The resounding wins by Rich Fitzgerald and D. Raja in their respective primary races for Allegheny County executive sets up a November battle between two self-made millionaires.
Fitzgerald, whose polling indicated he trailed County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty leading up to the primary, cruised to victory with 64,343 votes to Flaherty’s 50,265.
Raja bested former County Councilman Chuck McCullogh 31,832 to 12,448. Though the turnout was especially light at 23 percent for democrats and 20 percent for republicans, the raw vote totals and the county’s 3-1 ratio of registered democrats to republicans would seem to give Fitzgerald a solid advantage.
But he isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I’m not taking anything for granted. The very next morning I was up reaching out to Mark’s supporters, and if you look at his website, he’s urged them all to support me,” Fitzgerald said. “They are coming on board and we’re unifying as a party, so that’s a good thing.”
Fitzgerald also has an advantage in terms of African-American support in that he was endorsed by almost every Black elected official at the local, county and state level. Of course, all are Democrats, but Fitzgerald puts the support down to his accessibility and support for economic development in largely Black communities.
“We have the expansion of the Clairton Coke Works, Marcellus Shale—PNC is building a new skyscraper downtown. That means 2,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs,” he said.
“But people in every community need to have these opportunities. Our corporate partners get that and my sense is the trade unions get it now too. As for me I’ll make sure county government looks like the county, from directors to boards and authorities to employees.”
City Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said Fitzgerald has a solid record of engaging the Black community.
“We’ve had a number of conversations, and he’s committed to employing an equal amount of Blacks and Whites in his office,” he said. “On economic development, he’s helped us out with housing funding in Manchester, and that was prior to his run. I fully expect him to continue that relationship moving forward.”
State Rep. Joseph Preston said he knew he would support Fitzgerald in October and said so.
“He’s always been accessible. He doesn’t need an escort to come to the black community. Disagreements aren’t personal. He’s flexible and will listen to opposing views,” said Preston. “He doesn’t really have a ‘plan’ for the Black community and I think that’s a good thing because it gives us a chance to sit down and say what we feel.”
County Councilman Bill Robinson said he would like to see police/community issues addressed, a commitment to strengthening the Community College of Allegheny County and a more cooperative and early approach to budgeting.
“There wasn’t much emphasis on Black community in his campaign. I haven’t seen anything on what he might do to improve conditions in the Africa-American community,” Robinson said. “He does have to pay attention because Mr. Raja presents an opportunity for people who want to, to vote for a candidate of color.”
Though he jokes about helping minorities simply by running, Raja isn’t banking on that. He too is back in full campaign mode—after a weekend chasing his children around and catching up on family events.
He cannot do anything about the elected Black officials supporting his opponent. He said he will have to engage Black voters directly.
“My main thing is I have to get out to the voters. I was banging on doors in Clairton before the primary and I’ll do it again,” he said. “I’m setting up a series of town hall meetings including in the Hill District and other Black communities throughout the county.”
Raja said one core focus is education.
“My vision of translating jobs into prosperity is education and innovation,” he said. “CCAC is perfectly positioned for tech, Marcellus and manufacturing. We need the educational component to retrain people to get them back in the job market.”