by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
Elliot Howsie. Austin Davis. Pam Iovino. Karen Hacker.
They, according to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, are just four of the many examples of minorities and women who accomplished outstanding feats while employed with the county, and who have gone on to “bigger and better things.”
Fitzgerald, for the ninth consecutive year, kicked off the local African American Chamber of Commerce’s annual PowerBreakfast event for January as the keynote speaker. This year’s event was held Jan. 17 at the Rivers Club, Downtown.
He touted his record in hiring African Americans at double the rate of the county’s Black population, saying that his administration has “opened it up to people who, maybe a decade or so ago, weren’t getting the same opportunities.”
Allegheny County is 13 percent Black, while Fitzgerald said that 25 percent of the county’s hires since he’s been in office have been Black.
Howsie was the first African American public defender in Allegheny County, appointed by Fitzgerald. Today, Howsie is a judge in the county’s Court of Common Pleas. Davis, Fitzgerald recalled, worked on his campaign to become County Executive a decade ago. Today, you can refer to Davis as state Rep. Austin Davis, the first African American elected to the state House in a suburban area in Allegheny County. Iovino was the first woman to lead the Veterans Department in Allegheny County, appointed by Fitzgerald. Today, she’s a state senator for the 37th District in the South Hills. And Hacker led the Allegheny County Health Department under Fitzgerald. Today, she’s leading the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
For Fitzgerald, he is in his final term as County Executive, per allowed by law. He’s been in office since 2011. He said he’ll continue to give African Americans, minorities and women ample opportunities within the county, from the entry-level positions to the top positions. He told the audience that “over 16 percent of the deputy directors in Allegheny County are African American.”
What else does Fitzgerald want to focus on during this, his final term? Education, transportation, and a new initiative that Howsie began before becoming a Common Pleas Judge—“Project Reset.”
Fitzgerald isn’t too pleased of the way school systems are funded in Pennsylvania—via property taxes. Some school districts in Allegheny County have home property values that are around $450,000. “That’s a pretty significant tax base,” he said.
On the flip side, some school districts have home property values that are $10-15,000. Oftentimes, African American students are wholly concentrated within school districts with much lower home property values.
“How can we have that disparity and how can we provide opportunities when we have those types of disparities that occur within this region?” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also wants more children to be better prepared in the pre-school years. Oftentimes, it’s African American children who are not as prepared for kindergarten as their White counterparts. When all children start kindergarten on the same level, Fitzgerald said, it will “reduce our dropout rates, improve graduation rates and improve test scores.”
In the transportation sector, Fitzgerald wants to make sure that public transit is connecting people to locations where jobs are being created, such as near the Pittsburgh International Airport and the Strip District.
And “Project Reset” is a county initiative that gives those eligible residents who have nonviolent or low-level offenses on their criminal record the opportunity to have them expunged. Fitzgerald said due to the “bureaucratic process and mess” it takes to have something on one’s record expunged, many people don’t even try to get it done. So far, 115 people in the county have had their records expunged, according to Fitzgerald, and another 100 motions are currently being filed.
“To see this region move forward in a good way, in a way we haven’t seen before, it’s encouraging,” Fitzgerald said.
The next PowerBreakfast event will be held, Feb. 14, at 7:30 a.m. at the Rivers Club. Pennsylvania state representatives Davis, Ed. Gainey, Summer Lee and Jake Wheatley will discuss their efforts to help small and minority businesses in Western Pennsylvania.
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: ALLEGHENY COUNTY EXECUTIVE Rich Fitzgerald addresses Chamber members at the January 2020 PowerBreakfast.)