Sara Innamorato, Joe Rockey face off in debate ahead of Allegheny County executive race

Former state Rep. Sara
Innamorato and former PNC executive Joe Rockey on Tuesday outlined their platforms in an hourlong live, televised debate hosted by Tribune-Review news partner WTAE and the League of Women Voters.

Innamorato, of Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, and Rockey, of Ohio Township, spent much of the debate discussing public safety issues. Candidates acknowledged the need to address crime throughout the county, though their approaches to addressing such issues differed.

“It starts with actually doing the most important thing, which is following the law, and making sure we allow our police to do the policing they’re supposed to do,” Rockey said.

During Tuesday’s debate, he advocated for expanding the county’s police force and bolstering the support county police can offer to municipal police forces.

Innamorato said her public safety approach would begin with addressing root issues that lead to crime and violence. That would include investing in housing, remediating blight, and providing youth programs and green spaces throughout the county.

Both candidates pointed to merging municipal police departments and providing county support to those efforts. Both candidates agreed that such mergers could help ensure public safety throughout the county.

“Our goal is not to force municipalities to merge, but to get them to realize what their capacity is financially,” Innamorato said. She said the county could provide support during that process and fill in policing gaps currently filled by the state police.

She also said she’d like to make sure Allegheny County Jail is properly staffed to ensure people housed in the jail are properly cared for, have access to health care, and can communicate with loved ones.

Innamorato said part of properly staffing the jail — and other county jobs — should include creating pipelines that encourage and prepare high schoolers to fill those roles.

If elected, Rockey said, he’d plan to launch a “full assessment” of the jail to ensure there’s an environment good for inmates and employees.

“I believe we can have a safe jail, a jail that does what it’s supposed to do, which is help people as they’re going through the criminal justice process,” he said.

Former Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper retired last month.

The county in January will reopen Shuman Center as a juvenile detention center run by Latrobe-based nonprofit Adelphoi.

Both candidates said they’d prefer to see the county running the center directly.

“Day One, I want to be able to put in place an oversight board,” Innamorato said. She envisions something similar to the Allegheny County Jail’s oversight board to monitor what happened at Shuman Center.

She said she doesn’t believe reopening Shuman Center will make the county safer. She reiterated the need to address the root causes that drive youths to crime.

“That’s about investing in young people to make sure they’re healthy, and whole, and connected to their community,” she said. She said the county could make “significant investments,” including using state and federal dollars, to provide out-of-school programming and job opportunities.

Rockey agreed that the county “absolutely should do what we can to make the lives of our juveniles better in Allegheny County and give them the support they need.” But he said he also felt it is important to have a juvenile detention center.

He specifically voiced support for having a juvenile center to lock up juveniles who have committed violent crimes.

“You cannot leave those individuals on the street,” he said.

Rockey also advocated for a program that would allow people to drop off guns at any county police station at any time in an effort to get guns safely off the street. Such gun drop-offs are now held occasionally.

Rockey said his plans as county executive also would include a “jobs renaissance” that could help close disparities in communities where job access has been limited. He said he would look to bring additional manufacturing into the county.

“We have to bring those jobs to the communities that have been left behind to close the economic gap,” he said.

Innamorato said she’d aim to begin eliminating disparities within county government, itself.

“I’m going to do an analysis on where we’re at, and what our pay scales are, and whether there are disparities based on race or gender that exist within the county,” she said. She feels the county could “set the example” in addressing such gaps.

Innamorato said she’d like to reimagine the county’s tax system, a system that currently “harms new homebuyers, which we are desperately trying to attract to our region,” and seniors who may be downsizing. She said she’d like to implement a new fair, transparent tax system that ensures everyone pays a fair share.

She said as county executive, she would look to raise the county’s homestead exemption and enact a long-term owner occupant program that would shield qualifying longtime homeowners from a “huge jump” in property taxes during reassessments.

“I will not cause a property tax increase through a countywide reassessment,” Rockey said.

When asked about how to address homelessness in the county, Innamorato said the issue “is completely solvable.”

She said she would create a “comprehensive system to move people towards shelters” and from shelters into “safe and stable housing.”

“It’s not a process that gets built overnight,” she said, saying the Second Avenue Commons shelter that opened last year in Pittsburgh was a step in the right direction.

Rockey indicated he felt that officials needed to crack down on crime and drug use to help address homelessness.

“Allowing the homeless to freely use drugs, to allow drug sales to continue in Allegheny County, is not offering compassion to the homeless,” he said. “If we want to help them, we need to stop the drug sales and move them into a place like Second Avenue Commons.”

When asked about abortion issues, Rockey said that because abortion laws are created at the state level, his preferences on abortion laws were irrelevant.

“My personal opinion on abortion is not relevant, because the Allegheny County executive does not set policy on abortion,” he said. “I will enforce the law.”

He declined to say whether he would support shield laws that would protect Allegheny County abortion providers from out-of-state investigations. Innamorato said she would support such measures.

Innamorato said she wanted to ensure officials protect birth control access and “basic reproductive rights,” while shielding medical care providers throughout the county when they provide care to out-of-state residents.

The current county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, is ineligible for reelection because of term limits.


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Allegheny County exec candidate Joe Rockey unveils economic plan

Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia by email at or via Twitter .

Allegheny | Local | Politics Election | Top Stories | Valley News Dispatch

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