Allegheny County looks poised for a new generation of leadership, as progressive candidates seeking the highest local offices land wins in tonight’s Democratic Primaries.
With a small share of outstanding votes, progressive lawmaker Sara Innamorato has claimed victory in the executive race, while reformist public defender Matt Dugan commands a big lead in the District Attorney contest.
Innamorato, a state representative for Lawrenceville and surrounding East End communities, entered the race as a relative underdog compared to veteran officeholders John Weinstein and Michael Lamb. Early polling showed her trailing the former frontrunners by double digits.
But her campaign quickly tapped into a progressive insurgency in county politics that saw Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and U.S. Rep. Summer Lee overcome establishment favorites within the last two years. And both in turn lent their support to Innamorato.
As other Democrats scrambled for the middle ground, Innamorato rested on an unapologetically progressive campaign, vowing to use the tools of office to tackle climate change, racial injustice, and homelessness.
“Government should be a reflection of all of us — of our values, our priorities, and our morals — and if we do not see that reflected back onto us, it is our duty to change that through organizing and voting,” Innamorato said in her victory statement tonight. “Throughout this campaign we met people where they are at, engaged our neighbors in values-based conversations about housing, good union jobs, corporate accountability, and clean air and water.”
“We brought people who have been shut out of the political process into the conversation, centered the voices of communities that have been devastated by decades of disinvestment and environmental racism, and empowered community leaders who are doing the hard work building a better world each and every day.”
Innamorato’s win spells a heavy blow for Weinstein, a six-term county treasurer who entered the executive race as an early frontrunner after picking up the party endorsement and posting impressive fundraising reports out of the gate. Early polling showed him in the lead with more than a third of the vote share split between the six candidates.
But his candidacy took a beating from media reports claiming he was removed from the ALCOSAN board amid an FBI investigation and then attempted to strike a quid-pro-quo deal to regain his seat there. Other reports surfaced tying him to a federal racketeering lawsuit, implicating him in an absentee ballot investigation during a local election in the 1990s, and criticizing his glitzy campaign spending. His polling numbers plummeted as Innamorato’s spiked.
Matt Dugan, the county’s chief public defender, took on longstanding incumbent Stephen Zappala, vowing to bring needed reforms to the county’s criminal system.
Zappala’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years following allegations he instructed his office to withold plea deals to a Black lawyer who accused the district attorney of systematic racism in 2021. Two years earlier, his failure to convict Michael Rosfeld, a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black youth, also tarnished Zappala’s reputation among progressives.
First elected in 1998, Zappala survived a primary challenge from progressive attorney Lisa Middleman in 2019. Middleman now serves as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.
Dugan has vowed to employ diversion approaches that spare low-level offenders from incarceration and permanent records.
Progressives have landed wins in other key races, with Bethany Hallam staving off a challenge from Joanna Doven to retain her at-large seat on county council and party activist Erica Brusselars landing a decisive win in the county treasurer’s race.