Executive Decision: These issues, questions and people may define Allegheny County’s next big election

(Illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Voters haven’t chosen a new Allegheny County executive since 2011. Next year’s wide-open contest could shine a light on these four formidable issues.

by Charlie Wolfson, PublicSource

The air you breathe. The way the government treats incarcerated people. How taxes are assessed. The very borders and links that bind – and divide – the county. 

The next Allegheny County executive will have an array of weighty issues on their plate when they take office just over one year from now. Next year, voters will choose a new course for county government for the first time in 12 years; County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is term-limited, clearing the way for the first wide-open contest for the office since 2011.

Mayors, governors and presidents have come and gone since Fitzgerald was elected that year. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have fundamentally changed since then, as has the region’s political environment. The campaign to choose his successor likely won’t resemble any past contest for county executive.

Issues that weren’t part of the region’s political lexicon in 2011 are now central to many conversations about governance.

“I didn’t think as much about equity early on,” Fitzgerald said of the beginning of his tenure, “which I do now over the last five or six years.”

The region’s political climate has changed drastically since 2011, with a progressive shift emanating from Pittsburgh moving numerous elected offices to the left. A movement for racial and economic justice built during the Trump years and picked up even more speed during the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations. 

Fitzgerald said he thinks “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?”

Unlike municipal governments that are responsible for local staples like paving, waste management, fire and police, county government focuses on forces that cross the region with no regard for municipal borders: Air quality, public health, criminal justice and human services are under the county’s purview. Its annual operating budget is more than $1 billion, and that figure doesn’t include all of the state and federal dollars that flow through its agencies. 

PublicSource asked readers, advocates and potential candidates what issues they think will define the campaign in 2023.

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