Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
An initiative to provide nonpartisan, independent elections journalism for southwestern Pennsylvania.

O'Connor, Brusselars prevail in Allegheny County controller, treasurer races

Erica Rocchi Brusselars and Corey O'Connor pose for campaign photos.
Courtesy of the Brusselars and O'Connor campaigns
Democrat Corey O’Connor (right) received a full-term from voters, beating Republican Bob Howard. Fellow Democrat Erica Rocchi Brusselars (left) will replace longtime Treasurer John Weinstein after besting GOP nominee Herb Ohliger.

Most of the attention Tuesday night was focused on Allegheny County’s race for county executive and district attorney, but there were contests for two other countrywide posts — and both were won by Democrats.

Democrat Corey O’Connor, who was appointed to the post of county controller in the summer of 2022 after Chelsa Wagner stepped down to become a Common Pleas Court Judge, received a full-term from voters; with 85% of Allegheny County precincts reporting, O'Connor held a lead of about 120,000 votes over Republican Bob Howard.

Meanwhile, Erica Rocchi Brusselars, the Democratic nominee to replace John Weinstein as county treasurer, led the GOP’s Herb Ohliger by 62% to 38%.

With the outcome of other races still to be determined, the results assure Democrats will hold countywide seats alongside Sheriff Kevin Krauss, who was elected two years ago.

O’Connor’s election was a straightforward affair: He brushed aside a spirited but under-resourced challenge from activist Darwin Leuba in the Democratic primary, and he coasted to a win over a Republican who brought even fewer resources to bear. Howard did not report any campaign fundraising in the final finance report before Nov. 7: O’Connor spent more than a quarter-million dollars during the course of the year.

O’Connor said voters could be confident that, “I'm not just going to stand around yelling and screaming because I actually want to get things done. And I want to get them done in the proper manner.”

He’ll continue to oversee an office that is charged with processing payments and reviewing contracts, as well as assessing the performance of county operations and the health of its finances. O’Connor also has a seat on the county’s Jail Oversight Board, and an advisory board that has previously overseen the county’s juvenile detention center, which has been shuttered but is slated to reopen this winter.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Stay on top of election news from WESA's political reporters — delivered fresh to your inbox every weekday morning.

The election Tuesday was the latest step forward for O’Connor, a former city councilor and son of the late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor. With his election to a full term — and with changes coming to the treasurer and county executive posts this winter — he is poised to become the longest-serving official outside of law enforcement to preside over an office after less than 18 months. And through its ability to audit county finances and services, the office has the potential to serve as a check on the county executive or county council.

“I think in my role you want somebody with experience in different forms of government,” said O’Connor. “Having that year-and-a-half under my belt is good because these other offices are changing over how they have done. So for us, it's really going to be a big role in the change of government because we need to be there to support the leadership [and] make sure that what they're trying to do is done properly and effectively.”

Brusselars’ path to victory had more twists and turns, at least early on. When she launched her bid in January, she was prepared to challenge longtime incumbent John Weinstein for the seat.

After Weinstein chose to focus on an ultimately unsuccessful run for county executive instead, at least two other Democrats jumped into the race and withdrew almost as abruptly. Ultimately Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill entered the race, but his late February start made it difficult to catch up with Brusselars.

The general election campaign was less dramatic, although in Ohliger she faced a former candidate for sheriff with roots in Scott Township and ties to the hardline gun-advocacy group Firearm Owners Against Crime. But Brusselars raised nearly $100,000 for her bid — more than 20 times what Ohliger could report just prior to the election.

While campaigning, Brusselars said, “I heard consistently that folks were excited to see someone who has a straightforward vision and the skills to bring that to fruition. Folks were excited to not have someone who's in politics for politics’ sake. We’ve been seeing for several years that the county, or portions of the county, are ready for change.”

The office Brusselars steps into collects revenue from taxes and other sources, then invests and disburses that money for county programs. The treasurer also sits on a board that oversees funding for county pensions.

Brusselars said that in the days ahead, she planned to reach out to workers in the office. An early goal, she said, would be placing more information about county finances online. She said she also wanted to begin a discussion of the county’s pension obligations and how to meet them after campaigning in part on concerns about how well those benefits were funded.

“I really see the possibilities for collaboration,” she said. “Working with our controller's office, working with our county executive, working with departments throughout and municipalities throughout the county to provide a set of services that really work.”

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.