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Sara Innamorato resigns from state House to focus on Allegheny County executive bid

Sara Innamorato
Courtesy campaign
Sara Innamorato

State Rep. Sara Innamorato has resigned from her position representing the 21st House District to focus on her bid to become the next Allegheny County executive.

Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton announced the move Wednesday morning. She has scheduled a special election for the district to take place Sept. 19.

"Sara is an unwavering advocate for her neighbors and a strong voice for all working families," McClinton said in the statement. "Her tenacity and commitment are admirable, and she will be missed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.”

McClinton added that Innamorato's office will continue to provide constituent services.

The announcement came as a surprise to some local politicos: The Sept. 19 date is the soonest that an election could be scheduled under state law. And the timing will likely minimize the prospect of disrupting state government and Democratic control of the House at a fraught moment in state politics.

Democrats enjoy a one-vote majority in the House at a time when Harrisburg is mired in a budget dispute that shows no signs of being resolved any time soon. But it's not clear Innamorato's departure will have much impact on the chamber, which currently isn't scheduled to return from summer recess until Sept. 26.

But closer to home, that means a compressed timetable for choosing Innamorato's replacement.

There are no primaries in a special election. Leaders in both the Democratic and the Republican primaries will select nominees to place on the Sept. 19 ballot. Local Democrats will choose their nominee on Saturday, July 29 at the Tripoli Street Community Center: Interested candidates must file a $500 filing fee along with a letter of intent and other information with the party by Monday, July 24.

Several candidates have been said to be contemplating a run. One, gun-control activist Josh Fleitman, confirmed his interest Wednesday morning.

"I am definitely going to be throwing my hat in the ring," Fleitman said. "I think I'll be a strong candidate for the party to carry Rep. Innamorato's legacy forward."

Fleitman, who lives in Shaler and previously lived in the city's Morningside neighborhood, said that in addition to gun violence, his top issues include environmental concerns and continuing Innamorato's efforts to "address unfettered corporate power and the way it has stacked the deck against working families in Pennslyvania."

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Also in the hunt is Liz Dunn, a member of the Shaler School Board who has worked in the tech industry. She, too, said she would continue Innamorato's legacy and said, "I know that I am extremely well equipped to handle the biggest issue for whoever takes this seat: the unconstitutionality of how we fund schools."

A state court ruled this winter that the state's funding of education is inequitable, though it remains to be seen what alternatives state officials will agree on.

Lindsay Powell, who has worked in government at the local and federal levels, says she is seeking the chance "to uplift the most vulnerable Pittsburghers in a movement that Sara Innamorato and others started, and that I hope to expand."

Powell, a Lawrenceville resident who works for the nonprofit InnovatePGH, currently serves on the board of the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority alongside Innamorato.

North Sider Chris Rosselot, who works for a community development advocacy group and has formerly run for Pittsburgh City Council, also intends to seek the seat.

Innamorato was in her third term in Harrisburg, having been elected to the House in 2018 — a crucial early win for a progressive movement that has come to redefine Allegheny County politics.

In a statement, Innamorato said thanked voters for their support. "Together, we've done amazing things to improve our region, and I am excited to continue serving our neighbors for years to come.”

The statement said her resignation "allows her the opportunity to work with the next representative and fully transition them into the role before the general election in November, ensuring the 21st district has a representative solely focused on advancing the needs of the district."

During her time in Harrisburg, Innamorato fought for a "whole home repair" bill to provide financial aid to lower-income homeowners who needed to make repairs, as well as for legislation to protect longtime residents from gentrification. She won a hotly contested Democratic primary in the race to become the county's top elected official in May.

The 21st district includes parts of Pittsburgh as well as the nearby northern suburbs of Reserve, Shaler, Etna, and Millvale.

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.