Seven people boasting a combined 68 years in government will appear on primary election ballots for Allegheny County executive, a powerful role that has come open for the first time in 12 years with the incumbent, Rich Fitzgerald, reaching a term limit.
The six-candidate Democratic field includes two fixtures of local politics, a progressive state lawmaker and an influential attorney who helped pioneer the county’s new government system in the 2000s.
Republican voters don’t face a choice in the primary, but have a businessman-turned-candidate who hopes to turn the county red for the first time since 2010 and the second time since 1999. (Republican Jim Roddey won the first race for executive in 1999, and Tom Corbett carried the county in 2010 on the way to becoming governor.)
Election Day is May 16. With mail-in ballots beginning to reach voters and Election Day two weeks away, here is PublicSource’s guide to the candidates for Allegheny County executive.
Jump to a candidate:
Theresa Sciulli Colaizzi
Pittsburgh Democrat and former school board member
Top issue: Nonprofits, maybe. Colaizzi does not have a campaign website or social media presence, has not delivered many public remarks or done substantial advertising. In a town hall debate hosted by PublicSource and NEXTpittsburgh on April 18, she repeatedly called for tapping tax-exempt healthcare companies such as UPMC and Allegheny Health Network to contribute funding for public projects, calling the idea “the white elephant in the room.” But Colaizzi did not explain how she would achieve such a result, which has largely eluded local leaders for decades.
What else you should know: Colaizzi’s candidacy came as a surprise to reporters and other observers when she filed paperwork with the county just before the deadline in March. She has been out of the political arena since ending a 12-year stint on the Pittsburgh school board in 2013. A Greenfield resident, Colaizzi told PublicSource her campaign is not as well-funded as others in the race. During the April 18 debate, one of Colaizzi’s only public appearances of this campaign, she made repeated verbal attacks on candidate Sara Innamorato, accusing the state representative of trying to get her name removed from the ballot.
Oakmont Democrat and attorney
Top issue: A countywide riverfront park. The former county councilman never seems to skip an opportunity to pitch an audience on moving rail lines back from riverbanks and giving every inch of the county’s rivers a park on one bank or the other, potentially connected by bridges and arterial parks running between rivers. Fawcett has said on the campaign trail that the network of parks would “put Allegheny County on the map” and help the environment and quality of life by allowing residents to “get out of their cars” and ride a bike or walk the riverfronts.
What else you should know: Fawcett served on Allegheny County Council from its inception in 2000 through 2008 as a Republican. He said he switched to the Democratic Party shortly after leaving the council, and he has cut anything but a conservative path in this year’s Democratic primary.
He has put an emphasis on air quality and environmental protection, suggesting harsher enforcement against polluters. What he lacks in recent government experience he has tried to make up for by talking up his credentials as a lawyer: He speaks often of his case against West Virginia coal magnate Don Blankenship and his advocacy for pregnant people incarcerated in Allegheny County Jail as he is seeking an executive post with oversight over heavy industry and the jail.
Updated campaign finance disclosures are coming in early May, but Fawcett’s 2022 disclosure showed that he loaned his own campaign about $150,000. Another $150,000 came mostly in four-digit sums from a slew of area attorneys.
Pittsburgh Democrat and state representative
Top issue: Affordable housing. Innamorato has proposed increasing emergency and transitional housing options for unhoused people, a “Tenants’ Bill of Rights” to offer renters greater protections and a countywide land bank to deal with blight and increase the county’s housing stock. The issue is a logical focus given her recent legislative achievement in Harrisburg, helping to shepherd the Whole Home Repairs Act to passage, creating $125 million in grants for Pennsylvanians to repair their homes.
What else you should know: Innamorato is this year’s standard bearer of the region’s progressive movement, which has been on a roll for the past few years. Her candidacy would complete a trifecta of sorts, giving the party’s left flank control of the Pittsburgh mayor’s office, the 12th District congressional seat and the county executive’s office. The former two offices are held by Ed Gainey and Summer Lee, who won tough primaries in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Both endorsed Innamorato the day she launched her campaign, and Innamorato would present a friendlier face than the current executive, Fitzgerald. He is seen as more moderate than either Gainey or Lee and supported their opponents.
Innamorato helped start the local progressive momentum: She won her primary for state representative in an upset in 2018, running as a Democratic Socialist and ousting a member of the politically potent Costa family. She won re-election comfortably in 2020 and 2022.
She has said she would pursue greater monetary contributions from major nonprofits, such as UPMC, essentially adopting a yet-untested plan Gainey unveiled in the city and vowing to expand it countywide.
She has garnered endorsements from a smattering of other local politicians, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club and the Service Employees International Union, which is also helping her campaign financially.
Pittsburgh Democrat and Pittsburgh city controller
Top issue: Municipal government efficiency. Lamb has long lamented the county’s patchwork of 130 municipal governments as a roadblock to effective government, and is pitching a new county office of municipal assistance to help communities bridge the gaps where underfunded, outmoded local governments are struggling to provide services and opportunities to residents. That approach to the challenges presented by fragmentation comes at a time when municipal consolidation appears to be little more than a pipe dream (to those who even want it at all).
What else you should know: Lamb is one of the most well-traveled candidates politically. This year is his last of 16 as the city’s controller, a role where, in his telling, he championed transparency and government ethics. He has tried a handful of times to reach higher office, including Pittsburgh mayor and state auditor general, falling short each time. He’s one of a handful of candidates who can trace their public service back to the beginning of the county’s current Home Rule government; Lamb has frequently talked on the trail about his 1998 role in advocating for the overhaul, which was meant to introduce a more professionalized government to the state’s second-most-populous county.
He has sought to make his turns as reformer, both in the late 1990s and in the controller’s office, the defining narrative of his campaign, promising an alternative to backroom, “pay-to-play” politics.
Lamb has also floated plans to make two years of community college free for all high school graduates in the county.
Pittsburgh Democrat and mobile app developer
Top issue: Investment in the Black community. Parker has consistently used his time during candidate forums to advocate for the county’s 140,000-some Black residents, calling for greater government investment in Black-owned businesses.
What else you should know: Parker is making it an annual tradition to run a low-budget (or no-budget) campaign for office. He ran a write-in campaign for Pittsburgh mayor in 2021 and appeared on the ballot for Congress in 2022. Both times he received less than 2% of the vote. Asked during the April 18 debate why he came back for more after such results, he said, “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.”
Ohio Township Republican and former PNC executive
Top issue: Economic development. Rockey, the only Republican in the running, has pledged to expand the county’s department of economic development in an effort to bring more jobs to the region. He also said he would pay visits to 100 companies across the United States to sell them on “the benefits of having your operations in Allegheny County.”
What else you should know: The only suspenseful thing about Rockey’s May 16 will be finding out which Democrat he will run against in the November General Election. From the first day of his candidacy earlier this year, Rockey has sought to define himself as a moderate’s moderate, eschewing the molds of Donald Trump and 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano, and calling himself on his website “the bipartisan problem-solver we need.”
He has steered away from issues beyond Allegheny County’s borders. For example, he skirted a question during the April 18 debate about his views on recent Allegheny County Council laws that were meant to fortify protections for abortion access in the county. He answered that his views were immaterial because the county has no role in setting abortion policy (though the recent moves suggest that council feels otherwise).
It’s not yet known how well funded his campaign is, or who is funding it, because he did not report any financial activity in 2022.
Kennedy Township Democrat and county treasurer
Top issue: Public safety. Weinstein’s election launch speech and some of his television ads have been heavily focused on crime, playing up ominous news reports about violence in Pittsburgh’s Downtown and claiming that he will restore order. He has pledged to use the county’s police force to supplement city cops and to reopen the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center, saying that the facility’s 2021 closure has led to a major uptick in youth crime because the legal system has nowhere to send offenders but home.
What else you should know: Weinstein brings a formidable array of advantages to this race. A deep network of support has led to him being, by all accounts, the best-funded candidate, with endorsements from powerful labor unions and the county’s Democratic Committee. He built that support over decades in the low-key treasurer’s office, which holds little policymaking power but offers the holder considerable name recognition. (Property owners have made out property tax payments to Weinstein for more than two decades.)
A downside to all that time in government: Weinstein has faced questions about his exercise of influence, including:
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he tried to use his political influence to get a state lawmaker to step down from the sewage authority’s board of directors.
- A county judge who Weinstein helped to elect in 2021 quickly hired two people with close ties to the mother of two children with Weinstein, PublicSource and WESA reported in March.
- According to a WESA report, Weinstein and his father were accused in the early 2000s of forging mail-in ballots in a Kennedy Township election.
Weinstein denied any wrongdoing in each of the above matters, but they have at times been a distraction from his campaign’s overarching message of bringing integrity and competence to the executive’s office.
Weinstein appears to be mounting the most expensive campaign of the year. In 2022, he had already received multiple six-figure checks, one from the Steamfitters union and one from development and trucking magnate Charles Hammel. The disclosure of his 2022 fundraising helped spur a push for new campaign finance regulations for the county, which are now making their way through the legislative process.
How to vote, and other resources
Election Day is May 16. Voters can only vote in primaries for the party to which they are registered. Independent voters cannot vote in party primaries.
Click here to find your polling place, which will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Click here to request a mail-in ballot by May 9. Return it to the county by mail or by dropping it off at the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Ave. Voters can also go there to request a mail-in ballot in person, receive one instantly and return it all in one visit.
Check out PublicSource’s series, Executive Decision, for its previous coverage of this race and more as Election Day approaches.
Watch the video or read the transcript of the April 18 debate featuring all seven candidates, moderated by journalists from PublicSource and NEXTpittsburgh.
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was fact-checked by Jack Troy.
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