State Rep. Sara Innamorato won the Democratic primary for Allegheny County executive, adding to a string of recent progressive victories in the region with the potential of completing a hat trick of the county’s highest elected offices.
Innamorato, who secured about 38% of the vote Tuesday, defeated the five other candidates in the primary by winning big in Pittsburgh and doing well in the city’s first-ring suburbs. The two other candidates to receive the most votes — County Treasurer John Weinstein, at 30%, and Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, at about 20% — essentially split the remaining suburban vote.
“We can address our biggest problems in Allegheny County if we work together,” said Innamorato, 37, from her election watch party in Bloomfield. She was flanked by her emotional mother, Kim, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, U.S. Rep. Summer Lee and other elected officials and community leaders.
The Lawrenceville Democrat’s victory adds to the stunning rise of a younger, progressive political movement sweeping through the county. Innamorato won her first election to the state House just five years ago, in 2018, by challenging a member of the politically powerful Costa family. Lee, then a community organizer, also challenged a Costa family member that year on the other side of town and won; she was elected to the U.S. House last year.
Lee said progressive candidates are winning in the county because of “energy that only this movement can bring.”
“There are going to be people in other places who are going to look at Allegheny County and what we did tonight,” she said. “They are going to know that our progressive movement is alive and well.”
Dave Fawcett, an attorney who once served as a Republican on Allegheny County Council, was able to dent the suburban margins of the better-known candidates. He spent a half-million dollars of his own money on the campaign and secured about 10% of the vote.
The other county executive candidates who ran in the Democratic primary, Theresa Sciulli Colaizzi and Will Parker, each received roughly 1% of the vote.
Innamorato will face Joe Rockey, a retired PNC executive running as the only Republican candidate, in the November general election. Given the area’s Democratic tilt — the party’s candidates often win the county by 20 points or more in general elections — Rockey faces an uphill climb in his attempt to become the next executive.
The stakes are high for voters, 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, authorities and commissions. Rich Fitzgerald, the current county executive, is a term-limited Democrat who will complete his third and final term at the end of this year.
During the campaign, Weinstein advocated he could put his deep experience in county government to work for residents. Innamorato sought to expand government services to work “for us all”; Lamb proposed reform-minded ideas while keeping in mind the difficulty of working with the state government. Fawcett urged holding polluters accountable and beautifying the region with a countywide riverfront park.
Millions of dollars flowed into the primary, with most unions backing Weinstein, though some service unions with deep pockets supported Innamorato. Fawcett largely self-funded his campaign, and Lamb relied on large donations from wealthy individuals. Fitzgerald endorsed Lamb as his successor, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect him.
Innamorato’s win also likely has implications for state politics, given Democrats only hold a one-seat majority in the state House of Representatives, and her potential resignation from the 21st state House District could leave part of her party’s agenda stranded. She said she’d work with party leaders to “be as strategic as possible” with leaving her current position.
Some of Innamorato’s fellow Democrats were more conciliatory than others; Lamb spoke by phone with her and conceded.
“I’ve still got a big sense that we’ve got a bright future here in Allegheny County, and I’m glad to be here,” he said from his Mount Washington watch party.
Weinstein, speaking from the PNC Champions Club at Acrisure Stadium, said Innamorato “needs to reach out to everyone, all the candidates, myself, Lamb, Fawcett, everyone that was running, to bring in a victory in November.”
“The Republicans wanted Sara to be the nominee, that’s pretty evident,” he said. “She could have an issue with the business community, obviously she has an issue with the labor community,” likely referencing the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, which had endorsed him, even as she had the support of large service worker unions.
Weinstein said Innamorato needs to “build bridges” with those communities. “That’s the best piece of advice I could give to her,” he said.
Voters had many issues on their mind when they headed to the polls Tuesday. About 45% of the county’s half-million registered Democrats turned out to vote.
Pallavi Patil, of Upper St. Clair, 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.”
Fred Just, 82, of Squirrel Hill, selected Lamb as his pick for county executive, citing the government experience of the longtime city controller.
“I think there were good candidates, but I think Lamb’s experience in government [will help],” said Just, who voted at the Shaare Torah Congregation.
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. He said he could relate more to Fawcett, which is what won his vote.
In nearby Moon, Deb Martz, 58, cast a Republican ballot with Rockey as her county executive choice because he isn’t so “hardlined” in what she described as an attitude of “your way is wrong and mine is right.”
“He’s open to talk and listen,” she 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.”
Union Progress writers Bob Batz Jr., Andrew Goldstein, Emily Matthews, Steve Mellon and Hannah Wyman contributed reporting.
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.