Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

The primary election on May 16 presents voters with a crucial decision on who will become the party nominees for the most influential political role in Allegheny County, the county executive.

To assist voters in determining which candidate is the right fit for the role, NEXTpittsburgh and PublicSource will host a town hall debate on Tuesday, April 18, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with the candidates running for Allegheny County executive. The in-person event on Point Park University’s campus is sold out but you can register to watch via livestream.

Rich Fitzgerald, who has served as county executive since 2011, is no longer eligible for reelection, opening the door to seven candidates seeking to replace him.

John Rhoades, publisher of NEXTpittsburgh, says the Allegheny County executive is arguably the most powerful elected official in the region.

“NEXTpittsburgh hopes this event is one of many that we will co-host with PublicSource to increase the level of dialogue and engagement in local politics and the democratic process in general,” says Rhoades. “We are grateful to Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation for all their work helping to produce this event.”

The debate will feature former Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Theresa Colaizzi, state Rep. Sara Innamorato, attorney and former County Councilor Dave Fawcett, City Controller Michael Lamb; businessman and former congressional candidate William Parker, County Treasurer John Weinstein, and former PNC executive Joe Rockey, the only Republican candidate running.

Dave Fawcett
Michael Lamb
John Weinstein
Sara Innamorato
William Parker
Joe Rockey

All photos are courtesy of the candidates’ websites.

The debate moderators — Charlie Wolfson of PublicSource, Tony Norman of NEXTpittsburgh and independent journalist Natalie Bencivenga — will cover the candidates’ records and experience as well as topics like the county’s population, property taxes and other top resident concerns. The moderators invite the public to submit questions via Google Forms by 5 p.m. Friday, April 14.

“Voters are going to be looking at the infrastructure and how the county executive is going to be using the funds that are available from the federal government to really make Pittsburgh a safer environment,” says Jerry Dickinson, vice dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. 

“Secondly, I think environmental justice is going to be very important. We have some of the worst air pollution in all of the United States. I think the people in the City of Pittsburgh and outside of the city are going to be focused on what extent a candidate prioritizes clean air and clean water for their children.”

Fitzgerald told PublicSource that “equity will be a big part” of the campaign to replace him. “How do we bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots?” Conditions in the Allegheny County Jail, the lack of a juvenile detention facility and property tax assessments have also emerged as issues.

If you miss the live event, a recording will be posted at both NEXTpittsburgh and PublicSource.

“The executive oversees a constellation of systems that touches on all of our lives and particularly those of our most marginalized populations,” says Halle Stockton, editor-in-chief at PublicSource. “The executive is the top boss to more than 6,000 people in the county and has a say in the actions of dozens of boards that wield power, either as a sitting member or by appointing members. The results of this race will impact you and your neighbors in some way.”

Jason Phox is a journalist in the Pittsburgh area sharing important information with the people of the Steel City. He enjoys writing, photography, and mostly comic books.