Allegheny County Executive-elect Sara Innamorato didn't originally plan to run for office. As she shifted from a business career to nonprofit work and consulting, Innamorato found herself both intrigued by local policymaking and dismayed by the lack of women in Harrisburg.
"I thought I was going to be the person who helped women run for office," she tells Pittsburgh City Paper. Locals with political experience whom she tried to recruit told her to run instead, so, after the fateful 2016 election, Innamorato finally went for it. "I kind of thought of myself as a little bit of an experiment of, like, well, if I can go through this process, I can essentially be my own test subject."
That experiment led her through two and a half terms as a state representative to the top job in Pennsylvania's second-largest county. She'll be the first woman to hold the role.
Innamorato's campaign is grounded in the promise of "building a county for us all." That includes voters, among them some ticket-splitting Democrats, who favored her Republican opponent Joe Rockey — she has detailed plans to "invite people into the democratic process and engage them in a civic sense" once she takes office on Jan. 2. Part of this will be pushing back on the recent election's many attack ads, which Innamorato says is symptomatic of the flood of money pouring into races nationwide, and making her goals clearer to voters. These include more accessible and affordable housing, cleaner air and water, and stronger pipelines to jobs for those lower on the economic ladder.
"That's great that we've reinvented ourselves to be the place of innovation and tech and eds and meds," Innmorato says, "but it hasn't helped me; it hasn't helped my family generationally. And so it's not enough to just say, 'look at this prosperity' … if we're not being intentional in the realm of the public policy space."
Innamorato has since assembled a large, diverse transition team to guide the early phase of her term and prepare for a hiring spree. She plans specific roles for housing experts and environmental advocates, and emphasizes that transitioning to "less carbon-intensive" industries will ultimately benefit Allegheny County by creating jobs that will be around a generation from now. Innamorato's team is gearing up for public-facing events and a sweeping survey of area residents to hammer out all the details in tandem with community members.
"We're going to show people what an Innamorato administration is going to look like, how it's going to be out in the community, how it's going to engage with people, how it's going to accept criticism and feedback," she says, "and really have this two-way dialogue with the people that I have the privilege of representing."