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It would be that time of the year again: the second Tuesday of November, this time the 8th, Election Day (though some districts are having elections on the 15th). Check your local district to see what your polling choices are. Meanwhile here are my local (Western Pennsylvania) endorsements:

Allegheny County Executive

Rich Fitzgerald for Allegheny County Executive

Allegheny County Controller

Chelsa Wagner for Allegheny County Controller

Vote "YES" for the Library

Vote YES for the Library

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Several months ago I compared the policies of the two Democratic candidates for Allegheny County's chief executive post. Between the two, I endorsed Mark Patrick Flaherty over Rich Fitzgerald (whom at that point I'd nicknamed "Frackwater" for his corporate interests in water treatment and his cavalier attitude towards the environment in regard to drilling the Marcellus Shale). I was disappointed when "Frackwater" Fitzgerald ended up winning the primary election by ten percentage points. By election day, I'd developed quite the negative opinion of Fitzgerald, not only due to his corporate connections and lack of environmental concern but because of his extremely negative campaign against his opponent (which I found reminiscent of Barack Obama's misogynist campaign against Hillary Clinton).

About the only thing which had impressed me about Fitzgerald was that he made an appearance at Outrageous Bingo to introduce himself and shake hands with participants. Unlike Dan Onorato speaking at Pride during his dismally failed run for Pennsylvania governor, Fitzgerald looked at ease with the crowd and in his element. Whether this is a sign of true benevolence towards the GLBT community or merely an expect act by a well-trained political actor is yet to be seen. I regret that I didn't have a chance to buttonhole him and hand him one the Mark Patrick Flaherty fliers I had in my jacket pocket. I'm certain the look on his face would have been amusing.

So, we now have a general election less than three months away which pits Republican D. Raja against Democrat Rich Fitzgerald. For a moment, let's strip away my personal impressions of both men and take them at their word from their websites:

IssueFitzgerald's PositionRaja's Position

Job creation

Both candidates claim that job creation is a high priority and wish to focus on encouraging small businesses and entrepreneurs within the county. They also point to local institutes of higher education as a resource for job growth. However, neither candidate offers any specific plans or action or even a rough sketch. It's a tie of vapid rhetoric.

Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale

Since defeating Flaherty in the primary, Fitzgerald has much more to say about this topic. In fact, this section is by far the largest on the policy page of his campaign website. The following quote remains from the primary campaign: "Rich supports drilling in the Marcellus Shale but believes it should be done in a safe, responsible manner which protects the environment and is minimally invasive to our communities." However, Fitzgerald has expanded his position to include a plan with the following six points:

  • Use the full authority of the Allegheny County Health Department to protect the water and air quality
  • Require drilling companies to post bonds to pay for road damage that occurs
  • Drilling within 2,000 feet of any residential dwelling, school, hospital, or nursing home will be prohibited
  • Before the county enters into any lease, Rich will recommend a public hearing be held in the community where drilling is proposed
  • Urge the State Legislature and the Governor to enact a severance tax on Marcellus Shale
  • Create a commission to deal with issues surrounding Marcellus Shale drilling

This is a far more robust policy statement than what was previously on Fitzgerald's campaign site.

Raja's Marcellus position is threadbare compared to Fitzgerald's. From his website in it's entirety:

The Marcellus shale deposits throughout our county and region is one of the best economic opportunities we’ve seen in decades. Raja believes strongly that we can both benefit from the tremendous economic opportunity that is the Marcellus shale, while responsibly protecting our environment and our workers.

The county airport is sitting on one of the largest developable plots in the county, and by leasing this land for gas extraction we can gain tremendous resources to help turn the airport in the right direction.

Not exactly heavy on specifics - and I am forced to wonder how drilling for natural gas on airport land is remotely a good idea. The potential for a natural gas accident next to an airport, which could quickly become a disaster of monumental proportions seems like a turn in the wrong direction.

Taxes and expenditures

Opposes property tax reassessments which would make Allegheny county less competitive.

Opposes raising any taxes in the county while supporting cuts to make sure the budget is balanced.

Government reform

No position stated.

In a nutshell: wishes to run county government more like a corporation.

Public transit

No position stated.

Claims the Port Authority has been mismanaged. Supports private competition to fill the void in underperforming bus routes.

Neither one of these candidates particularly impresses me. If anything, which the exception of Fitzgerald's evolving position on drilling the Marcellus Shale, these two candidates if not outright ducking the issues don't seem to have thought any of them through too deeply.

Furthermore, Raja's statements on government and public transit reform are the same Republican claptrap that voters have been subjected to for decades. Suffice it to say that when people are voted in on a platform of government reform which promises to make government more like a business usually nothing happens (and when it does, those who voted these clowns in usually suffer buyer's remorse).

Like so many elections, it's a race of the lesser of two evils. I don't particularly like either one of these two men. I also don't think either one is particularly qualified for the position he seeks, but conversely neither one reeks of incompetence either. Based on just their resumes and what they purport to bring to the job, I may very well hold my nose and vote for Fitzgerald.

That said, there is a question which has been nagging at me ever since Rich Fitzgerald became a candidate for chief executive. During the 2010 Pennsylvania governor's race, I volunteered to do phonebanking for Joe Hoeffel during primary season. I remember calling a Rich Fitzgerald on the Democratic voter rolls. Upon telling the individual on the other end of the line who I was and I why I was calling, the following was quickly spat back in my ear, "go to hell - I'm Dan Onorato's cousin!" Before I said anything else, I heard the phone loudly click off as the call was disconnected.

I have to wonder if this is the same Rich Fitzgerald who now thinks that he's getting my vote just because I'm registered as a Democrat. If so, then his cousin should have learned otherwise. Still, I have no proof either way (and not for failing to dig for it either), but there's still a devilish part of me that wishes to give Fitz a lesson on Democratic unity regardless of who is he related to.

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In the United States, the whole country only votes during the second Tuesday of November. So, as far as I care, all of you in the 49 states which aren't Pennsylvania can continue sleeping through your citizenship. However, in the Keystone State, it is Primary Day (those not affiliated with a political party may resume sleeping; Pennsylvania has a closed primary - and rightly so). The polls are open from 7:00AM-8:00PM and you can find your polling place on the The Pennsylvania Department of State website.

There are no competitive statewide races this time, so here are my local endorsements:

Allegheny County Chief Executive (Democratic Party)

Mark Patrick Flaherty 2011

Allegheny County Controller (Democratic Party)

Chelsa Wagner 2011

Remember, if you don't go out and vote, you can neither complain about being disenfranchised nor about the fact that your fellow Americans vote like idiots.

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Since Dan Onorato decided not to seek a third term (in what may arguably be his wisest political move ever), I've actually become interested in the race for Allegheny County chief executive. The lone teabagger has dropped out of the Republican side of the race, leaving the crook and the Mt. Lebanon councillor/businessman. If registered Republicans have any members left in their ranks with two sane brain cells to rub together, they'll cast their primary ballots for D. Raja, the aforementioned member of Mt. Lebanon's town council.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side of the primary ballot, where your's truly casts his votes, we've got a race between County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty and County Council President Rich Fitzgerald. At first glance, it would seem that this would be a "flip a coin" vote. What distinguishes these two men? Thus, I've decided to go to their respective campaign websites and pick at their issues:

IssueFlaherty's positionFitzgerald's position
Property tax assessments

Both oppose court-ordered reassessments; both favour reforms in the assessment system but neglect to be specific.

Job creation

Both point to diversification in the regional job market as a way to maintain the county's low unemployment rate. Also, both support grants to encourage higher eduction as a way to strengthen the job market.

Drilling for natural gas the Marcellus Shale

Opposes drilling until further environmental studies are done and it can be ensured that drilling "is done cleanly and safely, that our rivers are not contaminated in the process, and our schools and neighborhoods are not put in harm’s way by drilling, extracting and transporting something as volatile and explosive as natural gas."

Supports drilling "in a safe, responsible manner which protects the environment and is minimally invasive to our communities."

Transportation

Opposes the drink tax, calling it "a failure in terms of the transit solution we were looking for." Proposes radically altering the organisation of the Port Authority with an eye towards future expansion of the light rail system.

No position stated.

Of the four issues both candidates touch on between their respective websites, Flaherty and Fitzgerald seem to agree on half of them. While their positions on drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale are similar, Flaherty's caution regarding the matter gains him points in my book. Finally, Fitzgerald's silence on the matter of mass transit where Flaherty not only addresses the issue but throws out some - admittedly embryonic - ideas on what to do about it gives this voter more than enough reasons to back Flaherty at the polls.

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Seth Warren

May 2017

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