Several candidates to be the next Allegheny County executive raised six-figure sums last year, according to campaign finance filings submitted this week, signaling a competitive race for one of the most powerful political offices in southwestern Pennsylvania.
John Weinstein, the longtime county treasurer, raised nearly $416,000 during 2022 — by far the most of any candidate. Two large unions, Steamfitters Local 449 and the Laborers’ District Council of Western Pennsylvania, and Pitt Ohio President Charles Hammel collectively contributed $272,000 during 2022 to Weinstein, accounting for two-thirds of his fundraising haul.
The unions could be two of many likely to side with Weinstein, a Democrat. During remarks at his campaign kickoff event in January, Weinstein reeled off a list of labor leaders who were present and said he “wouldn’t be even starting this journey without my friends in organized labor.
“There’s so many of them here tonight, and they are 1,000% in my corner and helpful to me, and I can’t thank them enough,” said Weinstein, who began the year with about $481,000 in his campaign account. “… There are so many guys that are involved in this election this year, I can’t even begin to say ‘thank you.’”
Contributions, or lack thereof to some candidates, show that dividing lines might be emerging in the crowded field of candidates seeking to win the Democratic primary. Given the area’s Democratic tilt — the party’s candidates often win the county by 20 points or more in general elections — whoever wins the Democratic primary on May 16 will likely take office next year.
The stakes are high in this year’s primary, given that the executive can play a major role in setting the county government’s agenda on issues such as air quality, property taxes and the county jail; proposes the county’s $1 billion budget; and fills seats on boards and commissions. The current county executive is Rich Fitzgerald, a term-limited Democrat who will complete his third and final term at the end of this year.
Mike Mikus — a longtime Democratic consultant who has counted Fitzgerald as among his clients — told the Union Progress that raising money early can allow a candidate to develop a budget and campaign plan farther ahead, potentially giving them a “strategic advantage.”
“If you can raise money early,” he said, “it means that you will likely be a well-funded candidate throughout and be able to do all the necessary things a campaign does, which is advertise on television, which is incredibly expensive; direct mail; digital ads; building a robust ground operation. All of that takes a lot of money.”
Mikus added that the “most difficult” thing for ideologically driven organizations, such as unions or environmental groups, can be when there’s a primary and “you have multiple friends in the race.” The dynamic could lead to some organizations picking sides, while others may stay neutral.
“Because the county executive race is so important for the future of the county, I think this will be one of the few primaries where you see very few prominent people and organizations stay on the sidelines,” he said.
Pittsburgh-area unions are regular financial backers of Democratic candidates and have contributed to past campaigns of some of the other five Democrats running alongside Weinstein for the county’s top job, especially those of Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb, as well as state Rep. Sara Innamorato to a more limited extent. The other contenders in the race include County Councilor Liv Bennett; Dave Fawcett, an attorney and former county councilor; and Erin McClelland, a contracted project manager at the county Human Services Department.
Many of the unions that have donated to some of Lamb’s previous campaigns — including International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5, Plumbers Local Union 27 and the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters — did not make significant, or any, contributions in the race during 2022
Lamb, who started the year with $168,000 on hand, told the Union Progress he has regular conversations with union members, and many are supportive of his campaign.
“We continue to have that support and continue to grow it,” he said.
Lamb added that he is focused on attending local Democratic committee meetings and building a large coalition of voters behind him.
“That’s why we spent so much time out in the community talking to voters already,” he said. “This job requires a broad perspective and a broad base of support, and that’s what we’re building.”
Innamorato typically funds her campaigns through small-dollar donations and has only received money from a few political committees since winning her first election to the state House five years ago.
She received a key endorsement from SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union for health care workers, which was a major backer of Ed Gainey’s successful unseating of then-Mayor Bill Peduto during the 2021 Pittsburgh mayoral primary. The union donated $15,000 in late December to her campaign for county executive.
Innamorato started the year with about $101,000 on hand, largely driven by smaller donations. She told the Union Progress that her campaign is focused on crafting an inclusive policy platform and finding people who want to buy into that approach.
“We don’t start with, ‘Who’s going to write me the biggest check?’ and then how do I cater my platform to that lump sum of money that comes to me,” she said. “But rather, we have a more organic and natural approach, which is, ‘Hey, we’re selling this vision. Are you here? Do you want in?’”
Silas Russell, the political director for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, told the Union Progress that Innamorato has been on the front lines of fighting to make Allegheny County a place that “works for regular working people.”
“It’s the kind of leadership that we, as a union and as health care workers, feel that this region needs at the county level,” he said. “Somebody who’s going to bring folks together, somebody who has shared experience with working-class families in our county and somebody who is going to be able to work with everybody to deliver and make sure Allegheny County is a great place to live and thrive.”
Russell added that he feels Innamorato is a candidate who can compete for a “broad base of support,” and to “stay tuned” for more organizations potentially lining up behind her campaign.
“Sara is somebody who has a great amount of respect both from rank-and-file union members and leaders that I talk to every single day,” he said. “She’s the candidate in this race who has the clearest vision for making sure that Allegheny County is able to deliver for working families.”
Fawcett, once a member of County Council, reported having roughly $300,000 on hand at the start of the year. Half of that is from a $150,000 loan he made to his campaign, while the remaining money is largely raised from fellow lawyers at Reed Smith and other Pittsburgh-area firms.
“I have demonstrated my commitment to taking on and overcoming big challenges that ultimately led to better lives for others,” Fawcett said in a news release. “It’s rewarding and humbling to see that so many are supporting me in this endeavor.”
Other candidates reported smaller figures for 2022, including McClelland, who raised about $9,000 from small-dollar donations. A report for Bennett was not immediately available.
Jon, a copy editor and reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and working as a co-editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.