County Executive candidates spar in debate

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Perhaps the most unintentionally amusing of the League of Women Voters/ Black Political Empowerment Project Candidates forum came when both Democrat Rich Fitzgerald and Republican D. Raja called each other liars in response to a question on integrity.

The forum, held Sept. 15 and broadcast live on PCNC TV, covered lots of familiar ground, and while both men staked their claims on property taxes, funding the Port Authority and the poured drink tax, unemployment and the economy dominated the questions submitted by the audience to moderator Vince Simms.

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D. RAJA AND RICH FITZGERALD

Raja, who like Fitzgerald is a self-made entre­preneurial millionaire, told the audience of about 50 at the CAPA High School auditorium that

the county should work to keep the talent and spin-off companies being generated by the universities here so they can grow and hire more employees. He also said there needs to be more training for Marcellus Shale-related jobs, which the Community College of Allegheny County can provide.

Fitzgerald agreed, saying CCAC is doing that, but that there are ancillary jobs, trucking, for instance that people need to consider with the shale boom. And while both men agreed the county should be leasing county land at the airport for shale gas mining, providing, of course, it is done as safely as possible, Fitzgerald said other county land should be leased also to benefit the county’s general fund because the Federal Aviation Authority will not allow money from airport Marcellus Shale development to be spent on anything but the airport.

When asked about increasing opportunities for people of color in the county, Raja made his standard stump joke about increasing diversity by just being in the race, but then continued to push education and jobs as key.

“We’re generating all this talent and these spin-offs but they don’t stay. They take their ideas and jobs and go to Atlanta. We have to make the business environment more friendly,” he said.

Fitzgerald noted that every Black political representative in the county endorses him. When asked about the Pittsburgh region being “the Whitest” in the country, he blamed the collapse of the steel industry.

“Blacks, Hispanics and Asians never came here in the numbers they would have, but I helped push through a county Human Relations Commission and anti-discrimination legislation,” he said. “And my administration will look like the county.”

When asked what they would do to counter gang violence, Raja again pointed to education and employment.

“We have to reach these children and show them they can succeed doing these things,” he said.

Fitzgerald agreed but added that there must be a strong law-enforcement response to the drug traffic driving the violence.

But regardless of the particular question, both candidates were quick to chastise each other—Raja continuing his theme of a county government that has to get rid of patronage and increase efficiencies, and Fitzgerald saying he has already done that with Row Office reform, and that is one of the reasons the region is faring fare better than others around the country during the recession.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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