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Rockey challenges Innamorato to debates in Allegheny County executive race

A man talks with a microphone between two other men at a table.
Joshua Franzos
Pittsburgh Foundation
Joe Rockey, flanked by Democrats Will Parker and John Weinstein, speaks at a county executive debate earlier this year.

Joe Rockey, the Republican candidate for Allegheny County Executive, says he and Democratic nominee Sara Innamorato should debate five times between now and the November election.

“It’s crucial that the public becomes engaged in this contest, and the best way to do that is to put the candidates in front of the voters and have them debate the substantive issues,” said Rockey in a statement issued by his campaign Wednesday afternoon.

Rockey, a retired executive at PNC Bank, also suggested five topics on which he believed the debates should focus: economic development, human services, public safety, county tax policy, and good governance.

The statement also called on the city’s three television stations “as well as its highly regarded public radio station” — presumably a reference to WESA and not its sister station WYEP or classical powerhouse WQED — “to host and broadcast the debates.”

Innamorato's campaign did not respond directly to Rockey's pitch, but said she "looks forward to continuing the conversation with voters every single day until Election Day."

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The statement added that during the primary, the state Representative "has already engaged in more than 20 forums and debates in every corner of the county, published policy proposals to improve working people’s quality of life on her website."

In fact, Rockey and Innamorato already have shared the debate stage several times, as some forum organizers invited him to participate alongside the Democrats running in the May primary.

There were few fireworks between them during those events, which generally featured few sharp exchanges.

But Wednesday’s statement signals a common tactic in which underdogs challenge presumed front-runners to as many debates as possible. Rockey, a first-time candidate in a heavily Democratic county who polls have previously shown lacking in name recognition, could benefit just by showing up. And strong debate performances can disrupt an air of inevitability around the odds-on favorite — if enough people are paying attention.

Front-runners often try to minimize the number of debates for the very same reasons.

Rockey began June with $64,849 in his campaign account — a modest sum after he ran unopposed on the GOP ballot, but more than the $39,305 Innamorato had on hand after a six-way Democratic primary. Still, Innamorato proved her fundraising chops this spring, and has been consolidating support from the party since.

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.