County hopefuls make case at Chamber Forum

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The African American Chamber of Commerce Candidate’s Forum for Allegheny County office hopefuls yielded some fireworks, most from the Democratic county executive candidates firing at each other rather than Republicans.

The May 9 forum at the Rivers Club featured former county council President Rich Fitzgerald and county Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty on the Democratic side, and former County Councilman Chuck McCullough and businessman D. Raja on the Republican side seeking their respective party nominations for county executive.

ExecutiveSession
EXECUTIVE SESSION—Looking to replace Dan Onorato as Allegheny County executive, from left, Democratic candidates Rich Fitzgerald and Mark Patrick Flaherty, and Republicans Chuck McCullough and D. Raja.

Three candidates forcounty controller; current county Real Estate Director Valerie McDonald Roberts and Rivers Casino executive George Matta on the Democratic side, and Republican Bob Howard, a retired businessman, made their pitches for the job.

After introducing the candidates, Chamber President and CEO Doris Carson Williams welcomed the moderator, New Pittsburgh Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss.

When asked about the level of Black business participation with the county, all four executive candidates said they were displeased with it and all vowed to improve it.

Raja having succeeded as a minority entrepreneur, said he knows what it takes.

Fitzgerald touted his work creating the Human Relations Commission, but said more outreach is needed.

“Diversity is something I fought for before I was in government,” he said. “It’s something you have to work at every day.”

McCullough said he’d battle the good old-boy network that’s kept things the same for 80 years, as he did when he sued UPMC for the residents of Braddock.

“As county solicitor I revived the MBE advisory board, but council never used it,” he said. “I’m committed to representing all people as county executive.”

Flaherty said the county needs to keep better track of contracts to make sure minority firms are bidding.

“I’ve increased the minority contracts issued by the controller’s office,” he said. “But no, I’m not satisfied with the level of participation.”

All agree the county could provide opportunities through Marcellus Shale development. But the manner of doing so prompted Fitzgerald to say Flaherty would borrow $2.4 billion for a “Republican Scheme” to partner with drilling companies. Fitzgerald favors a standard lease arrangement.

“He shares a post office box and treasurer with Tom Corbett,” said Fitzgerald.

Flaherty said his contractual plan would not borrow money but would yield greater returns, billions of dollars more, over time.

McCullough said state law prohibits both Democrat’s plans.

“The county has no power to regulate or impose fees,” he said. “It can’t be a partner either.”

As for fixing the $60 million deficit, none of the candidates were specific. McCullough, though, said government is too bloated.

“If we privatize the airport, that’s billions in property back on the tax rolls,” he said. “And the Port Authority—I’d fire the senior management and the board.”

The candidates for county controller all have experience in managerial, government and fiscal positions, but Roberts said her experience is more germane.

“As real estate supervisor, my office handles $500 million in revenue every year, and I’ve balanced that to the penny for nine years,” she said.

Howard said the government can’t be responsible for minority business success.

“It should reduce the barriers in place to help all businesses succeed, but to do otherwise would make minority firms subservient to the politicians—who will then always have their hands out,” he said.

Matta said the best way for the controller to highlight inequities is through performance audits.

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