Retaking the Governor’s Mansion

Illustration by Jen McNulty Retaking the Governor's Mansion
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For the past 40 years, there have been three salient facts about Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial elections. Each elected governor has won the limit of two terms (Mark Schweiker served 20 months after Tom Ridge left to lead homeland security). The office has rotated every eight years between Republicans and Democrats. And three of the last six governors have been from Philadelphia, while only one— Dick Thornburgh — has been from Pittsburgh.

When Thornburgh left office 23 years ago, what can be considered a long drought began in Pittsburgh’s statewide fortunes. Erie’s Ridge mitigated that somewhat for six years. But the political truth is that Harrisburg has become a satellite of the east and Philadelphia, just 100 miles away, while Pittsburgh at twice the distance stands “out west,” separated by both mountains and mentality.

This year, however, it appears that change is at hand. Pittsburgh is poised to regain the governor’s mansion and its spoils — the direction of Pennsylvania’s strategy and resources.

Attorney General Tom Corbett from Shaler is the clear leader of the Republican field, having gained well-​deserved acclaim statewide for investigating and bringing charges in various legislative scandals.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato from the North Side leads a more crowded field of Democrats. While less well known across the state, Onorato has been an excellent leader of Allegheny County, standing up to entrenched interests in the pursuit of regional progress.

Not an insurmountable distance behind Onorato is Auditor General Jack Wagner of Beechview, who has distinguished himself in government service both in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

The three share two pertinent qualities: Each is from Pittsburgh, and each is a good man.

The next step is the May 18 primary election. For Corbett, who raised the most money among all candidates last year, victory appears likely. Among the Democrats, the picture is less clear, but the odds and the money favor Onorato, whose $6.5 million war chest is tops among all candidates and stands to serve him well in the fall.

As usual, uncertainties abound. In January, Dr. Cyril Wecht announced he was considering a run, a move that would only hurt Pittsburgh by splitting the local vote further and opening the door for a non-​Pittsburgher to win the Democratic primary.

If Republican Scott Brown’s dramatic win of Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat spurs a national backlash against Democrats, Corbett could be the beneficiary, and the seesaw of alternating eight-​year party cycles in Harrisburg might continue.

The vagaries of political wind shifts aside, what is clear enough is that we stand an excellent chance to elect a governor from Pittsburgh. And in the May primary and the November election, this should be the goal of all Pittsburghers, regardless of party.

PQ Staff

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