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Politics & Government

Tony Moreno Re-Enters Mayoral Race, This Time As A Republican

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Chris Potter
/
90.5 WESA
Tony Moreno announces his campaign for mayor as a Republican in Homewood on June 29, 2021

Retired police officer Tony Moreno made it official just before lunchtime Tuesday: He will be running as a Republican candidate for mayor – in what may well be a pugnacious campaign against Democratic nominee Ed Gainey -- after finishing third in last month’s Democratic primary.

Standing before roughly two dozen supporters in Homewood, Moreno said he had switched his voter registration to Republican that morning, but he added, “My principles, my platform and my plan have been to serve everyone in this great city. That will not change. …The political banner that I’ll be running under will never change who I am … It merely reflects the letter next to my name on the ballot.”

Moreno reprised some of the themes from his campaign for the Democratic nomination, with a platform he calls "Mayor 101" -- a back-to-basics approach that focuses on investments in public safety and public works -- and sharp attacks on the political establishment.

“People are going to try to make this election about a Democrat versus a Republican, a socialist liberal versus a conservative,” said Moreno. “But this general election is about one thing: a clear choice between someone who will continue the corruption in our city or someone who will serve the people of this city every day. “

Moreno referred to his announcement’s backdrop along Race Street, where he has appeared in recent days to denounce long-festering problems with sewage back-ups.

During his speech, Moreno alluded to what he contended were ethical lapses by his rival. In subsequent remarks to reporters, Moreno referred to a television news report alleging campaign-finance reporting problems at a political committee, African Americans for Good Government, tied to a campaign aide, Moses Nelson. Prior to the primary, WTAE reported that the county elections office had referred the matter to county police to investigate an alleged failure to report some contributions and properly document spending.

Gainey’s campaign responded to Moreno's announcement with a statement saying Gainey "welcomes Mr. Moreno to the race and looks forward to a positive general election campaign in which he'll continue to talk about his vision for uniting our City and building a Pittsburgh for all."

The campaign did not return a call from WESA asking specifically for comment to Moreno's criticisms. But in the past, Gainey has said that he has no role with the committee and is not responsible for filing its reports.

Moreno also said he personally had witnessed an altercation involving Gainey: a scuffle that followed an argument between Gainey and a political foe at a Democratic gathering, and that led to a confrontation involving Nelson.

“That should not happen,” said Moreno of the incident. “I would write a report as a police officer and report that” — though he acknowledged he would not have a basis for charging Gainey because he did not engage in any physical altercation.

Asked whether such accusations were going to dictate the tone of his campaign, Moreno said, “This is going to be a Pittsburgh-first campaign. I want to make sure that everybody sees the contrast between and my opponent — that I’m here in the neighborhoods getting things done, that I’m protecting people.”

Moreno is eligible to be the Republican nominee because he received 1,379 write-in votes on the GOP ticket in the May primary -- even as he finished a distant third on the Democratic side. (While Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law that prevents a candidate who loses a primary from running as an Independent, it does not bar one party's voters from writing in the name of a candidate that is running on a different party's ticket. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., for example, was both the Republican and the Democratic nominee during his 2019 re-election bid.)

That was more than five times what he needed to qualify to be the Republican nominee, and while Moreno said little about his intentions in the week after the primary, his announcement is no surprise.

In the weeks leading up to the May primary, some Democrats privately said they expected Moreno to stage a write-in bid on the Republican side. And though Moreno voted as a Democrat for most of the past two decades, he did switch his registration to Republican in spring 2018. He then changed back to Democrat in August of 2019 -- roughly one month before he first disclosed his intentions to run for mayor. At one point in summer 2019, Moreno tweeted that he would be "running for mayor in Pittsburgh as an (R). We haven't elected an R since 1934." And days after the primary, Moreno's wife urged voters on Facebook: "Don't throw away your Tony Moreno for Pittsburgh Mayor yard signs just yet."

As Moreno himself tweeted two summers ago, Democrats have dominated city politics for the best part of a century. Moreno finished the spring primary with just $229.10 in his campaign bank account. Gainey finished with $17,611.49 -- and a demonstrated ability to raised six-digit sums on his behalf, and to draw even larger sums in outside money from allies at the SEIU Healthcare union.

Gainey also has been consolidating support in recent weeks, doing outreach that includes appearing with City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith on behalf of workers tied to another SEIU local that supported Bill Peduto.

Moreno, meanwhile, said he wasn’t aware of a write-in effort on his behalf until shortly before the election: He said that he had urged GOP supporters to switch parties to vote for him in the primary. He said he didn’t know of any effort by the Republican Party to organize support for him. “They never came to me and said they were going to do this,” he said.

Sam DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Party in Allegheny County, said "There was some internal encouragement" within party ranks "for Republicans who didn't feel they had a choice to consider Mr. Moreno." He said that the party would support Moreno with polling and other assistance — part of an effort DeMarco has been making to field Republican candidates even in Democratic bastions.

DeMarco, who said he has spoken "several times" to Moreno since the primary, said he was glad Moreno is running. "For too long, Pittsburghers who cannot vote in the Democratic primary had no say in who the mayor would be." And he said the campaign would provide "a great juxtapostion" between Gainey, who has been critical of police tactics, and "someone who has been a police officer and sought to protect and serve."

But although Moreno had pledged to run as a Republican two summers ago, he said Tuesday that he was as surprised as anyone at how things turned out.

“When I decided to do this, I just wanted to win. There was one pathway to victory that I had,” he said. “I had to fight that fight in order to establish myself. I had no idea that this is where I would end up. … Now there’s a race to be had in November. “

This story was updated at 7:40 p.m. on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 to include statements from Republican Party county chair Sam DeMarco.