Surprising precisely no one, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced his bid for a third term in the South Side Monday night.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and in the city of bridges, we’ve got to build more bridges,” Fitzgerald told a capacity crowd gathered at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 hall.
His 10-minute speech was succinct – he joked that he knew attendees wanted to catch the college football championship – but mixed lofty ambitions with pragmatic accomplishments.
“The biggest thing we’ve brought is hope,” Fitzgerald said. “But along with hope, we’ve improved the county’s finances.”
The event was attended by a power list of Democratic officials starting with Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf.
“Allegheny County is a world-class story of transformation, and that’s due in no small part to the leadership of Rich Fitzgerald," Wolf told the audience.
Fitzgerald was first elected in 2011, and this would be his final term in office; the county Home Rule Charter limits county executives to three terms.
In an interview prior to his speech, Fitzgerald touted a number of accomplishments in his first two terms, including improvements in the county’s bond rating and financial health without relying on property tax increases. (The last such increase was in 2011, when Fitzgerald was running for the office, though he had supported the measure as the head of Allegheny County Council.)
He also touted his success at hiring minorities and women to county jobs.
“You are seeing leadership at the top agencies in this county that are being led by women and African Americans,” Fitzgerald said.
One-quarter of the county’s 3,500 hires during his administration have been African American, he said -- the county’s population is roughly 13 percent black. More than three-fifths of the hires have been women, and they include top officials like the head of the Port Authority and Airport Authority, as well as Fitzgerald’s own chief of staff, Jennifer Liptak.
He added that his greatest accomplishment was providing “optimism and hope for people in this region.” While the region once had a reputation of being a place young people had to leave, he said, “People have hope that when their kids graduate, they can find opportunities here in a lot of things."
Still, he allowed that not everyone had benefited from the area’s resurgence, and said a goal for his next term was to “really help some of these communities – particularly in the eastern suburbs and the Mon Valley — where they’ve really had a lot of population loss and don’t necessarily have the tax base to provide some of the services they need.”
By way of example, he alluded to East Pittsburgh, where a part-time police officer stands accused of homicide for shooting teenager Antwon Rose last summer.
How would he address those needs?
“I don’t know that we have an answer right now,” he said. “That’s going to take partnership at the state, local and federal level. And I think one thing our administration has been really successful at is forming partnerships.”
Fitzgerald also said he would continue to pursue infrastructure projects like Bus Rapid Transit – an express transit system slated to join downtown Pittsburgh with Oakland.
Fitzgerald finished 2017 with $1.7 million in his campaign account. A report on his 2018 finances is due at the end of the month. That’s more than twice the amount he spent in his last re-election bid, a 2015 race in which he ran unopposed. He trounced his Republican opponent, current GOP county chair D. Raja, in 2011 by nearly two-to-one margins.
So far, his path in 2019 looks to be similarly straightforward. In a county that is a Democratic bastion, Fitzgerald has married progressive social views with a union-friendly outlook, while also taking a friendly approach to natural gas and other industries. And while there have been rumors that a progressive challenger would emerge, no candidate has stepped forward from either party to run against Fitzgerald this year.
His status as a political juggernaut – and as one of the most prominent Democrats in western Pennsylvania — was reflected in the people who appeared on the stage and in the audience. In addition to Casey and Wolf, the event included Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Representatives Mike Doyle and Conor Lamb, as well as a host of state and local representatives like District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.