Continuing a rise that’s garnered the attention of Democrats across the country, Sara Innamorato won the race for Allegheny County executive on Tuesday, taking over one of Pennsylvania’s most powerful offices in a nerve-wracking victory for her party.

The Associated Press called the race for Innamorato shortly after 9:55 p.m. As of shortly before 11:30 p.m., she was up by about 8,000 votes, 51% to 49%, over Republican Joe Rockey with 99.7% of precincts reported.

With the win, Innamorato will become the first woman to hold the position in the county’s history. She takes over from longtime incumbent Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat who took office in 2012 after a decade on Allegheny County Council. 

“This campaign has always been about people,” Innamorato told a packed crowd at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale to celebrate her victory. “It’s about the idea that everyone deserves a seat at the table regardless of their background, identity or circumstances.

Sara Innamorato supporters dance as they wait for election results to come in at her election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“It means that we’re bringing together people who have been left out and shut out and pushed out of government for far too long,“” she added.

Innamorato was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and — much like Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey — has framed her campaign around those the city has “left behind” over the years. 

Her platform focused on unleashing the county’s potential across many sectors, a goal defined by detailed policy proposals. She told her supporters on Tuesday she would advocate for safe, affordable housing for all and a green economy that creates jobs and protects the environment. She also said the county, under her leadership, will invest more in the Community College of Allegheny County, connect its parks, care for seniors, invest in child care, “fix” the county jail, and address the Black maternal and infant mortality crisis.

“We are gonna do that and so much more together,” Innamorato said.

She refined her policy chops as a state representative in Harrisburg. Innamorato was the vice chair of Allegheny County’s state House delegation, a leadership role that’s tasked with coalescing regional support around a number of important legislative initiatives. 

Although many of her bills didn’t pass through the complex political landscape in Harrisburg, she credits her Whole Home Repairs legislation as one of her biggest accomplishments. She resigned from the House in July to focus on her executive run.

In Allegheny County, Innamorato’s name has popped up on several high-profile organizational boards, including the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Allegheny County Housing Authority. Gainey, in a position that often has to partner with the Allegheny County executive, said Tuesday it “takes a team” to make sure the region is going in the right direction.

“We’ve got to make sure that we have relationships with the state to make this region great, and that’s what Sara Innamorato will do,” Gainey said. “She will help to take this region to the next level.”

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Innamorato leveraged her postgrad experience in nonprofit work — focused on vacant land reclamation and food justice, among others — into a successful run for state House in 2018.

Innamorato, a massive underdog facing a political giant, ousted incumbent Dom Costa in the 2018 Democratic primary — and then knocked back a late write-in campaign from Costa as well. She defended her seat in 2020.

In her run for county executive, she boasted the endorsements of many high-profile Democrats, including Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who touted her earlier run for state House when it was first flourishing.

Rockey, a 58-year-old retired chief risk officer at PNC Financial Services, told voters he was an antidote to “extremist” politicians, positioning himself as a “problem solver” who could cut through the divide.

With a focus on public safety, Rockey, endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police Lodges 1 and 91, proposed reopening a juvenile detention and rehab center in the county, adding 20 more officers to the county police force and bringing the Allegheny County Jail “up to a full staffing level while expanding medical and mental health services to inmates.”

Fitzgerald has said the highest point of his career was in 2020, when census figures revealed the county gained residents in the decade.

“It’s a younger, more diverse population and a lot of that is the growth of the economy and quality of life,” he told NextPittsburgh for a story about his legacy as county executive. “Jobs are much more diverse now, things like robotics and [advanced] manufacturing. It’s a broadened-out job force.”

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.

Julian Routh

Julian is the Western Pennsylvania politics and government bureau chief at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike.