The epitome of the garrulous, boisterous Irishman, Rich Fitzgerald is the antithesis of his laid-back opponent in the Democratic primary race for Allegheny County executive, and he lets you know that immediately.
“The difference in this race is between a guy who works hard—me—and one who doesn’t,” the Allegheny County Council president told the New Pittsburgh Courier Editorial Board. “All (Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty) is, is a sticker on a gas pump.”
Before running for elected office, Fitzgerald made millions forming his own mechanical engineering firm and capitalizing on a need from improved steam control systems. He said he ran for Allegheny County Council because he was frustrated with young people leaving the area to find employment.
“I wanted to bring business principles to government,” he said. “We need to create jobs and bring in companies by fulfilling customer needs—not necessarily tax breaks, but maybe providing a rail spur, infrastructure, training.”
Fitzgerald said he has already helped do that to some extent. One example he noted was streamlining county health department approvals that allowed U.S. Steel to renovate a pipe plant in McKeesport and the Clairton Coke Works. If elected, he said he would continue policies put in place by current County Executive Dan Onorato.
“We haven’t raised (property) taxes in 10 years, and I will continue to fight the judges’ order,” he said. “Some counties around us, that use the same system, haven’t reassessed in 40 years. We’re not doing it until everyone else does it state-wide.”
Also like his predecessor, Fitzgerald said he has taken a hit in political support over his backing the poured-drink tax/rental car tax that was implemented to fund public transit.
“We have to give them $28 million to get the state match. It’s either that or raise property taxes .6 mils,” he said. “But my opponent, who now says it’s wrong—when we lowered it from 10 percent, he said don’t do it. Take a stand. If it’s bad now, why wasn’t it bad then?”
Another issue where the two Democrats differ is on how the county should profit from Marcellus Shale development. Fitzgerald wants a standard lease arrangement with drilling firms. Here Fitzgerald pulls out all the stops calling Flaherty’s idea to partner with drillers a risky “Republican scheme.”
“He wants us to go into the gas business? I think that’s incredibly risky,” Fitzgerald said. “There are some things government should not do. And having the largest font on the gas pump isn’t a reason to vote for someone.
“People should vote for me because in 10 years, we haven’t raised property taxes. We’ve made the tough choices,” he said. “I’m a hard working Pittsburgh guy and I think we can make government helpful and not a hindrance.”
Fitzgerald grew up in Bloomfield and attended catholic schools before then earned his bachelors degree at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked as a water treatment engineer in Illinois before returning to Pittsburgh and starting his own company.
He was elected to the county and state Democratic committees in 1998 and as the county council district 11 representative the following year. He has served as council president for the last four years. He, his wife, and some of his eight children live in Squirrel Hill.
(Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)