Saturday, January 15, 2011

*UPDATED* Why does everyone want to be Allegheny County Controller?

With the almost announcement that Mark Patrick Flaherty will be running for County Executive no matter what decision Dan Onorato makes, a slew of candidates have been named as possible candidates for a position that doesn’t seem that desirable.

What does the County Controller do anyway? Here is the position according to the Allegheny County website:

The Controller is the chief elected fiscal officer of Allegheny County and provides general supervision and control of the County's fiscal activities.

The Controller has the responsibility to prescribe and maintain the accounting systems of the County and the authority to conduct audits of all County expenditures and offices. The Controller is the final, independent check on the fiscal activities of the executive and legislative branches of County government, as well as the independently elected row offices.

The Controller’s Office is comprised of the Accounting Division, Asset Management and Tax Lien Division, Auditing Division, Weights and Measures Division and the Information Systems Division.

According to the League of Women voters the county controller is paid a $65,500 salary.

I figured that based on the salary and perceived lack of ‘real’ power that this isn’t a position that people line up to run for. However, I have been proven wrong over the last few days.

Here’s the breakdown (so far):

Chelsa Wagner – Current State Representative from Brookline. She was just elected to her third term. This would be a cut in pay ($78,315 + per diems) so I’m not sure the motivation of what I think would be a step down. Maybe she is thinking about running for mayor. I think she would have some strong city support, but might run into the Wagner vs. Ravenstahl mess in the Primary.

Nick Kotik – Current State Representative from Robinson Township. He was just elected to his fifth term. He is considered a ‘blue dog’ Democrat. If they treat him the same way they treat Rep. Jason Altmire for being a blue dog, he will have a tough Primary.

George Matta – Perennial candidate. Seriously, what hasn’t this guy run for? He currently works at the Rivers Casino. He has served as an elected Controller before in Duquesne and also served as the mayor. He also was the Allegheny County Clerk of Courts (2000-07). He ran for State Rep. in 2006 against Marc Gergely and lost. I most remember Mr. Matta for his supposed racial slurs that he used to a Clerk of Courts employee a few years ago.

Valerie McDonald Roberts
- She is the manager of the Allegheny County’s department of real estate. Ms. McDonald Roberts is a former Pittsburgh school board and City Council member. She served as recorder of deeds before the county post was abolished with the consolidation of the county's row offices. In 2006, she ran for Lt. Governor and lost (I voted for her). She could also have some strong city support, and she has always impressed me as a candidate.

Matt Smith - Current State Representative in Mount Lebanon. I am a big fan of Matt Smith and believe he is the right guy for that State Rep district in that area of the county. He won his seat during the 2006 pay raise election. The incumbent (Tom Stevenson) lost in the Republican Primary to a 21 year old extreme right wing nut. Matt Smith appears to do well with the Moderate Republicans in his district.

Brenda Frazier - Former two and a half term Allegheny County Councilwoman. Resigned from council to run for State Representative in the 21st District, but came up just short in a three way race with Dom Costa and Len Bodack. (h/t Jon Delano)

Brian O’Malley – He is a former Richland Township Supervisor and former President of the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. He is planning on running for District Magistrate, but I was told that he mentioned to North Hills Democratic Committee members that he was interested in running for County Controller if the magistrate district is eliminated (as it looks will happen).

I emailed Mr. O’Malley about his plans and this was his response (the whole email was a little long, so I edited it):

Thank you for contacting me about my interest in running for Allegheny County Controller. As of right now I am focused on fighting to save the magistrate district that I was planning on running for. (He went on with his reasons for why they shouldn’t cut the district)…

The position of County Controller is something I have long been interested in and would not rule out a possible candidacy at this point due to the uncertainty of my magistrate campaign. I have a well-rounded background that makes me uniquely qualified for Allegheny County Controller. I have a history of fighting for fiscal responsibility of tax dollars by voting for a multi-municipal merger of our police department and helped to make changes to a proposed municipal building that saved Richland Township taxpayers over a million dollars. One of the main components of the County Controller’s job, that is often ignored, is the inspection of weighing and measuring devices. I have hands on experience with weights and measures. I worked for four summers as a scale technician for an industrial scale company…

I was a fan of Mr. O’Malley while he was on the Richland Township Board of Supervisors. He has some support in the North Hills, but that doesn’t do you much good in a county wide Democratic Primary.

I’m sure more names will come out of nowhere over the next few weeks.


Felix Dzerzhinsky said...

Chelsa Wagner would not "run into the Wagner vs. Ravenstahl mess" in a mayoral primary, because Jack Wagner is her uncle, and she's not going to run against him.

Politicians want controller positions because they see them as potential stepping stones for eventual runs for executive office. Anyone considering a county controller run is probably not thinking of running for Mayor of Pittsburgh, but of setting up himself or herself for an eventual County Executive run. It worked for Onorato.

Anonymous said...

I agree. That's why the City Controller is a more likely replacement to Ravenstahl.

NorthPGH Progressive said...


I guess I wasn't expecting Jack Wagner to run for Mayor. Forgot that he will need something to do at the end of 2012 due to term limits.

I know that concept for planning an Executive run. I am not a big believer in the one candidate did it this way so it becomes 'the way.'

I would think that one would be in just as good a shape to run for Exeuctive if you are a State Rep or the Controller. I understand that one would be on a countywide ballot, but State Rep's get way more press than a County Controller in my opinion.

What is Michael Lamb going to do this year? Run for City Controller or County Executive?

Bram Reichbaum said...

I'd love to see O'Malley's reasons for not wanting to eliminate that District under separate heading.

If being a State House Rep is as frustrating as I sometimes hear it is, running for County Controller would not be a step down. From there Felix is right, you can run for a lot of things, and spend your time more comfortably contemplating it.

NorthPGH Progressive said...


Would you like me to forward the email to you?

Good point about State Rep. Also, it was told to me that Ms. Wagner recently started a family. Controller would give her a chance to be home more often.

Anonymous said...

I hear if Onorato is out, Lamb is in. But I wish he'd run for Controller then run for Mayor. He's more progressive than Ravenstal or Wagner.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I agree. That's why the City Controller is a more likely replacement to Ravenstahl.
January 10, 2011 4:32 PM

The City Controller is running to replace Onorato, not Ravenstahl.