New Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald asked for unity over the next few years as his administration works to tackle numerous challenges facing the region.
Despite controversial issues such as property reassessments, transportation funding cuts and Marcellus Shale development, Fitzgerald said he sees an opportunity to grow as other parts of the country struggle.
“We’re going to have to find innovative solutions to those problems,” Fitzgerald said after he was sworn-in Tuesday afternoon as Allegheny County’s third chief executive. “I’m so optimistic. I’m so optimistic that we’ve turned a corner in this region.”
Fitzgerald said in the upcoming days he will unveil how he plans to fight the state-mandated property reassessments that have singled out Allegheny County. He also suggested government officials need to consider regional transportation options that expand beyond county borders.
But he also pointed to an opportunity that Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling can bring to the region and how to balance environmental concerns. He said the area can once again become a major player in energy as it was more than a century ago with coal and oil.
“We can see a in that again with the largest find of natural gas right under our feet,” he said.
Fitzgerald, who served a dozen years on county council, easily defeated Republican challenger D. Raja in the November election.
“It’s not just about you,” Fitzgerald said of his election victory. “It’s about a whole group of people who come together … to support a vision for the county. This region can’t move forward unless we all work together.”
The hour-long inauguration at Soldiers and Sailors Museum in Oakland went smoothly except for a brief appearance by about a dozen members of Occupy Pittsburgh, who made a feeble attempt to disrupt the ceremony shortly before it was to . They stood in one of the aisles and chanted “Greetings from Occupy Pittsburgh!” for a few moments before being escorted out by county police.
Congressman Mike Doyle led the inauguration by praising Fitzgerald for his work ethic and determination. He added the upcoming challenges facing the region will require hard work and tough decisions.
“I believe he’s the right person at the right time for the county,” Doyle said. “If the early bird gets the worm, then Rich has a lot of worms. He gets up to work earlier than any person I know.”
County Councilman John DeFazio echoed that sentiment and praised Fitzgerald’s for his work on council over the past 12 years.
“I don’t know anyone who works harder than Rich at what he wants to do,” DeFazio said. “He works day and night.”
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald pushed a vision for Allegheny County that he hopes wills move it forward despite the difficult challenges.
“As things have changed, this county has continued to grow, continued to improve and continued to be resilient,” Fitzgerald said.