PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The day after his overwhelming victory in the Republican primary for Allegheny County Executive, D. Raja – who wants everyone to just call him Raja – says he’s not going to rest.
“Got home a little after midnight, and back at work at eight o’clock,” Raja told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
The Republican nominee knows he can’t really rest if he hopes to upset the surprisingly strong winner of the Democratic Primary, former county council president Rich Fitzgerald.
“Take a look at what Allegheny County is right now,” says Raja. “I call it a slow decline.”
Raja says the choice is between a real outsider and a political insider.
“What we need is change right now, and the change if you keep electing the same people responsible for this,” says Raja. “That’s what Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”
No surprise, Fitzgerald has a different take. He sees himself as a reformer on county council who engineered change in Allegheny County.
“We’ve really reformed this government over the last 12 years,” says Fitzgerald. “I think people almost forget what county government was like under the three county commissioner systems.”
Fitzgerald says his message of reform has resonated.
“We’ve streamlined it, we reduced county row offices, we’ve consolidated services like 911, held the line on property taxes,” he said.
He sees himself, not Raja, as having the experience to bring about change.
“I’ve been changing government.” says Fitzgerald. “I have been the person on council who has been reforming it and been making these changes, changes for the better.”
Politics is a family affair. In their kitchen, Fitzgerald’s kids rehashed stories of working the polls on Election Day. His wife Cathy retold how one daughter’s purchase of a hot dog led to a vote.
“An hour later, the lady comes to the poll to vote and says, ‘Hey! I just sold you a hot dog. I’ll vote for your dad,’” Cathy laughed.
Raja’s girls are a little young for poll-working, but they did knock on doors for their father, “They both did great.”
But this contest between Raja and Fitzgerald for County Executive won’t turn on family but on issues, say both candidates, and one of the biggest issues is next year’s court-ordered reassessment of all property in the county.
Fitzgerald pledges to block it if imposed on Allegheny County residents alone.
“No Allegheny County only reassessment,” Fitzgerald declares. “I think it should be done statewide, like every other state does it.”
Raja agrees with that, and he says his close ties to Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican leaders who control Harrisburg will help.
“I would go talk to Harrisburg and put a solution together that would be fair and equitable and consistent,” he says. “I wouldn’t just delay the assessments for a long time, going down like eight years like it’s been done in the past.”
Fitzgerald would go to Harrisburg, too, but if they fail to act he would stand his ground despite the consequences.
“The next County Executive has to send out the certified tax values for individual properties,” he says. “That would be my job to send those out. I won’t do it. I just won’t do it if we’re the only county doing it.”
A defiance that could put Fitzgerald in jail for contempt of court.
“Sounds a bit dramatic to me,” says Raja.
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