Voters across Allegheny County headed to the polls Tuesday morning, with many key races on the ballot.
Democrats and Republicans will select their party nominee for county executive, district attorney, treasurer and a variety of municipal offices.
Here’s what they said at their polling places:
Bob Smith stood outside the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Co. all day Tuesday. A retiring president of the O’Hara Township Council, he was handing out flyers for Shamus Petrucelli, a Republican running to take his place.
The local races, naturally, mattered the most to Smith. But having talked to voters throughout the day, he offered thoughts on the county executive race.
“I think [John] Weinstein’s gonna win,” he said. “I think he’s got the experience and the backing. Sara [Innamorato] just doesn’t have the experience, in my opinion.”
Smith hopes for more quality candidates to emerge in local races, such as the township council. “The biggest thing for me in my 24 years [in council] is that somebody wants to run.”
John Arch, a Democrat who works as a lawyer, hopes that incumbent Steve Zappala beats Matt Dugan in the district attorney primary.
“I’ve known Steve Zappala for many years,” Arch said. He was, however, “disappointed” in some of Zappala’s campaign advertisements, particularly the “bad mouth” of conservatives and anti-abortion people.
Arch took issue with Dugan’s progressive leanings and the donations Dugan’s campaign received from liberal mega-donor George Soros.
“His opponent is funded by George Soros, and I like that much less. The far-left wing is screwing up the country.”
Asked if campaign ads were too negative, he laughed and went the other way. “I think they could go a lot further if they wanted to.”
Pat Mullin, Ross Township commissioner since 2015, called the turnout, “Slowest I have seen it since I have been coming up here.
“County executive is obviously the biggest race, but the race for judge and commissioner are also big,” said the veteran politician.
The workers inside the Keating Firehall called the “turnout spotty but at times steady.”
At the Amazing Scholar Academy Preschool polling site, Sandra Cleric said, “I’ve been coming out for every election since [Donald] Trump was elected. That can’t happen again.”
The Democrat also said that she has worked as a volunteer for the past two elections and believed that the county executive race was also big this year.
Four other people standing a bit farther from the exit described themselves as solid Republicans. “It is our civic duty, and if you don’t vote, you can’t bitch,” said one who did not want to be named. Each said that they came to vote because it was what they do and that there was no particular issue that brought them out.
Regina Hunt, 37, said safety was her biggest concern on election day and drove her to vote for Dave Fawcett in the county executive race.
“I work in Downtown Pittsburgh, so I see a lot of things every single day that are a cause for concern for me,” she said. “My kids and I, we feel unsafe.”
She also liked Fawcett’s emphasis on helping the incarcerated, something that his political ads have capitalized on.
Hunt lives at Allegheny Commons, a low-income housing development. She found Fawcett’s support of more affordable housing to be compelling, as well.
Fawcett’s switch from Republican to Democrat in 2008 also didn’t deter Hunt, who felt it showed a willingness to stick to his values. She also felt that Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, one of the city’s most progressive officials, had soured her on the idea of voting for Sara Innamorato, one of the race’s front-runners.
“I voted for Ed Gainey, and I still feel we haven’t had any progress,” she said.
“What’s going on with the executive?” Lori Cherup, M.D., asked the volunteer outside Upper St. Clair’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, referring to the big county executive race in which she had just voted. She was surprised to hear that Sara Innamorato appeared to have the late morning lead and said she voted for Dave Fawcett. “I think he has a strong legal background and he has enough business experience.” She wants the executive to help turn around a Downtown that has declined along with its tax base.
She cited experience — the candidate’s and her own with the legal system — for how she voted in the district attorney race, as well: “I believe Steve Zappala knows what he’s doing,” and that his staff does, too. “I don’t think [Matt] Dugan starting over again is going to help the situation.”
She was starting over herself, having switched allegiance from Trump and the Republicans to the Democratic party so she could vote in this primary.
Self-described “New York liberal” Susan Schmidt offered that “I looked at her” — Innamorato — “but I wasn’t that impressed with her record.” She voted for Weinstein.
Pallavi Patil voted for Innamorato because of her progressive stance on issues such as the environment. “I like that she had the support of the Mayor [Ed Gainey] because I like what he’s doing” in Pittsburgh, she said, noting, “I would say we’re probably more aligned with the city even though we live out here.”
Several voters said the most important race to them was for Upper St. Clair School Board. That was particularly so for Democratic school board candidate R. Matt Wynne, who said he voted for Weinstein and other Allegheny County Democratic Committee-endorsed candidates.
“I think adding a level of social responsibility back to what we do as a community is important,” he said. “I sort of vote in line with taking care of my neighbors and not so much my wallet. I have the privilege to vote that way.”
His neighbor Jay Lynch already voted by mail, but came to the church anyway to congratulate the poll workers with the gift of cookies and because, “I feel guilty for not being a poll worker.”
Over at Bethel Park’s Bethel Presbyterian Church, which smartly scheduled its bake sale for Election Day, Democratic volunteers shared bottles of water with a Republican one.
Joe Nescot said it was in part to “get more women involved in the leadership” that he voted for Innamorato.
“I think she has a more modern approach. I’d really like to modernize the energy of the county,” he said.
In-person turnout at Morrow 5-8 in Brighton Heights was slow through the first half of the day, with about 40 Democratic voters showing up in each ward by noon.
But that wasn’t necessarily a reflection of the interest in the election, said Democratic state Rep. Emily Kinkead, who sported a T-shirt supporting District 1 City Councilor Bobby Wilson.
“One of the wards was well over 100 mail-in ballots,” Kinkead said. “This doesn’t feel like an off-year election at all.”
Kevin Quigley, a Brighton Heights Democratic committeeman who wore a shirt backing Allegheny County executive candidate John Weinstein, said that race in particular increased interest this spring.
“There are a ton of issues, like homelessness or drug addiction, that the county is in a position to do something about,” said Quigley, a former chair of the Pittsburgh Democratic Committee. “So folks are really paying attention to the executive race and the at-large [Allegheny County Council] race.”
“That’s maybe the one thing that Trump should get credit for: increasing interest in down-ballot positions,” Kinkead said. “I can’t recall a time when the countywide races attracted this much attention.”
Sandra Gould voted for several Democratic candidates on Tuesday. For county executive, Innamorato got the Moon resident’s vote, as Gould described Michael Lamb “not as honest as he should be.” For the at-large Democratic seat on County Council, Joanna Doven won Gould’s vote over Bethany Hallam.
Gould cited crime as one of her top concerns while casting her primary ballot, along with allocating more funding to schools in the fight against banned books. Gould said it is too easy to get guns and Zappala is “too set in his ways” and “doesn’t make any changes.”
“These local elections matter,” Gould said as the sun shone down around the Robin Hill Park Carriage House in Moon.
Democrat Patricia Long also had great concerns about gun regulations. Following the Moon Township Democratic Committee’s suggestions, she voted for Weinstein for county executive and Dugan for district attorney.
Long, 76, said she liked what she had seen of Dugan on television. She noted that all candidates “fling mud” at one another, but she hasn’t seen too much “mud slinging” at Dugan.
“Zappala has been caught doing things that aren’t really legal,” Long claimed. “That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
She also voted for Hallam for the at-large County Council seat.
“We need young people who have the knowledge and skills to make competent decisions,” Long explained.
Staying close to the political center is what Long said she has been looking for in candidates and elections recently.
“American people are starting to fight each other too much,” she said. “I want a candidate who will do what’s right in terms of the rules and regulations of guns and pharmaceuticals and mental health awareness.”
Mixed with the 5-year-olds and their parents walking into Bon Meade Elementary School for kindergarten orientation were voters concerned about democracy and equity.
Deb Martz, 58, of Moon, said this is the first time she is voting, not for candidates, but against them.
“They’ve gone off the deep end,” she said of the two parties. “Both sides suck. No one is gonna line up with your exact views.”
She cast a Republican ballot with Joe Rockey as her county executive choice because he isn’t so “hardlined” in what she described as a “your way is wrong and mine is right” attitude.
“He’s open to talk and listen,” Martz said. “This is America. We still need to talk and listen to each other. [Rockey] seems very open to both sides. We need someone innovative and who won’t stick to the status quo.”
As a mother of three, Martz is largely concerned with what schools are teaching kids and how parents’ rights are impacted. She said she wants her children to learn the truth, not someone’s opinion. She also doesn’t want her kids to be part of any political agenda.
“I don’t want it to be a quota,” she said. “I’m for DEI initiatives, but they’ve gone too far. I don’t want someone to pick my daughter because she’s a girl. I want someone to pick her because she’s awesome.”
Dan M., 46, of Moon, cast his Democratic votes after attending kindergarten roundup with his son. He refrained from giving his full last name and sharing his selected candidates but said he is worried about where the county is headed without stricter gun regulations.
“Democracy is at stake,” he said of the election. “If we lose democracy, everything falls apart.”
Jim Hage, 47 of Moon, said he voted a Republican ballot. His distaste for Democrats comes from their decision to open up the county’s borders as he said immigrants are impacting the population, jobs and taxes.
Although off-year elections have lower voter turn-outs, Hage said he voted because it’s his civic duty.
Two election districts are housed in the West Penn Recreation Center, perched on an especially steep part of 30th Street. Voters, including Diane Tromans-Berg, shuffled in and out during the day.
Tromans-Berg declined to say who she voted for but said she picked “people who I have met somewhere along their campaigns, so I feel a personal connection.” In what was her first vote in a local election, she said her top issues were LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, equal pay and environmental justice.
Dan Berg, her partner, also didn’t share his selected candidates but said he was “trying to find people who are relatively progressive.” He noted that he’d met Innamorato and Deb Gross, a city councilor running for reelection, during campaign season.
“They seem like decent people,” he said. “And then we took a lotta advice from the Democratic party references.”
Scott Patrick, a Democrat, said he largely voted in line with the endorsements of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. Those picks include Weinstein for county executive, Zappala for district attorney and Hallam for at-large County Council.
“I suppose to support the Democratic Party and liberalism locally,” he said.
Dugan’s campaign for district attorney found support at the polling place at Shaare Torah Congregation in Squirrel Hill.
For Pati Blaney, of Squirrel Hill, Dugan would be a welcome change from Zappala’s long tenure. She said she blames Zappala for heading a criminal justice system that mistreats young people of color in the county.
“They’re criminalizing the youth,” Blaney said. “They’re programming them from being young teens that somebody is against them, somebody is going to get them.”
Fred Just, 82, of Squirrel Hill, also voted for Dugan, saying the candidate came off as straightforward and intelligent.
Blaney and Just chose Lamb in the county executive race, citing the government experience of the longtime city controller. Both voters, however, gave credit to Innamorato’s campaign.
“I think there were good candidates, but I think Lamb’s experience in government [will help],” Just said.
Kristen Atcheson, 24, of Squirrel Hill, said she voted for Innamorato because of her advocacy for environmental justice.
“I think something that’s really important, especially in Pittsburgh, is environmental impact and air quality. I know there’s been a lot of recent events like the train derailment” in East Palestine, Ohio, that could affect the environment, Atcheson said.
Atcheson, though, joined Just and Blaney in voting for Dugan for district attorney. All three voters selected Hallam in the at-large County Council race.
The sound of softballs flying off bats echoed in the distance as WPIAL softball playoffs took place in front of the Montour Athletic Center. Robinson voters arrived at the local school to cast a ballot for township leaders.
Laura Rihn, 41, of Robinson, wrote in Frank Marko for commissioner. She said he’s been a “staple of the community forever,” and is a family man with a “heart of gold.” Rihn is hoping Marko can “do things a little better” in Robinson.
As the township grows in population, Rihn finds that new, younger families, like her own, are on the outskirts of the community. She yearns to get involved and see more volunteer opportunities.
“It’ll be nice to have a place to feel welcomed and wanted,” she said.
Dan Rodland, 52, of Robinson, is a self-proclaimed Republican. He is the only Republican of his immediate family and also the only one who voted Tuesday. Some of the issues he’s concerned with include Second Amendment rights and freedom of speech. He said he wants candidates who will follow the constitution “to a t.”
Rodland wrote in Herb Ohliger for county treasurer and Bob Howard for county controller because he liked their messages. He said he also voted Carla Swearingen-Batch for magistrate, as she married Rodland and his wife.
“I don’t care if they are Democrats or Republicans,” Rodland said. “We should try something new.”
Bernice Vertillo, 88, of Robinson, said she used to be a Democrat but voted Republican as she doesn’t like the policies of President Joe Biden.
“I’m happy we’re in a free country where everybody can vote,” she said. “I believe more young people should be voting. My 89th birthday is in three days, and I’m voting.”
Jerry Bugay, 73, called the Democratic party “the best party to be in.” Both he and his wife, Elvira, 69, are lifelong Robinson residents in addition to being lifelong Democrats. Jerry said he voted for candidates who seemed like the “everyday person” and candidates who valued the working middle class.
Jerry voted for Republican Mary Ellen Moore for school director because she seems like “just a normal person.” He said he could relate to county executive candidate Fawcett more, which is what won his vote.
Issues close to the Bugays include the banning of assault weapons, more background checks on gun owners, term limits and the right to choose.
Elvira said she’d like to see more change at the national level as “there’s nothing too much wrong with the township … it’s a nice township to live in.”
Not many voters came to the Clairton polling places at the Municipal Building and the school administration offices in midafternoon. But at both places, most of the talk focused on the city’s school board and council races.
Nick Nickolich, 57, said he had served on the school board for four years and the Sewage Authority for 8½, so the local contests were the most important to him. “It’s our community,” he said. “[I’m voting so] we don’t get left behind.”
His main priority is security. “I want to be sure we have a city where people feel safe,” Nickolich, whose family has owned and operated a towing business in Clairton for decades, said.
Russell Behary, 75, said as a Republican, his choices are very limited as his list this primary is short. He’s been working at the polls since 2001, and he makes sure he researches the candidates he decides to support.
“I go through the list and see what they’re doing for people,” the retired employee at the former Eastman plant said. He still works part time at Jefferson Regional Hospital as a shuttle driver.
“What they are doing to help the elderly, handicapped and challenged people. It’s not always on their platform. It’s important to me, so I look back at their history [before I vote].”
Campaign signs dotted nearly all the major and small intersections in McKeesport. The race for mayor has three candidates, and the school board and council races are contested. A few school board signs asked for support for a group while others extolled the virtues of a single candidate. In the mix, of course, many of the same county signs, almost all Democrats.
Zachary Delrio and his wife, Kayla, had a table set up at the McKeesport Area High School polling site but with a different tactic: He is a Libertarian Party of Allegheny County member and needs signatures to get on the fall ballot to run for mayor.
The 31-year-old has lived in McKeesport for about eight years, and he became interested in politics when he joined a preservation society that has been working to save the Penn McKee Hotel. The situation with the utility sell-offs he said occurred to pay down the city debt upsets Delrio, and so do the empty storefronts along the main streets and an abandoned house near his home.
Current Mayor Michael Cherepko has shared his desire to keep the hotel open, PublicSource reported in February 2022. He does want a third term as mayor, and his wife and daughter and friends were at the same polling place today asking voters to support him.
Nicole Cherepko said her husband wants to be reelected because he has his mission to finish for his native city. “He lives and breathes McKeesport,” the 47-year-old elementary teacher said. She noted that he has the backing of the city’s fire and police departments, endorsements the family is very proud to have.
The current mayor’s focus is on local issues, and Cherepko said they are backing John Weinstein and Steve Zappala for that reason as well. “It is very important who’s [running] in the county. They must support the Mon Valley. If not, the money goes to Pittsburgh,” she said.
Current council member Brian Evans, also 47, echoed her support for the Democratic Party-endorsed county executive candidate. He’s a Pittsburgh Regional Transit bus driver, and he said the votes cast for Weinstein today are very important to his job as well as the city he serves.
Union Progress writers Harrison Hamm, Helen Fallon, Joe Knupsky, Rebecca Spiess, Andrew Goldstein, Mike Pound, Hannah Wyman and Bob Batz Jr., as well as Jacob Klinger, contributed reporting.
The PUP is the publication of the striking workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.