing.
Natalie Bencivenga: This question is for John Weinstein. Recent media reports have alleged that you have exercised an unusual level of political influence as county treasurer. Your campaign this year is in part fueled by six figure campaign contributions from very powerful donors. How can the public be certain that you will serve their interests over that of your donors?
John Weinstein: Well, that's a that's a great question. You know, I've been doing this a long time. 25 years I've been elected as the treasurer. I've met a lot of people in Allegheny County, and I've made a lot of friendships with the business community. And the people that have donated to my campaign and the checks that you're referring to don't do any business with Allegheny County whatsoever. So there's absolutely no conflict. In fact, one of the gentlemen that wrote me a very sizable personal check is just a friend of mine, and he believes in good government. In fact, he's the original developer in the Strip District. And he changed and transformed the Strip District to what it is today. And he's committed 100% to having his company even located here. He could have moved his company anywhere in the United States, but he employs a lot of people here in Allegheny County, and he's dedicated to Pittsburgh and our region. And I respect that immensely. And when I met with him and told him that I was running, he was so excited. And he said to me, I want to be in. I said I appreciate that very much. And a few days later, he made a donation to me and I was obviously humbly moved by that because I couldn't believe that he did it to that point. But that being said, you know, he's also a person that has donated to Governor Shapiro, he's donated to Fitzgerald, he's donated to Mayor Ed Gainey. He believes in elected officials that want to move the region forward. And I have no problem with that whatsoever.
Charlie Wolfson: Next question is going to go to Joe Rockey. Mr. Rockey, you're the only Republican in this race. Your party has in recent years tried at the state level to restrict access to abortion in Pennsylvania. If elected, would you move to reverse any of the county's recent measures to protect reproductive freedom in the county?
Joe Rockey: So let me begin by just saying that, you know, abortion law and regulations are established, policies of abortion are established at the state level and are established at the congressional level nationally and statewide. Within the county, the county executive actually has no say in the legal nature of abortion. As county executive, I would follow the laws. It would be my responsibility to make sure the laws that are on the books, the policies that have been established by the state and federal government are appropriately managed and acted. And those individuals who have access or desire would be able to do what they desire to do within the context of the laws which have been established by the state and the federal government. So, you know, my personal opinion or view abortion or that of any Republican or any Democrat is not actually going to change what happens in Allegheny County simply because we do not get to enact the laws as county executives that directly relate to abortion.
Charlie Wolfson: There have, though, been county council laws passed in the last year about the shield law, a non-enforcement law.
Joe Rockey: So if you if you're talking about access to the facilities themselves, etc., certainly the role of the county executive is to protect people's ability to get to where they want to go and to do the things that they want to do, where they want to go, an it is equally the job of the county executive to allow peaceful protest of anything that is going on inside of the county.
Tony Norman: This next question is for Will Parker. Mr. Parker, you've recently run for mayor and for Congress, and you won less than 2% of the vote each time. Why did you decide to run for office again? I mean, you really want to be a public servant. What is motivating you to run for office as often as you do?
Will Parker: The people. The people is what makes me want to run. And this may not be my last campaign. You know, I believe that there are some things going on with our local government, and we're not making sure that we're serving all of the people, all of the residents within the city or the county or within within the congressional district. You know, there's a lot of money coming in to our region, especially dealing with technology and innovation. We've got billions of dollars and it's coming in from investors from all over the world. I'm a businessman first, but I'm also an advocate, activist. I'm a protester. I got out here, I protest. I protested outside some of the biggest execs' houses here in Allegheny County. I protested outside the mayor's house in Allegheny County. Because I'm serious, because people are suffering. They're really suffering. We keep coming to the table complaining about this issue, that issue and the next. And nothing's really getting solved. It seems like everybody's concerns are being put on the back burner when it comes to public safety, when it comes to starting up businesses, when it comes to increasing in our economy. I don't know who is in these backrooms talking to these politicians, telling them to run things the way they're running them. But it's absolutely wrong. And someone needs to have the courage, someone needs to be brave to step in and stand up and hold these officials accountable. They also need to follow the money because the money is coming and it's falling into everybody else's hands except for the people that need it the most. Thank you.
Natalie Bencivenga: This question is for Teresa Colaizzi. You were a late surprise addition to this candidate pool and have been a sporadic presence at campaign events. So please convince us that you're serious about campaigning and more importantly, serious about being committed enough to govern.
Theresa Colaizzi: Thank you. Absolutely. The reason why I am a latecomer is because after I've made my decision and looking around and seeing what position that I would be interested and I would qualify for, this is the one that kept popping up in front of me. And as far as being late, it is due to Ms. Innamorato, because she questioned my signatures and therefore put me behind. So for a woman that claims and it's a vision in her statement that she wants more women to be up front, and right. I'm glad, I've got everything you need. I'm right here. But you questioned me. So I'm more than qualified to hold this position. That is why I was late. That is why I'm still behind. And that's probably why I'm still behind. However, I've got the experience, I've got the ability and I know what to do.
Natalie Bencivenga: Sara would you like a 30-second rebuttal to that?
Sara Innamorato: So leading up to getting signatures on the ballot, there's a lot of preparation work that goes into running an effective campaign, including showing up at Democratic committee meetings, community meetings, things like that. So there were a number of us who were present at a lot of those events. Ms. Colaizzi was not during that time. And when you have signatures that are submitted, it's very normal to look at ensuring that, you know, all I's are dotted, T's are crossed and that things are abiding by the law. And, you know, there was an outside party that challenged that. Thank you.
Charlie Wolfson: All right. We're now going to move on to questions that have been submitted by audience members, both ones who are here with us in person and those who are watching online, as well as in advance of today. And audience members, if you still have no cards with your questions, you can pass them on down. Each candidate will have 90 seconds to respond. The first question in this set is going to concern the Allegheny County Jail. The question is, what would you look for in the person you appoint to lead the Allegheny County jail? And we're going to start with Mr. Fawcett.
Dave Fawcett: The Allegheny County Jail is a big part of the crime and criminal justice issues that we have. I'm one of the people on this panel that has most experience dealing with the jail. I've represented a number of people pro bono who have been in jail, and I've also brought actions against the county jail. For example, I worked with the ACLU to bring a claim on behalf of pregnant inmates who were being mistreated, not getting the proper nutritional and health needs and so on. But the question you asked is what the plan is. The fact is it's a very complicated issue. And often we get the question, will you keep the warden or fire the warden? It's really not so much about that because you have a human resources issue up and down. We're not applying enough resources and raising the salaries to a level where we can hire well-qualified people including mental health professionals in our jail. So that's something I would take care of. The other thing I would do, and this has been done across the country, is bringing in independent third party auditors who have experience and expertise in looking at prisons, and incarceration facilities to find out what it is we should be doing here, and certainly to the extent that we're replacing a warden, you want someone who's on the cutting edge of understanding what are the most evidence based solutions to having a safe and fair and equitable system as much as it can be.
Sara Innamorato: Seventeen. Seventeen people died in Allegheny County Jail or shortly after being discharged from that facility. That's unacceptable and that leadership needs to change immediately. And we need to have a full plan on how to reinvent the jail and make sure that the people who are in our charge in that facility are cared for and are treated with dignity. That is going to require new leadership. And that leadership needs to be in concert with the community. There are a number of organizations that are already doing this work to bring together a coalition of voices of folks who are formerly incarcerated, people who have expertise in this space. Parents of those who were formerly incarcerated to ensure that there is a diverse set of voices at the table helping to select who's going to lead in Allegheny County Jail moving forward. There's other ways that the county executive can ensure that the people who are in our public charge in that facility are treated with dignity and respect and that's allowing for more outside resources to enter the jail to provide opportunities for folks who are currently being held there. It means that we are directing human services to ensure that folks who are leaving the county jail understand what programs they qualify and are connected back to the community. We need to make sure that someone is centering the humanity of the people who are in that facility.
Michael Lamb: So as someone who has represented represented a lot of inmates at the county jail, I can tell you that I understand it's not an easy job being the warden, but on the day that I announced my candidacy, one of the first things I said was we need new leadership at the county jail. And the reason I said that was not only do we have this large number of deaths and other problems around the jail, but the warden took it upon himself to communicate to the community about what was going on in the jail, using statistics in a way that basically misrepresented what was actually going on there. That's not the kind of leadership I want in my administration. That's why we need new leadership at the county jail. And the way we're going to do that is, you know, in my first hundred days in office, we're going to bring together a criminal justice summit and we're going to talk about solving a lot of these issues around criminal justice that are so critical to us as a county. And a large part of that is going to be about leadership at the jail. We know we have a manpower problem there. We know that while we have all these various levels of the jail, for the guards to be able to do their jobs, they need to be able to open up a lot of those levels. And when they don't have the manpower they need, they're not able to do it. So we get conflict, we get violence, we get injuries. And so we need a we need to bring together advocates, people who have been in jail. You know, I always believe having people that are closest to the pain being part of the decision, and that's how we'll hire a new county jail warden.
Will Parker: So at the Allegheny County Jail, we need new leadership. We need someone with vision, and we also need someone with compassion for the people who are out there. Because some of the people who are there, we're not even sure if they're guilty. So we just can't be throwing them in solitary confinement, treating them like the worst of the worst when they haven't even been found guilty yet. So we need someone with vision, someone who could put policies in place that address the inmates who are there, for example, you know, at the Allegheny County jail, where they typically hold 1500 people, there's only around 10 to 20 people who are voting at the Allegheny County jail? Yes, you can vote even though you're in there. And that's what the problem is, because versus us, solve these and try to solve these problems on the outside, we got to empower them so they can solve these problems on an inside. And, you know, their vote can lean these candidacies one way or another. You know, it's all up to them. We need to empower them. We need to increase the voter turnout at the Allegheny County Jail. And if you know someone in Allegheny County Jail, let them know they can vote. Encourage them to vote. We have to do that. We have to start there.
Joe Rockey: So I think it's important to acknowledge there are many problems at the Allegheny County Jail. We've heard just in the last 10 minutes there's need for psychiatric support, there's need for medical support. There's been deaths at the Allegheny County Jail. There's a need for staffing the we're unable to open certain parts of the facility at times. All of the issues that you've heard, what we need is a plan. We need to break the jail down into its fundamental components, what we're trying to do, what we're trying to accomplish. And we need to understand how each of those are executed on a daily basis and make sure we have the resources, yes, the leadership, to actually go and fix the fundamental problems that are going on at the jail. And we're going to address that the same way you would any big business problem. The jail is a big organization, a significant amount of inmates, a significant amount of guards. It is a large organization. You have to break it down into its individual components and make sure that every function of the jail is working as it is intended. You have to have a clear understanding of what the intention of that function is and make sure that you've heard from the community, from the inmates, from the guards, from all people who have an issue or concern about the jail. And you address those issues at the individual level. And again, it's having the right leadership to make sure you can get implemented the changes that need to be made.
John Weinstein: I understand the dynamics of the county jail because it's a county department. And being at the county for all of these years, I understand the budgetary process. And the jail is the only department that we have in the county that doesn't have a director. We have a warden. The warden runs the whole operation. And clearly it's not working. No one should die in the custody of Allegheny County Jail. It's a jail. It's not a prison. That's a big difference. It's a holding facility while people are waiting to either be tried, go to court or whatever. Maybe a person is there a year or a year and a half at the most. It's not a prison. It's a jail. So my immediate plan is to separate the functions of the jail. The warden would only be in charge of the prisoners and the jail guards. That's it. And a director will be hired. An administrative professional will be hired to run the day to day operations of the jail. And that's the way this needs to start. The entire operation needs an overhaul. Twelve years ago, when Fitzgerald took office, we spent about $3 million in overtime at the county jail. You know what it is today? $10 million in overtime. It has over tripled in the last 12 years. And people are dying in that facility. It's terrible. The conditions are terrible. Roaches and rats. And the facility is in dire need of a complete overhaul. No one should actually be in that facility that passes away. And we're going to make sure that doesn't happen.
Theresa Colaizzi: Thank you. I think I forgot the question. No, I'm kidding. Everybody forgets that the City of Pittsburgh School district did have a school police force. We had a captain. We had the arresting powers. We had the dogs. The only thing I wouldn't allow is for those guys to have guns. Because just imagine a cop in a high school, fight breaks out they got the gun and the kids don't. Just picture what'll happen. So that's one time I never allowed guns in the schools. We had a police force. Do you think I didn't have to deal with this problem already? Been there, done that. Not once, twice. Anybody can just go back and look at my record and they'll see that when push comes to shove, you've got to make sure that just because you're cleaning up the top don't mean it'll go all the way down to the bottom. Because nine out of ten times, at the top there's a little clique. And that clique gotta get broken too. So with all due respect, I do agree with Mr. Weinstein, because you do need both. You really do. One person should not be worried about the money and where the people eat and if they're getting any kind of health care or anything, they can't do both. They can't possibly do both. But I do have this experience already. Thank you.
Tony Norman: All right. This next question is about housing. Countywide, lower income tenants have struggled to find affordable housing and waiting lists for housing vouchers are tens of thousands of families long. What are two specific actions you would take in relation to the affordable housing crisis? We're going to start with with you, Sara.
Sara Innamorato: So as a county executive, I believe everyone deserves a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home. We have such an opportunity to convene the department heads of Economic Development, Department of Health and Department of Human Services to deliver on that vision. And one way that we can do that is build a stronger partnership with our Allegheny County Housing Authority. I have been vice chair of that board for the last four years and it is an amazingly well run organization and there's opportunities like using housing choice vouchers for homeownership opportunities that's often underutilized. So there is an opportunity to partner with the county and the housing authority, find opportunities to draw down dollars from HUD, in the philanthropic community to figure out how we bolster programs like that that lead people not only into stable housing situations, but give them the opportunity for homeownership and to invest in the community. We also have this incredible asset under the county exec's purview, which is the Pittsburgh Regional Transit. And along those routes, we have the opportunity to encourage transit oriented development. That's where we're building mixed use, mixed income housing, and we're bringing together the partnerships necessary from the federal level, local level, our authorities, the county, to be able to again, help to use that power to convene resources and deliver on something that can be impactful for the people who are there as well as local economies.
Michael Lamb: We need to encourage housing at a lot of levels. We need more housing and more quality housing here in Allegheny County. But on the affordable front, I think there are two things that we need to do. One, we need to work with our municipalities around blighted properties. The blighted properties around this county, we have blighted properties that are upside down because of liens, and no one can get them. An individual can't get at them. Land banks can't get at them. The community, groups can't get at them because that process is so difficult. So we want to create a countywide tax claim bureau that's going to expedite that process a lot cheaper, allows those properties to be clean title a lot quicker, and get them back on the tax roll and provide real, affordable housing opportunities. That's one. The second one is we need to work with our municipalities around the idea of corporate ownership of housing. We've got these issues where corporations are coming in, driving up pricing. They don't have a local connection to the property. It's creating blight in a lot of communities. It's creating, again, rising prices in other communities. And we have good examples in some of our municipalities about how to limit that, how to make sure there's a local connection to those properties and limit the price of sales of those properties. And through our office of municipal partnership, we're going to be able to communicate that message out to all of our municipalities so that they all have these opportunities so they can make those properties available to their land bank if they have a land bank that works in their community or to a community group or to individuals.
Will Parker: If we want to retain our population, what we need to do is promote home ownership. Yes, I'm in favor of good housing. You know, I like to phrase it because not all of the affordable housing is good housing. So that's what we need to do. We need to make sure that we're cutting the barriers and we're allowing people to become homeowners so they have a stake in their community. They have a stake in their local government. We have to do that first. You know, the people who are being put on these back lists and everything like that, these are the people who are being preyed on. These were the people who the man at the top or the man in the back room is preying on their misfortune so they can end up with social issues, so they can end up in jail, so their kids can end up displaced. So we got to work on a system that encourages people to not only stay here, to invest here in this community, but also encourage generational wealth. So they have something. We have too many people who are renting these properties. And at the end of the day, they have nothing to show. And it's the rich keeps getting richer and the poor is left unfortunate.
Joe Rockey: So at the macro level to solve the affordable housing crisis we have in this country, we need to invest, invest, invest. As part of one of my roles at PNC, the Affordable Housing Tax Credit business was part of what I had responsibility over. affordable housing tax credit, as I'm sure you all know, is the fundamental driver to affordable housing being built in this country. It is a federally supported program that puts tax credits into the community to allow for development to be done to create new housing stock. In Western Pennsylvania, we have to fight for our share of the affordable housing tax credit. By the way, we should also fight for having affordable housing tax credit raised nationally, you know, through the federal government. It was raised in 1999 and not raised again until 2017 and hasn't been raised since. And so we have an affordable housing problem across the whole country. In Western Pennsylvania we have to go fight for our share of those affordable housing tax credits. The second thing we have to do is we have to, I agree with my friends to my right that to go after the blighted properties, I'll just use the city as an example. In the seventies, we had 700,000 people living in the city. We have the infrastructure for 700,000 people. We have 300,000 people living there today. We have to go into those blighted properties around our county. We have to take ownership of those properties. We have to either tear them down and put a new building up or reinvest in those properties so that those properties are able to have, as Mr. Parker said, a place for someone to own, a place for someone to live.
John Weinstein: The primary function for the county now will change and we will address this issue. There is an enormous amount of blighted properties in Allegheny County. In Wilkinsburg alone, there's about 900 blighted properties in one community. If we do change the legislation, which we need to do, I'm all in favor of developing a tax claim bureau and a countywide land bank that can administer this. The tax claim bureau can expedite the sales instead of a sheriff's sale process, which is very costly and time consuming. You could you could clear title through a countywide tax claim bureau for probably about $500. And we could reinvest money. We could work with our economic development department. We could attract developers to totally retool those properties and put them back on the tax rolls and offer affordable housing to people all over Allegheny County. You're actually addressing two problems. The blighted property and the lack of affordable housing. And we could spearhead that through the economic development. I will set up a department within economic development that does nothing except work with and find people that are willing to invest and rehabilitate all of these properties and clean up the county, put them back on the tax rolls. That would be a phenomenal opportunity and we would be probably setting the stage on a national level to do something like that here.
Theresa Colaizzi: I'd like to talk about the elephant in the room, if I may. The elephant in the room is a lot of our nonprofits our nonprofits that are making a profit.When you've got UPMC and AHN, and every time you take a ride on the parkway, whether you're going north, east, south, west, I don't care what direction you go. What do you see? UPMC, AHN. UPMC, AHN. UPMC AHN. I turned to my husband and said they are cockroaches they're everywhere. And every time one of those buildings you see it, it's off the tax rolls. That's something that's a white elephant in the room. I think these people need to be held accountable for all the land they've bought off. All of the county, outside this county as well all the stuff, the stuff of western Pennsylvania .And we need to be held accountable for what they've done, because there are a lot of homeless people out here. There's a lot of people living in a tent. Don't tell me affordable housing. They should be responsible for not paying housing. Each one of their buildings should take a floor and not only give these people a place to live, but give them the social services and the medical help they need and at no cost to any other taxpayer. It's as simple as that. I've done it. I got $150 million for the Pittsburgh Promise. I did that.
Dave Fawcett: Hard to follow that one. Hey you've got -- These are a lot of great ideas. and the question's what can the county executive do to incentivize people in poor communities and people without means to, you know, invest in their homes? And two things, I think, in addition to the ideas that we've heard. First of all, our property taxes system is punitive towards people that live in the lesser value homes. So you say differently, there's a higher percentage of tax pay, is proven statistically, by people with lower value homes than people that have their big homes. That's crazy. That shouldn't be. Number two honestly, the county, in terms of its resources, what can it do? I think we really need to invest, big time, in our under-performing communities. So our riverfront town, our urban core. We have great existing housing stock there. But what is a kind of big investment there that we can make property values rise and give people the incentive? My idea of having a county wide riverfront park, that I talk to you about, would be the greatest urban linear park in the world. It would be a matter of moving raillines back. It would really revitalize these towns up and down our rivers in McKeesport, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Coraopolis, so on and so on. It would really give the incentive for people to fix up their homes in these places and raise their property values.
Natalie Bencivenga: Next question. We'll start with Michael Lamb. The pandemic, the COVID-19 pandemic, is still going on and it is still impacting people all over the region. How well do you think the county government is handling public health generally? And what would you suggest to change?
Michael Lamb: So I think when you look at the performance of the county through the pandemic, there are a couple of things we got wrong. There are a couple things we all got wrong. But it was actually here where people began to recognize that that the center of the problem was in our nursing homes. And I think our Department of Health, recognizing that early was helpful and probably saved, and definitly saved lives, probably probably saved more lives than than the vaccine itself. But we but we but we have learning to do. And so as we move forward in public health, we have to recognize that when to learn from this, we have to prepare for it. I think there are a lot of things that we can do around pathogens and how we detect pathogens. I would like to see us invest more around our infrastructure, particularly around our water and sewer systems, so that not only can we recognize pathogens when they're in our community, but actually geolocate them and really limit the spread of pathogens. That's something that the technology exists. We've seen it used in a number of college campuses around the country. It's something that we could deploy here that would really help us, too. And when we have a problem like this in the future, if we have problem like this in future, be able to really geo locate it and limit its spread in a very favorable way for the rest of the community.
Will Parker: So for Pittsburgh, people already been dealing with a pandemic here, especially when it comes to our black businesses. Did you know that Pittsburgh has less than 1% of black businesses out of 40 metropolitan cities and across America? So my question is, you know, after all these businesses have been shut down, after black businesses haven't even been able to establish themselves previously. What I really came here today to do is to ask every one of these candidates up here will they commit, Will they commit out of $3 billion, will they commit. Just raise your hand. Just raise your hand. If you were elected as our next county executive, will you commit $200 million to invest in our black businesses and our black tech startups? Raise your hand if you will do that. Oh, they won't do that. That's why I'm here. And we're continuing to deal with a pandemic over and over again. Don't vote for none of these people. If they won't commit to us, we won't commit to them.
Joe Rockey: So , well what I will commit to is going to get venture funds to invest in black businesses in Allegheny County. And so it's a little different than county money going into it, but in going to get funds that-- I agree with you, we need to invest in the people in Allegheny County. We need to acknowledge that in western Pennsylvania, we have allowed the black community to fall behind and we haven't invested in the black community. So I would commit to go get the funds to invest in the black community. I just don't know that the county government has $200 million sitting aside that could be dedicated to that right in the moment, you'd have to give something else. So I support your concept I'd just go at it a different way. Relative to the pandemic, let me just offer to you. It is still alive. My sister informed me today on the ride over here that she has COVID-19. And so it is still alive, it is still going. And we need to be diligent, diligent about how we continue to manage it to its final conclusion. We also need to acknowledge that the CDC and other governmental agencies have indicated, given the global world we live in today, that it is predicted that another global pandemic will occur in the next ten years. And we need to understand, at the Allegheny County level, when and if that happens, what are we going to do? We need to use what we learned over the last three and a half years to work our way through, to have a plan before it happens as to what we will do, how we will address it, how we will manage, as opposed to being reactionary as we were the last time, in all defensive it had been a hundred years since we had one, so the whole country was reactionary. But we have the opportunity to get ourselves prepared for what inevitably is going to happen in all of our lifetimes again.
John Weinstein: It definitely was reactionary. No one expected it, no one no one knew how to handle it, including our health department. They did do some things correct, as Michael said, and they did things incorrectly because they weren't prepared and no one was. And we're still feeling the effects of this. Even in downtown Pittsburgh. We have 25% of the office space is vacant because people are still working from home. That's a result of the pandemic. It's a result. There's only two buildings under construction right now in Pittsburgh, the FNB Tower, and a new building towards Moon Township, Robinson or Moon Township. There's a new-- two buildings under construction right now. That's it. And it's all pandemic related. We have to change that dynamic. We have to get people back to work. We have to get people back downtown. And people will come back to work and will come back downtown, if it's safe. And I've heard this from so many business owners all over the place. Weiner World is closing. Fragasso is going to move his business out of Pittsburgh, a dental office is moving. It's happening every day and people have to feel safe to come back to work. That's a direct result of the pandemic. And we could, we need to strengthen our health department with professionals that understand the dynamics and are trained. Those are the people that should be should be hired there. And those are the people that should be on the health board as well. I'm committed to finding the best and the brightest that we could put, especially on our health board.
Theresa Colaizzi: The pandemic hit us hard. And I think that in the whole world, it just put the whole world into a completely different spin. Nobody expected. that. Nobody was prepared for that. I lost my own business through that. I mean, it was something that just nobody would have expected. And everybody had a great idea on how to handle it. Well its a disease that came out of nowhere, and it was attacking us from all different directions. Are we recuperating from it, I don't know, because you're right, there is more and more of it that I hear. I'm hearing constantly that somebody's got COVID again. Which scares me, because why is it still out there that much and what's it doing? Again, I'm going to go back to that white elephant in the room because that white elephant in the room is two very big, big organizations, nonprofits that deal with health 24/7. So they say, [in audible] don't you think that we should bring them in on this. Don't you think that they should be part of this? Because that's what you need them for. You need. You need to bring people together that can answer and help you get through things. There's no point to trying to lead something if you're just going to do it all by yourself. It's not going to happen. So you have to bring in these different partners. And I keep going back to the white elephant in the room, because I do believe its the one that can help us the most. If we could just get some people to get them to pay taxes. And that will have to go right back to the state.
Dave Fawcett: So I think its just a little different direction because I think the real job for the county executive in a situation like this is understanding and explaining, you know, communicating. And the one thing I do as a trial lawyer taking on a big, difficult situation, I have to learn a lot and I have to rely on experts. I have to get up to speed on issues and then I have to explain. I have to explain the jury, a jury of our peers. Complicated concepts. I'm not saying I'm the most, you know, the best communicator, but it's something I've gone and honed my skills on for a career. I think that our county executive did do a good job. By and large, in terms of being up front. Talking to people in a plain and simple way. And was doing his best. And I think, again, I won't pretend to say oh I know the answer to, you know, preventing the next pandemic. I do agree that we need a plan. But once the thing happens like that, I worked with prior administrations, remember there was Hurricane Ivan and our country executive Onorato at the time had to deal with it, had to explain what the plan was And so. That's really what I've done for a living and would look forward to if there is. Wouldn't look forward to a crisis if there is one, certainly feel that got my role as county executive would be to explain and communicate as best I could.
Sara Innamorato: So the next county executive is more than likely going to pick who is going to lead our help department because Dr. Bogen is now serving in the new administration at the state level. And I believe that her leadership was, was executed in the best way that, with the best available data that we had at the time. And I think the county executive and the health department took the initiative to deploy rapid tests in various communities and make sure that they were partnering with community led organizations across a diverse group of people so they could administer vaccines. So, you know, that intention to community collaboration needs to continue under the next the next county executive. and the person who we need to lead the Department of Health. We have a plan available and able to respond in an emergency situation. So how else are we investing in public health and how else has this pandemic exposed inequities and injustices that have existed in our county for a long time? A lot of that has to do with environmental justice, communities and our poor air quality. As county executive, I want to strengthened the air quality department and ensure that not only are we enforcing our industrial polluters and cracking down on them, but that we're investing back into these communities, especially through the Mon Valley with tools and resources, so that we can actually deliver health services because we are ranked top 1% in the nation for cancer risks.
Charlie Wolfson: We received a lot of questions about property tax assessments. So the next question is going to be two parts. One, would you and how would you change the way the county handles property tax assessments? And we would like a yes or no. Would you pursue a county wide reassessment of properties? Start with Michael LAMB. Oh, my mistake. We'll start with Mr. Parker.
Dave Fawcett: Charlie. Sorry. What's the first question?
Charlie Wolfson: Would you And how would you change how the county approaches property tax assessments?
Will Parker: So no I wouldn't do another property tax assessment right now but lets get back to that. You know, let's do back to what we're dealing with right now. We're dealing with racism in Allegheny County. And I want you all to take this serious because this is why I'm here, is why I keep running, because we keep coming up empty handed at the bottom, every single time these people, these candidates, they get up here they feed y'all all this rhetoric, time after time after time again, and you keep voting for them why? Why you keep voting for them just to come back in here and complain and say, this hasn't got fixed, this hasn't got fixed. Well, guess what? You voted for the person who's not fixing this stuff. We need somebody who's strong. We need somebody who's dedicated, who is going to take that money out. Not say where we going to find that money. The money is right in front of us. The money's here. We just need someone who's going to put that money where it needs to go because we ain't growing. This economy's not going to grow unless we invest in black businesses and black tech startups thats the only people who are suffering here, black mothers that dealt with paternity issues. I was the only candidate showed up at the Black Birth Expo last Saturday. That's why I said, I can't trust none of these people on the stage with me to address our needs and I'm going to curse anybody out there. You could do the same thing. You don't have to be no politician. Run for it. Stand on what you stand on and run for these political positions and uproot the systematic oppression.
Joe Rockey: So I'll actually take your questions in reverse order. No, I would not do a county wide assessment. And the reason is, goes back to your first question. The very first thing we need to do relative to the assessment process is fix the system that has been put in place. Clearly, for the last six, seven years we have not been managing the assessment process properly. I won't go into the common level ratio and the science behind it. But fundamentally, it was mismanaged to the point where we actually needed a court order to get the common council level ratio put to the number that its supposed to be. It should move two or three points a year. In this current year, it is moving from 85 ish points to 63%. And so it should not move 20 approximately 20 points in a year. That is a sign that we have not manage the program we have in place properly. So the very first thing we have to do is fix the problem we have in the current assessment process. The second thing is then deal with all the people who were inappropriately handled over the course of the last six or seven years. We have to adjust and correct the mistakes that were made. Because you moved into a new house, you ended up with an inappropriate assessment against your neighbor who happened to not move into their house. And so it is imperative that we as a county fix the mistake we made and we perpetuated for the last six or seven years, get ourselves back to an even keel so every resident, every homeowner is treated fairly.
John Weinstein: Being the Treasurer, I understand the assessment system and have worked with it for the past 25 years and it is broken. It's absolutely broken and it's not working. We should have never had to go to court all these times to get to where we are today. People have no faith in the assessment system. The county was required by law to have a chief county assessor appointed, someone that's qualified that actually would sign off on the certification of the values. For ten years, the position was empty over the last ten years. That's ridiculous. That's, that's faulty leadership that's happened right there. We have to fix this system first. It has to be fixed from the inside out. I will not re-assess this county because the system's not working. It's not transparent. People don't even understand what's happening in in their own communities with the assessment process. In Allegheny County we assess, we tax and then we appeal. That's out of order. It should be you assess, you appeal, then you tax. I will change that dynamic so that you do not get billed until you are properly adjudicated and you've had your hearing. I will appoint a full time assessment board to hear hearings every day of the week. It's a part time board and they're not hearing hearings. So if you file an appeal, it could be a year or two years before you even get a hearing. But yet you have to pay your taxes in advance for your township, your borough, and your county and school district. You pay it in advance. If you win at the hearing, then you get a refund. That's backwards. And even the property record cards should be available online for all of the taxpayers to see in transparency. Thank you.
Theresa Colaizzi: I will admit that that reassessment the last time was the worst experience of my entire life. I can't tell you how many times I had to go down there and talk to you however I was talking to reassess. And don't forget, I got the other end of that being on the school board. So it was me personally, and then I had to deal with it because school taxes, everybody forgets that we're collecting school taxes and that effected it just as much. In the end, after 12 years, that I sat on the City of Pittsburgh School Board eleven of them I never raised taxes and in the 12th, I raised it because of this exact conversation we're having. And again, I'm gonna go back to that white elephant let them pay taxes. We might not have to go and reassess ridiculously out of control. I'm gonna end it there.
Dave Fawcett: So our assessment system is such a mess that you can't reassess right now. Because its not a credible system. Really, the fault lies with Harrisburg because the way that we do assessments is antiquated. We have all these subjective factors. And in fact, in this day and age, you can use much more objective factors and have assessments that rely on objective evidence of price, what was paid, adjustments by communities, neighborhoods and municipalities and have a system that people believing in itself. But right now it don't. And again, that's Harrisburg's fault for not having, having looked at this assessment system and adjusted it but as county executive in Allegheny County I would use more objective factors for assessing a home and make sure that they're instituted, and followed and then gradually you would work yourself into a reassessment. And honestly, the ideas we have tossed around here, including respectfully by our county treasurer, who's main job is to collect property taxes, have not been thrown out for or, you know, addressed. So I do think we need somebody that has new ideas and will take a real different approaches to this and I'm positive we will gain the trust of people.
Charlie Wolfson: Mr. Weinstein, would you like to respond to that?
John Weinstein: I didn't I didn't understand what you said, Dave. I'm sorry.
Dave Fawcett: I just said I didn't say this directly. But you were giving these ideas, I think you are the tax collector.
John Weinstein: I am the tax collector, the property assessment department is not under the Treasury its under the chief executive, so I don't have any jurisdiction as the Treasurer for that.
Sara Innamorato: So our current system would be illegal in most other states, only Delaware and Pennsylvania don't require regular assessments. And the only conversation that we've been able to have under Republican control of the General Assembly is abolishing property taxes entirely, which would be ruinous for our public school systems. So I believe that as county executive I need to be able to create a system that people have buy-in to so it needs to be transparent. It needs to be regular. It needs to be without bias. And once we can redesign that system, we can start to address the inequities that exist within the current system. Because if we have data that shows if we do not do regular property tax assessments, it is actually a racial and a economic justice issue. Because what ends up happening is that neighborhoods that have lower, lower wealth and tend to be predominantly Black end up getting overassessed and therefore they are paying more into a system unfairly. So when we designed the system we need to make ensure that equity is at the core and that we're delivering on that system, but we also live, we also many gentrifying neighborhoods. I live in Lawrenceville, I've been there for 15 years, so this is deeply concerning to me personally. So we need to make sure that there is stopgaps in place, circuit breakers we can turn on. The state provides us one where a reassessment needs to be revenue neutral for the taxing authority. We can also do a little longtime owner occupied program [inaudible].
Charlie Wolfson: That's all of your time. Thank you.
Michael Lamb: Let's acknowledge that we have a horribly unfair system of taxation here in Allegheny County. It is, it's unbelievable to me that poor communities are taxed at100% or more and more wealthy communities are taxed at sometimes 25% of their value. That is an unfair system. And when you talk about a system that can look at things like inflation and market driven type statistics to to have a natural or a scientific approach to assessments, that's great if we get there, but we can't get there right now. We can't get there because we have this horribly unfair system. And what do you do about it? I would not support a reassessment, and here's why. I can't support a reassessment until we can protect homeowners from these massive increases that are likely to happen to them. If we did an assessment and before we can do that, we need clarity. We need clarity from the legislature on, right now they're doing-- we have a court decision that says that property tax is an unconstitutional way to tax for schools. Schools is the biggest number right. Everyone, can you know, people aren't — it's not the county taxes that's the problem it's the school district tax and the county is making that assessment for all of those school districts across this country. We've got to find a way to make that exclusion at the assessment level. But we need the legislature to do that. We need the legislature that would give us clarity on this issue and act.
Tony Norman: All right. The next question goes to air quality and the environment. What would you do differently to create healthier air quality and a safer environment for people living in the Mon Valley specifically? And let's start with you, Joe.
Joe Rockey: Okay. Well, I believe this will be the last question If I do the math on how much time is left. So let me thank everyone for for being here and thank moderators. Air quality is critically important for everyone, and we should have and strive to have the same air quality for every resident in Allegheny County, and it should be at the highest standard that it should be following all the laws and regulations of our county, of our state and our federal government. So the very first thing we do to improve air quality or to sustain the air quality at the level that everybody's entitled to is to make sure that we're living within the laws and regulations that have been established, holding everyone accountable to live to those laws and regulations and when they don't make sure we understand what caused the problem. Make sure we understand what we're doing about making sure that particular problem doesn't happen again. We also have to acknowledge that Allegheny County is impacted by by our [inaudible] states to the west of us. And we need to make sure that not just Allegheny County is living to the air quality standards that are out there, but that everybody to, you know, our Western side is doing what they need to do and they're looking to their standards and they're being held to the quality standards that give us, again, every single person in Allegheny County, being treated equally, being treated fairly. They have access to the same air quality that everybody else does.
John Weinstein: Not only did we lose population and lose jobs, the lowest ranking on the hottest job market in the country, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County down was 56 out of 56 metropolitan cities. We also had the worst air quality of any county in Pennsylvania. That's an indictment of what's happening in this region and the Mon Valley is a prime example of what we need to address. Air quality outside and air quality inside. And I will use federal money that has given to us for infrastructure, because to me, air quality and water quality are infrastructure. We need to enhance all of that and help those communities that are around the facilities that are that are causing the the air pollution. And there's a balance that we need to find. We need to protect the air for everyone, especially our children, and we need to protect jobs at the same time. And that's a that's achallenging balance for anyone, any elected official that's involved in that and working with the business community, working with the community itself around our facilities and our factories and our steel mills and all of that. That's why you need an executive that has the ability to bring all those people together, that has a relationship with the business community, has the relationship with the labor community, and has a relationship with the community itself. And I look forward to doing that and solving these issues.
Theresa Colaizzi: Air quality has been a problem in Pittsburgh as long as I can remember. I mean, I was around when the steel mills were down in Hazelwood and our shirts were dirty when we walked to school and dirtier when we walked home. So air quality is a problem. And god knows with COVID being out there it spreads real quick, doesn't it? That air can move real fast. Look at East Palestine. That's air pollution as well, too. I think we need to have some sort of a program put together that, first of all, we can deal with that kind of air quality problems and emergency situation that has to be dealt with if we have that problem. And then the other air quality problems that come about which are from our businesses in the area. Well, there are laws and rules that we could put in place. Policies which we can force. The state has a lot of control in that area. The state, again, can step up to the plate and get some things done. I'm sure that both sides of the aisle would be happy to work on the air pollution. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to find a way to make us breathe better. And again, I think these medical centers should have a.
Dave Fawcett: I love this question, Tony, because I'm all about sustainability and everything green. And a couple of things I would do as county executive is, first of all, I would hold our corporations accountable. I know the law. I know it's not enforced, and that would be my top priority. Secondly, you know, we really need to think globally and act locally. We need to have ways to lessen our carbon footprint, you know, as a society, as a city, as a county. We need to give people options to get them out of their car. So, for example, our mass transit right now, look at the ridership. It's so low, we need to increase ridership so that we give people options and to get people a way to get out of their cars. It's much more sustainable. Secondly, did you hear me talk about the countywide waterfront park? Bikeways everywhere and be able to give yourself an option. The county by Riverfront Park would be linear park. It would run along every river one side or the other. And that would be the backbone and then there would be perpendicular connections so that we and our kids and their kids could actually get out of their cars. And that is the way that we raise our profile as a city and the region as a move towards becoming a beacon of sustainability. So those would be my ideas as county executive.
Sara Innamorato: Environmental justice communities, they don't happen in a vacuum. They happen because of government inaction and enforcement around air quality falls solely on the Department of Health run by the county executive. So as county executive, I will build up the workforce that is necessary to have a fully staffed air quality department. Because right now we have many open positions and we need to make sure that we're hiring the best people, the most qualified folks to be able to administer those enforcements. We also need to look at who is on the boards of health and the Air Pollution Control Committee. Those seats need to be occupied by academics, folks who are in the public health space, people who understand climate change science, as well as impacted community members, specifically from the Mon Valley, because all the regulations must go through the boards in order to strengthen our enforcement mechanisms and enforcement power from the Department of Health. We also have nearly millions and millions of dollars in the clean air fund, and those monies come from the fines that were imposed on industrial polluters that broke the terms of their permit. That money needs to be reinvested in communities like the Mon Valley in partnership with residents who have been impacted for decades, because in that way we can begin to right some of the wrongs and invest in the communities that were being left behind and left out of conversation for too long.
Michael Lamb: Think about how many people in this room have or know someone who has asthma. That's the problem. That's the result of what we have right now. We know that that disproportionately affects minority communities. One in three black kids in the Pittsburgh area have asthma. We've got to address this. And it is about holding corporations accountable. It's what I've done as controller for the last 15 years. But it's about holding them accountable in a new way. It can't just be this system of pay to pollute. We've got to have remedial measures to the action that we take. And that's going to involve a lot of things, including a workforce, a regulatory and enforcement workforce. And guess where those people can be trained. At the Community College of Allegheny County which we're going to make free for every high school graduate in Allegheny County. And those jobs in the new green economy, we're going to be able to do that. And I agree with Sara. We've got to have people who are most impacted by this at the table at the Board of Health, and working on clean air. And the Clean Air Fund, that money has to get back into those communities and let the people in those communities decide how that money should be spent, not back to the county. But while industry we know is the biggest problem around us, vehicular traffic is a huge problem and we've got to get people using mass transit. And one way we can do that is by encouraging our employers to buy bus passes for their employees. As county executive I'm going to do that for Allegheny County. Every county employee, that's 7,500 employees who will have a bus pass and have access to PRT. That's how we can help clean air.
Will Parker: I'm all for clean and green environment, but just imagine what people of color are dealing with here. It's hard for us to breathe with all of the disparities that we face. You know, the hate, the racism, the jealousy. Got to fix those. We've got to work on those issues as well. Just can't be environmental, has to be economic justice. You know, one of the things that I can offer suggested a suggestion right now is they talk about the city's pilot with the scooters is about to be up. So let's invest in a black tech startup who could create an electric scooter, and they could I mean, an electric scooter and they could be based right here in Pittsburgh and ran throughout Allegheny County here's a suggestion, where do we get funding for that if we can't get it from the county? Because I will. I'll give it to the people to create a startup. Let's go to innovation works. Innovation works is a government funded tech incubator. Basically like a shark tank. If you've got ideas to fix your climate and the economy, whatever it is, take your ideas, over to them and get funding from the government to help increase our environmental needs. Another thing I want to do is put this whole thing about UPMC, holding them accountable, it's not going to happen on the county level. Any candidate who is telling y'all they're going to hold UPMC accountable, it's a lie. We've got to do that at the state level. We're not going to do that on the city level. We're not going to do that on the county level. I also want to end with this. Mr. Weinstein, he has 20 years as a politician. We're dealing with politicians who have years and years and years of experience. What have they done for our community? What have they done for our community? Nothing. Now it is time to vote for somebody who will really stand up for us. And even if I don't win, the vote for me represents the margin of error. And it will get across to these politicians that we have a so say and that we want to be involved. So vote for me
Natalie Bencivenga: We just have one rapid fire question before we wrap things up. This is just a yes or no question. Yes or no, do you support making public transportation free? Yes or no?
John Weinstein: No.
Theresa Colaizzi: Oh I don't know I'll wait and see what Ms. Innamorato says and I'll go by that, because she's got the state money she can get.
Dave Fawcett: For people of need, yes.
Sara Innamorato: Yes.
Michael Lamb: Through this program I talked about having our employees buy bus passes, that's how we're going to make it free. Yes.
Will Parker: Yes for people who need to use it to get to work, to get to the hospital appointments and to get to the grocery store. Yes.
Joe Rockey: Yes. For all the above.
John Weinstein: Mine is yes too. I'm the only one that followed the rule. The people that need it should have it.
Theresa Colaizzi: Yes, I do. Okay.
Charlie Wolfson: Okay. There are many, many important policy questions we didn't have time to get to tonight. And we would encourage any voters to see reporting done at PublicSource and NEXTpittsburgh and many other outlets in the region to learn more than we could cover tonight. There will also be a list of resources with a video recording of tonight's event on our websites. PublicSource, and NEXTpittsburgh would both like to thank the candidates for all being here tonight. We'd like to thank Point Park Center for Media Innovation for hosting us here Downtown. And most importantly, we want to thank everyone who joined us tonight here and online for our debate. We hope everyone has a good night and remember to participate in the primary elections on or before May 16th. Thank you.
- Allegheny County executive candidates pledge to tackle hunger, homelessness, child poverty
- Allegheny County Executive candidates share their visions for the Mon Valley
- Weinstein and Hallam deny dealmaking over ALCOSAN seat, as drama engulfs county executive race
- In county executive race, Lamb proposes regional, holistic approach to public safety
- Improving air quality a top priority for county executive candidates
- Allegheny County executive candidate Sara Innamorato proposes 'gift ban' for county employees
- Candidate for Allegheny County's top elected office calls for stricter campaign finance laws
- Republican Joe Rockey says his centrist views will help him win Allegheny County executive race
- Allegheny County should ‘reimagine’ Shuman Center, says county executive candidate
Special thanks to Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation for helping to make the livestream video possible.
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