PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Strong words between County Controller Chelsa Wagner and former Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty got heated from the get-go.

They both spoke at a debate at the O’Hara Elementary School sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, and local Democratic committees.

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KDKA political editor Jon Delano was the moderator.

“I feel the office has gone in the wrong direction,” said Flaherty. “We need to put it on the right track. Unfortunately, it’s chosen politics over professionalism.”

Flaherty accused Wagner of politicizing the office, cutting accountants and auditors in half.

“Unfortunately, instead of replacing those people with professional accountants and professional auditors, they’ve chosen to replace those people with politicians.”

Wagner called Flaherty’s comments “an outright lie.”

“Collectively, we have increased the number of professionals,” said Wagner.

For her part, Wagner accused Flaherty of being the hand-picked candidate of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald whom, she implied, wants to control everything.

“We have a county executive which we have seen has demonstrated real overreach in terms of the power of that office,” she noted.

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Wagner said Flaherty’s election threatens the independence of the controller as the fiscal watchdog.

“When you have the chief executive trying to pick the county controller, it basically renders the independence of this office meaningless,” Wagner asserted. “If the executive would or should pick the controller, it might as well be an appointive position.”

“I’ve already been there,” claimed Flaherty. “I was there for eight years. I demonstrated my independence. I did it then, and I’ll certainly do it again.”

After all the nasty back-and-forth, Jon Delano asked each, “Tell us something nice, something good about your opponent.”

Wagner said Flaherty is a really nice guy, adding, “I think Mark is in better shape than I am right now. The office has taken a toll on me.”

And Flaherty was equally generous.

“She’s a very impressive woman, and she’s one of the best mothers I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” added Flaherty.

But don’t expect kind words from the candidates in their final TV ads. The election is less than a week away.

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