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Innamorato, Rockey seek remaining votes in last stretch of 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.

Over the weekend, both candidates for Allegheny County executive — Democrat Sara Innamorato and Republican Joe Rockey — hit the streets of Allegheny County to snap up any stray votes they could find.

Innamorato joined other Democrats Sunday in McKeesport for a “Rally in the Valley,” and she joined Gov. Josh Shapiro for appearances on Saturday.

“This election is absolutely critical,” Shapiro told union activists at the AFL-CIO headquarters as they geared up for a final weekend of phone-banking and door-knocking. “If you care about the right to organize, if you care about the right of women to make decisions over their own bodies, if you care about making sure our democracy is protected, then you have to care about this race.”

That message echoed Innamorato’s increased focus on such concerns as voter integrity that a broad swath of Democrats have in common — an effort to unite Democrats in a county where they outnumber Republicans by two-to-one margins. The Rockey campaign, meanwhile, has argued that issues such as abortion are a remote concern for county-level races, while the candidates have debated the future of the county's elections department.

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Rockey has picked up some endorsements of his own, from law enforcement and the building trades. And he will be gathering with some of those allies on election eve: His campaign plans a rally Monday afternoon at the Laborers union headquarters Downtown.

Rockey spent his weekend door-knocking in suburban communities, a last push for what a campaign statement said had been “an opportunity not just to make my case, but to listen closely about what working families are talking about throughout Allegheny County.”

His campaign said the issues of greatest importance to those voters and the focus of Rockey’s bid are public safety, job creation, and concerns that taxes could increase in the event of a countywide property tax assessment.

Voters who hide in the basement every time the doorbell rings might find it hard to avoid the race, owing to advertising blitzes rarely seen in an off-year general election in the Pittsburgh media market. Even Rocky Bleier, the 1970s-era Pittsburgh Steelers great, has been drawn into the fray, backing Rockey in radio spots paid for by an outside pro-Rockey political committee, Save Allegheny County Power.

Mailers from such groups have been blanketing communities: Another Save Allegheny pitch seeks “prayers for Israel” and votes against Innamorato alike — an effort to link Innamorato to opponents of Israel because several years ago she was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. A mailer from the pro-Innamorato Working Families Party, meanwhile, suggests Rockey “tried to kill Social Security and Medicare,” on the basis of a handful of contributions he’s made to national Republicans.

In a more targeted ad, some 200 Jewish supporters of Innamorato joined in a public letter that appeared in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle Friday, asserting that she “has always supported our Jewish community and … has shown herself to espouse many of the values that we share.” The ad is an attempt to counter a previous print ad in the same publication, urging voters to “Vote in support of Israel. Vote Joe Rockey.”

Voters will get the final say tomorrow: Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. And some have already voted by mail. Slightly more than 141,000 mail-in ballots were requested for the election, and nearly 90,000 had been returned as of Friday. Slightly more than three-quarters of those ballots were requested by Democrats.

In all, county election officials say they expect a turnout of around 38 percent — a notable jump from recent cycles in which outgoing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was on the ballot. Turnout in those contests has been in the mid-20s, but this is the first such race for which mail-in balloting has been widely available. Elections director David Voye said during an Oct. 24 Board of Elections meeting that should give a 5 percent bump in turnout.

Beyond that, Voye said, “I think we’ll see a little bit of an increase just due to a competitive race.”

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.