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Fitzgerald, Other County Officials, Back Biden Before Critical 'Super Tuesday' Contests

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Vice President Joe Biden at Lawrenceville's Teamsters Temple last spring, when he began his Presidential campaign.

Echoing a nationwide rollout of support for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Monday unveiled a coalition of southwestern Pennsylvania county officials who are endorsing the former vice president.

“These leaders know better than anyone what it takes for Democrats to win in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Fitzgerald said in a statement announcing the endorsement. "We know we need to focus relentlessly on creating good jobs, growing our economy, investing in our students and our workers. We know that Joe Biden is the candidate who gets this and can win in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In addition to Fitzgerald, the county officials announcing their support of Biden represent 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties:

  • Armstrong County Commissioner Pat Fabian
  • Beaver County Commissioner Tony Amadio
  • Butler County Commissioner Kevin Boozel
  • Cambria County Commissioner Tom Chernisky
  • Cambria County Commissioner B.J. Smith
  • Fayette County Commissioner Vince Vicites
  • Greene County Commissioner Blair Zimmerman
  • Indiana County Commissioner Sherene Hess
  • Lawrence County Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel
  • Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi
  • Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli

Southwestern Pennsylvania has always figured large in the campaign strategy for Biden, who launched his campaign here last spring. In a field of contenders that has often seemed defined by candidates to his left, Biden has focused much of his efforts on more centrist Democrats and moderate-to-conservative unions. He's also garnered support from Pittsburgh-area Congressman Conor Lamb, among others.

In an interview, Fitzgerald said the endorsement “is something we’ve been talking about for a number of months going back to late last year." For his fellow officials, he said, Biden's appeal lay in having "policies that make sense for the part of southwestern Pennsylvania that they represent."

A big part of that, he said, was the fact that Biden has not called for an outright ban on “fracking” for natural gas, as have Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Fracking has become a touchstone for union workers in the building trades, and an economic boon for rural and post-industrial communities in the region – though environmentalists note that it can damage local air and water quality, while worsening the climate-change problems by adding methane to the atmosphere.

“It is huge,” said Fitzgerald of the fracking issue. “You are talking about something that has saved or rejuvenated the economy of some of these areas. When you look at these building trades that are in full employment, if that gets shut off … the county commissioners of these counties will never be able to convince the voters of their communities, including Democrats, to vote for our candidates.”

And what of Sanders supporters and other environmentally minded voters who see fracking as, at best, a means of putting off reckoning with climate change? “What will coalesce everybody is the fact that we want to make a change" in a White House "that is in denial" about the issue, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said that for local officials in particular, more than just the White House was at stake. “If the wrong candidate is leading the ticket, it could mean losing some of these downballot offices, from the U.S. Senate to the state House. … We saw what happened in 2010, when we lost state legislatures all across the country," just before new legislative district lines are drawn based on the Census. Republicans controlled that process in Harrisburg and other state capitals last time, hindering Democratic prospects for the ensuing decade. 

The endorsements are part of a show of force by the Biden campaign, whose campaign appeared moribund to many observers just days ago. But he trounced the Democratic field in a nearly 29-percentage-point win over Bernie Sanders in South Carolina’s primary over the weekend. Since then, he has rolled out support from Democratic legislators, governors, and activists in nine other states, including established luminaries like former California Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz, and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.   

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who ended her own bid for the Presidency Monday, is also expected to endorse Biden.

The endorsements come on the eve of the crucial “Super Tuesday” primaries being held in 14 states, which together account for roughly one-third of the delegates which Democratic candidates are seeking on their way to the nomination.

Pennsylvania’s primary isn’t until late April, by which point the field is likely to have shrunk even sooner. But Fitzgerald said the support of officeholders in Western Pennsylvania – considered a key battleground for the presidency itself – sends a powerful message to Democrats concerned about electability in the fall.

“I think everybody knows that when it comes to the general, Southwestern Pennsylvania is going to be absolutely key,” Fitzgerald said. “The highest elected officials in these 11 counties have come out and said ‘it’s one thing to win in the spring, it’s another thing to win in November.’ And the signal that we’re sending is that if we want to win in November, this is the candidate that can help us do that.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.