Allegheny County campaigns raise big bucks as the races come down to the wire
Voters will cast ballots in high-profile races for county executive, county council, and district attorney
Candidates for Allegheny County executive meet for a debate on Tuesday, April 18, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Kim Lyons).
PITTSBURGH — With the May 16 municipal primary less than a week away, Democrats in Allegheny County’s most-watched races are making their last-ditch appeals to voters.
Typically, the Democrat who wins the primary in heavily blue Allegheny County wins the general election in November.
Here’s a look at where three key races stand.
Allegheny County Executive
Six Democrats are vying to replace outgoing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who is term-limited from seeking reelection. It’s already the most expensive race for Allegheny County executive, recently-released campaign finance reports show, with more than $3 million raised among the Democrats still in the race. Most of that money was raised by four candidates: progressive stateRep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, Pittsburgh controller Michael Lamb, and former Allegheny County Council member Dave Fawcett.
On April 24, Fitzgerald endorsed Lamb as his replacement, but it’s not clear whether that’s given Lamb a needed boost among primary voters thus far. A poll released May 3 by Pittsburgh Works Together, which surveyed 400 likely Democratic voters between April 29 and May 1, found Innamorato, with a sizable lead over Lamb and county treasurer John Weinstein; she had 32%, compared to 20% each for Weinstein and Lamb, and 8% for Fawcett. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9%. Campaign finance reports filed May 5 also showed Fitzgerald contributed $75,000 to Lamb’s campaign.
This is the first time Innamorato has led in polling; the last Pittsburgh Works Together poll in March found her in third place behind Weinstein and Lamb. Weinstein’s formidable war chest — he raised a total of $1.35 million between January and May — allowed him to get television ads on the airwaves earlier than the other Democrats in the race, making him the early favorite. He turned in his latest campaign finance documents three days after the county deadline, with his campaign blaming a technological issue.
Innamorato, who was first elected in 2018 as part of a progressive blue wave in the midterm elections, has the endorsements of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee D-12th District, who was also first elected to the Legislature in 2018. Lee was elected to the U.S. House in 2022.
Innamorato has raised more than $843,000 so far this year, and had the most small-dollar donations — those under $250 — of any of the candidates. If she were to win the nomination next week, it would not be the first time Innamorato has pulled off an upset; she beat then-incumbent state Rep. Dom Costa in 2018 with more than 64% of the vote.
The campaign finance reports showed Lamb has raised $628,000 so far this year, putting him in fourth place for fundraising behind Weinstein, Innamorato, and Fawcett, who raised $630,000, more than half of which — just over $350,000 — was Fawcett’s own money, campaign finance records filed with Allegheny County showed.
Allegheny County District Attorney
Six-term incumbent Stephen Zappala is facing what may be his first serious challenger in county Chief Public Defender Matt Dugan. Zappala has held a comfortable lead in polling, with.Dugan struggling to gain name recognition., Zappala also has raised about $227,000 this year, compared to Dugan’s total of just over $76,700.
Dugan, who told the Capital-Star he prefers not to be called a progressive, said he’s running because he thinks it’s time for a change at the DA’s office.
“I think what voters see is that Allegheny County’s criminal justice system has been stuck in neutral for the better part of 20 years,” he said.
And even though his fundraising lags Zappala’s, Dugan received in-kind donations from the Pa. Justice and Public Safety political action committee, part of the left-leaning Justice and Safety PAC, which receives funding from billionaire George Soros. The PAC provided more than $700,000 worth of TV ads
He also received support from the Color of Change PAC, which has been critical of Zappala’s prosecutions of people of color who commit low-level offenses.
Allegheny County Councilor-at-Large
Thirteen members of Allegheny County Council are elected by district, and two are elected county-wide, or at large. One of the at-large seats is up for reelection, and the race has been surprisingly feisty.
Joanna Doven, who served as press secretary in former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s administration and is a small business owner, came out swinging in her campaign against incumbent Bethany Hallam, challenging Hallam’s stance on issues including the Allegheny County Jail, and her arrest record.
“She’s a bully, people are afraid of standing up to her because she controls a very small portion of what I will call the broken progressive movement,” Doven told the Capital-Star. “And so people are afraid that she’s going to run someone against them if they stand up to her so everyone just stands down. And it’s time for people to step up. And that’s why I’m running because I see what’s going on.”
Hallam, for her part, told the Capital-Star that she viewed Doven’s campaign as little more than “anti-
Bethany,” and indeed, Doven has hammered away at Hallam’s past incarceration; at an April 12 press conference, she accused Hallam of being a “heroin dealer.”
Hallam has been forthcoming about her past, which includes an arrest for drug possession in 2014, but not charges for heroin dealing. Hallam called Doven’s comments “dishonest,” and noted to WESA-FM she had never avoided talking about her past.
Hallam has also been a vocal proponent of reforms at the Allegheny County Jail, including replacing its current warden.
“I’m one of the first formerly incarcerated people in the entire country to be elected to office,” Hallam told the Capital-Star. “So I know that I am in a unique situation to advocate for the plight of incarcerated people and their family members who are suffering on the outside.”
Hallam has made no secret that she isn’t a fan of Fitzgerald: “I think that every candidate running for county executive is better than what we have now,” Hallam told the Capital-Star. The dislike is apparently mutual; on April 19, Fitzgerald endorsed Doven referring to Hallam as “a danger to democracy.”
Campaign finance documents show Doven raised close to $130,000 this year, compared to Hallam’s $43,000.
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