Sara Innamorato said she was “disheartened” and “appalled” by the statements and tweets of the Democratic Socialists of America following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.
Since the incursion, the leaders of the DSA have blamed Israel for Hamas’ actions and described Israel as an “apartheid state.”
“So, I had to put out a statement saying there’s no question that I stand with my Jewish neighbors,” Innamorato said. “I can’t understand the pain fully, but I want to and I want to be here as a friend to the Jewish community, a community that has lifted me up as a representative, a candidate and as a legislator.”
Innamorato, a candidate for Allegheny County executive, was speaking on Oct. 24 at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Coffee and Conversation forum.
The political hopeful told Laura Cherner, director of Federation’s Community Relations Council, that she was endorsed by the DSA in 2016, and again in 2018, around the Medicare for All initiative, and then on raising the minimum wage and economic justice issues that touched on race.
By 2019, Innamorato said, she felt the DSA was no longer rooted in the day-to-day struggles of people and in creating a more equitable and inclusive world, so she left the organization.
Discussing the five-year commemoration of the attack at the Tree of Life building, Innamorato said that like many in the community, she thought the conclusion of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s trial would bring “light at the end of the tunnel.”
That was before Israel was forced to go to war with Hamas.
“I’ve heard from my friends in the Jewish community,” she said, “that it feels like a scar has been ripped back open.”
Innamorato said that, as county executive, she wouldn’t have a hand in making foreign policy but she would work to ensure everyone in the community feels heard, safe and has the necessary security to go about their lives.
“I can use the bully pulpit of the county executive office to make sure we are stamping out any inkling of hate that begins to manifest itself, whether it’s antisemitism or Islamophobia, and that we are using the full power of the county executive’s office to ensure we are recommitting ourselves to be an inclusive community for all, and that antisemitism has no place in our region, in any facet of our government or in our community,” she said.
Shifting focus to more general issues in the county, Innamorato said it was important to think about what public resources are being dedicated to ensure people have a high quality of life, which means investing in public transportation, infrastructure and schools, along with clean air and water.
The unemployment rate, she said, is low, but that means there is a shallow talent pool available to both small businesses and corporations. The focus, she said, should be not only on creating jobs but caring for companies that are already here.
Innamorato cited the new micro-nuclear reactors being built in Etna as an example of the type of development that makes sense for the area.
“We’re talking about creating carbon-free energy in a place like Etna. This is going to have a strong community benefit agreement attached to it,” she said, noting that there are federal and state dollars available to make these types of projects a reality.
The county, she said, should serve as a convening power in the region, bringing together area universities, workforce development agencies, labor unions, community stakeholders and private businesses to find opportunities.
Asked about infrastructure, Innamorato said the county needs to do a better job of investing in it, especially as climate change negatively affects its lifespan.
Applying a sustainability lens to infrastructure will be important, she noted, looking at things like bicyclist and pedestrian safety, especially in small communities and main streets.
The county executive hopeful spent time discussing the criminal justice system and issues at the Allegheny County Jail.
She said that it was important to have a jail that “ensures people are respected, that they are treated with dignity, that can actually deliver on public safety and not just churn people through a system that spits them out in a place where they are now more vulnerable and less connected and more traumatized. That’s not a recipe for success.”
When choosing future leaders at the jail, she said it was important to find people who are “community-oriented.”
“We want to leverage the conversations that are already happening in the community and invite them to the table,” she said.
The county jail, she said, is not a good place to work right now, with forced overtime and staffing issues. She also said that better mental health resources are needed.
Asked about property taxes, Innamorato said that she wanted a system that was predictable, modern and transparent.
“We do need to address the disparities and inequities and inherent unfairness in our current system,” she said, “and that can be achieved through a property-free assessment.”
That goal can be accomplished, Innamorato said, by bringing together experts from the academic space to work on this issue.
She also said it was important to find ways to keep people in their homes. As an example, she cited a long-term owner-occupant program, which helps to freeze or address property bills.
Nonprofit organizations also play a role, she said, noting that in other counties there are PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) that are paid by entities like UPMC, Allegheny Health Network, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University — or “the big five,” as she called them.
“They have a lot of property that’s tax-exempt,” she said.
Innamorato called governing “a team sport.”
“It’s about partnerships,” she said. “It’s about communication and access to our government. I’ve had the experience of working in the private sector, working in the nonprofit sector, owning my own business, being a state representative. That diversity and experience lends itself to being a good, elected official and really being able to bring those experiences to the county executive office.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.