The four candidates for Allegheny County Executive debated at a forum held by the African-American Chamber of Commerce last night.
Democrats Rich Fitzgerald and Mark Flaherty bickered the most heatedly, mainly about Flaherty’s plan for Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction in the county. Fitzgerald called Flaherty’s idea a “Republican scheme” that would cost $2 billion, but Flaherty denied that claim and another jab: that he was in league with Republican Governor Tom Corbett.
All candidates were asked about the state of minority businesses in the county. Fitzgerald, a former County Council President, says he has a personal record of supporting minorities and would continue to do so in office. Flaherty, the current County Controller, says he worked to include minority- and women-owned businesses and contractors in his auditing processes.
Former Republican County Councilman Chuck McCullough says an “old boy” political system hinders minority businesses, but he would try to include clauses for minority inclusion in contracts, especially in regard to Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Republican and Mount Lebanon Commissioner D. Raja says he is a minority business owner, so he understands the challenges therein and would work with local minority leaders to support such businesses.
Fitzgerald says the unpopular county drink tax on poured alcoholic beverages is necessary to fund the Port Authority without raising property taxes, but Flaherty says that it is unfair to the hospitality industry and a statewide solution is needed.
McCullough and Raja both say they support Marcellus Shale development. Raja says the income would help in many areas of county government. McCullough says he wants to drill in the county’s largest gas deposits, beneath several county parks and the Airport.
The primary elections are May 17.