Allegheny County Executive candidates D. Raja and Rich Fitzgerald today spoke before Moon-area business leaders, fielding questions on future development in the Pittsburgh International Airport region.
Both candidates touted the benefits of Marcellus shale drilling on land surrounding the airport during the breakfast forum at the With little more than two weeks remaining before November's general election, they also took advantage of the forum to criticize each another's platforms and performance.
“I was hoping when I entered the race that it would be about policy,” said Raja, a Republican business owner from Mt. Lebanon. “Unfortunately, [the election] turned out to be a non-discussion of policy.”
Fitzgerald, a Democrat and member of Allegheny County Council, said Raja outsourced jobs at Computer Enterprises Inc., the Pittsburgh-based company he founded in 1992, and sued a former employee after he quit his job.
Raja denied both accusations, saying that his company has created hundreds of jobs in Allegheny County.
“I’m a policy wonk; I like policy,” said Fitzgerald. “[Raja] put out negative ads about me and I responded. I’m not going to let myself get hit and not answer back.”
Both candidates said Marcellus shale drilling on county property around the airport complex could serve as an economic boon for communities surrounding it. Raja said he would support the development of “innovation centers” near the airport and areas where drilling takes place, while Fitzgerald said he would “work to get more flights at the airport.”
No drilling has yet taken place on the more than 900 acres of county-owned land surrounding the airport.
The candidates presented different approaches, however, on ongoing issues with Allegheny County Port Authority services. Raja said the rising legacy and benefit costs for Port Authority employees have crippled the public transit system's finances, even after the county laid off employees and to commuters earlier this year.
“Nothing has been done by the current government but to kick the can down the road,” said Raja. “It’s unsustainable.”
Fitzgerald said he would look into including counties outside Allegheny County in public transit in order to cut costs and expand service.
“We’ve got a very important election in the coming weeks,” Kuklis said. “And the airport area is really a microcosm of Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. We suffer from unemployment in sprawl. We’ve got a jewel of an airport. And we’ve undergone redevelopment.”