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Innamorato, Rockey debate property assessments, abortion in Allegheny County executive race

Democrat Sara Innamorato, left, faces Republican Joe Rockey in the 2023 Allegheny County executive race.
Innamorato campaign/Rockey campaign
Democrat Sara Innamorato, left, faces Republican Joe Rockey in the 2023 Allegheny County executive race.

The two candidates for Allegheny County executive faced off in the third and final televised debate aired on WPXI on Sunday. During the half-hour-long broadcast, Democrat Sara Innamorato and Republican Joe Rockey revisited top issues from past debates, while each sought to link the other to broader ideological movements.

On the economy, Rockey reiterated his promise to visit 100 out-of-town businesses to try and recruit them to Allegheny County by highlighting “the incredible amount of resources we have for reliable energy and water,” and local universities and foundations.

Innamorato observed that the county already has more open positions than people to fill them and said she’d focus on attracting new people to the region and reducing barriers to join the workforce by investing in childcare and eldercare.

The candidates also discussed their differing views on property assessments.

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Innamorato called the current system “unfair” and said it disproportionately burdens those who are purchasing their first homes and senior citizens who may want to downsize but stay in their neighborhoods. When asked whether a reassessment would hurt those living on a fixed income, including seniors, Innamorato said she would “focus on protecting people” by increasing the homestead exemption and establishing a Long-Term Owner Occupant Program, which typically freezes property taxes for homeowners who’ve owned and and lived in their homes for a designated period of time.

Rockey repeated a pledge pledged not to do a countywide reassessment, which he called “stealth for raising taxes on those on Social Security and other forms of fixed income.” He said the current system is “mismanaged” and should be fixed, but that doesn’t necessitate a reassessment.

“We need to get everybody on the same playing field first, and then from there we can talk about what to do next,” Rockey said.

Both candidates said they would not raise property taxes.

Differences on other issues were less obvious. The candidates seemed to agree on the importance of improving mental health care in the county, but differed in how they would address the issue.

Rockey emphasized UPMC and Allegheny Health Network’s role in mental health treatment and said he supports drawing down additional federal funding to support care in Allegheny County. Innamorato also cited the importance of utilizing state and federal funding and creating opportunities for residents to enter into mental healthcare jobs.

On gun violence, Innamorato touted her resume as a former state legislator and emphasized her government relationships, noting that she supported “common sense gun regulation” in the state legislature, though the legislation ultimately failed. She also pointed to the county’s Office of Violence Intervention and Department of Human Services as key players in helping reduce and prevent gun violence by “investing in neighborhoods, in people.”

Rockey said he’d address gun violence by focusing on affected communities and “creating a future for people so that they don't turn to violence as the alternative.” He suggested implementing additional community and afterschool programs and creating ongoing gun buyback programs at county police stations.

When the conversation turned to reproductive rights, Innamorato tried to tie Rockey to the larger conservative movement, as her campaign has been doing in recent weeks. She said Republicans “are trying to wholly restrict our rights. And you'll hear from my opponent that it isn't an issue for the chief executive, but in fact, it is.”

Rockey said abortion is a federal and state issue rather than a local one, and as county executive he would “enforce the law.”

In her closing statement, Innamorato said Rockey “is funded by an out-of-touch billionaire who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting MAGA Republicans,” a reference to hedge-fund manager Jeff Yass, who has contributed to conservative causes across the state and indirectly backed outside-spending groups that purchased ads in the county executive race.

Rockey criticized Innamorato for her past affiliation with the Democratic Socialists of America. Innamorato was a member of the group when she was first elected to the state House in 2018, though she has said she left it the following year.

The election is Nov. 7.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at