Sara Innamorato sworn in as Allegheny County Executive

The former state representative is the first woman to ever be elected to the role, one of the most powerful in Western Pennsylvania government

By: - January 2, 2024 3:26 pm

Sara Innamorato lays out her vision for her term as Allegheny County Executive during a speeh at the Byham Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. (Photo by Steve Mellon)

PITTSBURGH — As Sara Innamorato was sworn in as the Allegheny County Executive on Tuesday, she outlined an ambitious agenda that includes the creation of positions to focus on climate and housing affordability, a review of the county’s wage floor and elimination of college degree requirements for some of its open jobs, and even teased future investments in child care subsidies.

But, Innamorato said shortly after being sworn in by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Chelsa Wagner at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater, the county has to identify where it falls short in order to address its problems directly. 

“The reality is that people in our county are having vastly different lived experiences. For people of different neighborhoods, backgrounds and means, we might as well be living in different states,” she said. “And in too many cases, those differences stem from shortcomings — in our approach to economics, to social services, and to justice.” 

Innamorato is the first woman elected to head Pennsylvania’s second most populous county, and joked she is the first county exec to have tattoos “No one has been able to confirm or deny whether [former county executive] Jim Roddey had any ink,” she said, to laughter from the audience of about 1,000 supporters and elected officials.

Embracing the region’s traditions doesn’t mean it can’t move forward, she said. “You won’t find anyone more enthusiastic than me about fries on salads and cookie tables,” Innamorato said of two of the Pittsburgh region’s quirkier gourmet customs. “But nothing about loving tradition means you have to fear change.”

Sara Innamorato, left, is sworn in as Allegheny County Executive by Judge Chelsa Wagner of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Jan. 2, 2024. (Photo by Steve Mellon)

Innamorato vaulted into Pennsylvania politics in 2018, part of a blue wave of progressive women who won in that year’s midterm elections. She and now-Congresswoman Summer Lee defeated longtime Allegheny County incumbents to win seats in the state Legislature. 

Lee and U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-17th District) were in attendance at Tuesday’s event, along with former county executives Dan Onorato and Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and members of Pittsburgh city council and Allegheny County Council.

Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, spoke before Innamorato was sworn in and told a story about his daughter participating in a program several years ago called “Strong Women, Strong Girls,” at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It was meant to let women know that they can go for their goal and they can stand strong, and that there is a place for them in this great democracy,” Kelly said. His daughter’s chaperone for the program was Sara Innamorato, which he had forgotten, Kelly said, but his daughter had not. 

“Every daughter out there in this county can look forward and say ‘I can be that person,’” Kelly said. 

Innamorato narrowly defeated her Republican opponent Joe Rockey in November. She won the city of Pittsburgh and most of its surrounding suburbs, but Rockey won more of the outlying suburban areas. 

Rockey’s campaign focused in large part on safety issues in the city of Pittsburgh, including its homeless population. Innamorato addressed some of those issues on Tuesday, saying the county’s stagnant population, disappearing industries, and homelessness were all real and urgent problems. 

She added that she understood why some were fearful of the future. But they’re solvable problems, she added, and the region has overcome worse.

“This is the community that endured the Great Flood. It’s the community that survived the collapse of the steel industry,” she said. And, she joked, “It’s the community that suffered through the 1988 Steelers, when they went 5 and 11. If we can do that, we can do anything.”

Fitzgerald was county executive for 12 years, and in the past several years, had clashed with Allegheny County Council and some of its more progressive members. Some council members have openly criticized Fitzgerald for not attending Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meetings. 

Innamorato made reference to the county’s incarcerated population during her remarks, without specifically referencing the county jail. 

“Our friends who are suffering from addiction, our neighbors who are in financial crisis and homeless, those with chronic health conditions and are struggling, our community members who are incarcerated — they deserve our respect and investment so they can live full and dignified lives too,” she said. 

Gainey, who previously served alongside Innamorato in the state Legislature, praised her focus on fighting for working-class families. “I know the heart of Sara Innamorato, and I know from day one she’s going to go get it,” he said. 

For her part, Innamorato acknowledged that her swearing-in on Tuesday represented a historic moment for Allegheny County. 

“I’m only the fourth person to hold this office since it was created in 1999, and I think we know that I will be the first woman,” she said. “But let me say right here: I will certainly not be the last.”

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly

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