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Allegheny County Council shoots down own member’s nomination to Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission

Allegheny County Council member Bob Macey (D-District 9).
Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Council member Bob Macey (D-District 9).

In a relatively rare exercise of its power to reject appointments to county agencies and authorities, Allegheny County Council refused Wednesday to confirm one of the body’s own members to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

Democrat Bob Macey came under fire for comments he made last month at a council meeting, during which members declined to approve a non-binding motion calling for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

After noting that council purview was limited to local matters such as homelessness and ongoing issues at the county jail, Macey said, “Now, I don't want to be a conspiracy theorist,” triggering audible groans and booing from attendees. “But on the other hand, here we have a situation where people in this country may have come here legally, may have had all the right papers, but may have come with a hidden agenda.”

Council President Pat Catena interrupted, asking the crowd to quiet down and adding that he didn’t “want people to be forced out of this room.”

Onlookers continued to express their displeasure with Macey’s remarks, and some shouted “shame” as an audience member was escorted out of the room by security for reasons that were not immediately clear.

After some time, Macey added, “This is exactly what I believe is occurring: Division and chaos. Thank you very much.”

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The event sparked a petition that ultimately received over 200 signatures, asking council to block Macey’s appointment, citing those comments, which they called racist, and saying he “lacks a progressive mindset.” Copies of the petition were presented to council during public comments on Wednesday.

Council was voting to confirm County Executive Sara Innamorato’s nomination of Macey to join her and other representatives from the 10-county region on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, or SPC.

The SPC is a federally required metropolitan planning organization that plans and prioritizes the use of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation funding and establishes economic development priorities for Allegheny and nine other counties in the region. Petitioners cited concerns about Macey’s “ability to serve all constituents equitably” as a member of the commission's board and council's sole representation on the body. Macey previously served in the position from 2009 to 2011, and then again starting in 2019.

According to council records, his most recent appointment expired at the end of 2022.

“Mr. Macey's remarks during this vote reflected troubling, racist undertones, particularly problematic given the diverse composition of our community, which includes a substantial number of immigrants,” the petition reads. “These words not only cast unwarranted suspicion on new Americans but also contribute to a divisive and hostile atmosphere that undermines the principles of inclusion and respect that are vital to our community’s integrity and cohesion.”

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Macey apologized for his comment at the March meeting.

“On March 5th of this year, I made a statement at a council meeting. It harmed some people, it pushed their buttons and hurt their feelings. And that certainly wasn’t what my statement was intended for,” he said. “It was part of trying to make a statement that this world should come together."

“Now, for any of those individuals that I harmed, I’m truly sorry," he said. "And for anybody else that may be harmed, through this action, the action on March 5th, I’m very, very sorry.”

But for all of those who made a public comment on the issue, including Cory Roma, the apology was “too little, too late.”

“I appreciate you apologizing, but you’re only doing it because your nomination is on the ballot today. You’ve had a month and a half to say something, and just now you choose to say something,” Roma said.

“By confirming this nomination, [council] will be effectively co-signing Mr. Macey’s racist behavior and sending the message that hate towards the immigrant community that built this region and nation doesn’t get called out but promoted," Roma added.

Council members Dan Grzybek and Bethany Hallam echoed the sentiments offered by public commenters.

“If anything, I think if you go on either end of the spectrum, a censure vote would have been more appropriate than a board appointment,” Grzybek said, noting Hallam was threatened with censure after she made a “vulgar” comment towards a fellow Jail Oversight Board member.

“I think that President Catena actually potentially did a favor for Councilman Macey by stopping the conversation then before he dug himself into a deeper hole,” Hallam said. She said she has seen Macey “espouse hateful viewpoints” in the past.

But other council members defended Macey. Democrat Nick Futules noted that Macey did offer an apology and added that it would be a “tragedy” if council didn’t have representation on the SPC board.

Republican Sam DeMarco warned against setting a “dangerous precedent” if council were to “vote against members of council who have served honorably because of something they may have said.”

“We’ve all said things,” he said. “Anytime you speak, and to the extent that we do, we run the risk of offending somebody.”

Council ultimately voted down Macey’s appointment by 5-8-2, with Macey and DeWitt Walton abstaining (Macey first tried to vote for himself, but abstained after a council solicitor said a vote could violate the county’s ethics code).

Macey’s reappointment faced challenges even before residents weighed in Wednesday; Council’s Committee on Appointment Review voted last week to negatively recommend his nomination.

Reached after the meeting, Macey said there was “nothing in [his remarks at the March 5th meeting] that sounded racist.”

“I just think that some people were caught off guard, and I didn't get to finish what I had to say.”

When asked what he meant by the comments, Macey said, “I was trying to finish saying that [there are] a lot of great people in this country, and they come from around the world. However, some come here with — and I said it — some come here with a hidden agenda.”

“I'm not a racist. I'm not a xenophobe. And I’m certainly not a genocide [supporter],” he said.

The vote is unlikely to change how Macey operates on council.

“I have a lot of good friends in the Mon Valley — all races, colors, creeds, religions. And you know what? As long as we look towards the goalpost, we're going to continue to prosper and things will get better,” he said.

In response to the vote, a spokesperson for Innamorato said, “We respect Council’s decision and will consider submitting a different candidate for appointment to the SPC.”

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