Mass transit, Marcellus Shale, property taxes, the airport and the Allegheny County budget will be on Democrat Rich Fitzgerald’s radar when he takes over as county executive in January.
Fitzgerald, 52, of Squirrel Hill, defeated Republican D. Raja, 46, of Mt. Lebanon, by a nearly 2-1 margin in Tuesday’s general election.
The former County Council member and president celebrated the win with hundreds of supporters at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Many wore green T-shirts with the words, “Welcome to Fitzburgh” on the front.
Afterwards, he talked with Patch about his first priorities when taking office.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges, transit, stopping the reassessment of our county only [and] being able to utilize Marcellus Shale in a way that could be productive for our citizens by putting people to work but not hurting the environment,” he said.
During the campaign, Fitzgerald promised that, if elected, he would not send out new certified assessment numbers early next year unless the state Legislature adopted statewide standards for valuing properties.
during a breakfast forum in October at the Pittsburgh Airport Holiday Inn. He said drilling for Marcellus Shale gas on county-owned property around the airport complex could serve as an economic boon for the surrounding communities.
Fitzgerald also addressed the airport’s slow decline in number of daily flights and destinations it serves.
“It’s got to be more helpful to our business community by providing flights from Pittsburgh to other major cities around the country and around the world,” he said Tuesday.
Fitzgerald was quick to recognize his family’s efforts during the campaign. His wife, Cathy, and eight children flanked him during his victory speech.
“My oldest is 25 and my youngest is 15,” he said. “While the public gets to see us working together in a public campaign, we’ve been working together on a lot of things. It’s always been about our kids, involved in their education, their activities; we’re very, very supportive of each other.
Fitzgerald said he would apply that philosophy to running Allegheny County.
“We’ve always tried to impress upon our kids that, wherever you are, or whomever you work for, make the organization better for you being there,” he said. “And now I guess we want to traffic another organization better, county government.”
Fitzgerald’s victory means there will likely be no attempt to repeal the county’s controversial 7-percent tax on poured alcoholic drinks. Raja had promised, if elected, to eliminate the drink tax in his first budget.
During the campaign, Fitzgerald—who as president of County Council voted to pass the drink tax—called it a necessary evil to leverage state matching dollars for mass transit and to prevent a property tax increase.
Fitzgerald's challenger conceded the election about two hours after polls closed Tuesday night.
“This is not the party we planned, but I love the company," Raja told supporters who gathered with him at the Radisson Hotel in Green Tree. "Although we did not reach our goal, the county is better off with our debate.”
He also issued a challenge to Fitzgerald, with whom he'd waged a sharp-toned campaign that grew testier in its final days.
“We saw a tough and aggressive side of the man who will run Allegheny County,” Raja said. “I hope he will use that same energy to run the government. Despite the relentless and vicious attacks, we are all Pittsburghers and we will reach new heights together.”
Raja, like any Republican in Allegheny County, faced an uphill battle where Democrats outnumber the GOP by a better than 2-1 margin. “We had a huge Democratic disadvantage,” Raja said. “I was hoping more people would cross party lines.”
Raja thanked all of his supporters, his family and the Indian community.
“Now is the time to stay active in politics,” he said. “Stay involved so the same dream is available for all of Allegheny County’s children.”
As for Raja's future, he told the crowd that gathered for him, "I'm not going away."
He later told Patch that the campaign had been a "long and exhausting race." He said he plans to spend time with his family and get back to his business.
Becky Emmers and Sarah Beth Martin contributed to this report.
Candidate Number of Precincts Votes
Rich Fitzgerald 1,319 of 1,319 141,569, or 61.71 percent
D. Raja 1,319 of 1,319 86,128, or 37,54 percent
Write-ins 1,319 of 1,319 1,722, or 0.75 percent
Democrats also made a clean sweep in other countywide races in Tuesday's general election.
State Democratic Rep. Chelsa Wagner, 34, of Brookline beat Republican Robert Howard, 61, of Marshall, to become Allegheny County controller. Incumbent Mark Patrick Flaherty, of Mt. Lebanon, did not seek a third term.
Democrat incumbent John Weinstein, 47, of Kennedy, easily defeated Republican Ned Pfeifer, 78 of Shadyside, to win his fourth term as Allegheny County treasurer.
Incumbent Democrat District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. faced no opponent in seeking his fourth term.
In the city of Pittsburgh, voters overwhelmingly approved a 0.25 mill property tax increase to raise more than $3 million dollars for the 19-branch Carnegie Library system. The new revenue will replace a loss of $2 million in state funding.
Upper St. Clair Local Editor Becky Emmers and Sarah Beth Martin contributed to this report.