Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer

Erica Rocchi Brusselars

The makeup of that [Retirement] board speaks to the fact that our government still doesn’t look like us. It also speaks to the fact of what happens when leaders, the electorate, or voting groups aren’t intentional about looking for, promoting, and supporting diversity and folks with different experiences and backgrounds.

This is the next post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.

I first met Erica during the 2022 General Election. She responded to my inquiry to the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) about yard signs. I appreciated that she reached out using Facebook Messenger. I also appreciated that she heard me out about the process of connecting signs to the LGBTQ community. She was not defensive and did not expect me to ‘suck it up’ because of the importance of the elections. Erica approached me about completing my Q&A (I think she saw it on Facebook) and that I always love. We had a solid exchange about the process and she met her own deadline to complete the Q&A. I think you’ll see some of those same values and practices in her responses below.

I never thought I’d be excited about the County Treasurer’s office, but then again – there hasn’t actually been a campaign in over 20 years. Even her campaign colors are a refreshing change. Read on …

Your Name: Erica Rocchi Brusselars

Your Pronouns: she/her/hers

The Office You Seek: Allegheny County Treasurer

How do you describe your identity? I am a cis, heterosexual, white, anti-racist woman. I was raised with many upper-class privileges.

Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?

The district I’m running in is the entirety of Allegheny County. I’ll answer with a gem close to my home on Pittsburgh’s northside: Riverview Park is one of the four largest Pittsburgh City Parks. It has great hiking trails where I’ve enjoyed many a walk as well as a pool, some great park shelters, and a road loop makes it a favorite for 5k races in the summer.

How has redistricting impacted your district?

The short answer is that redistricting did not impact this office.

Redistricting is a process that redraws the lines of certain political districts after every census to reflect changes in the population to ensure that districts represent similar numbers of residents. The process happened during 2022. The changes were in effect for races in 2022 such as PA state senate and house districts and US House districts. In 2023 we’ll see these newly adjusted districts when voting for many county, city, and borough council seats as well as school board districts and undoubtedly some other offices that are slipping my mind at the moment.

Redistricting does not affect offices that are based on the whole of a geographic area. For example, mayors, US Senators, and county-wide offices are not directly affected by redistricting.

I will point out a big shift that happened in Allegheny County because of redistricting. We now have two more elected Democrats in our delegation to the state house than we did in 2022 and there is now a Democratic majority in the state house for the first time in over a decade. I am hopeful that we will see more productive legislation coming from Harrisburg in the next two years.

One thing we do know is that we won’t find solutions if we are not looking for them. And I pledge to start on the path of having these conversations.

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine. 

My mom’s very close friend, Lanphear Costello, or “John Dear,” as we all called him, was likely the first LGBTQ person I met. I was a small child when we met and he lived on the other side of the country from us, so while I don’t remember much of him directly, I do remember that he was a dear friend of my mom’s.

John Dear was an artist (I’m lucky enough to have one of his paintings in my dining room). He was also gay man in NYC when I was growing up (late 1970s to early 1990s) and lived and died with AIDS. I think this made the issue very close to my mother who was very concerned with accurate information about HIV/AIDS being available in the schools at a time when there was a lot of fear, exclusion, and misinformation.

Describe your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region? 

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have a vibrant and ever-evolving LGBTQIA+ community. Here on the northside we have community pillars such as the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, which was at the forefront of getting equitable access to Covid testing early in the pandemic and is a trustworthy provider of healthcare services for the LGBTQIA+ community. Very close to my home is a new teen convening space called Q-MNTY Center, a project of Proud Haven and Trans YOUniting, on East Ohio Street. Locally, Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities has worked to bring awareness and support of Trans youth with the PROTECT TRANS YOUTH sign project. These three examples are within a mile of my house. While there is much I’m not yet familiar with, I know there is a huge movement and community in our County and region. I look forward to meeting more people and learning more, and I appreciate how generous people and organizations are with connecting.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for Allegheny County? How will you respond to those priorities?

Concerns for fair treatment, holistic health care, and acceptance and protection of children. All of this is amplified for folks who are intersectional with other marginalized communities. As the lead of the Treasurer’s Office itself, I will respond to these priorities by striving to create a work environment that is respectful, empowering and supportive of the diverse needs of employees. As a countywide elected official, I will work to understand and advocate for the needs of my constituents.

Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.

In everything I do I endeavor to meet folks where they are at. We never know where someone is coming from or what is going on in their mind, body, or life. A few years ago I had a supervisor who told me it was a workplace where we could bring our whole selves. Hearing that felt like such a relief.

We live in a country founded on white supremacy. Our systems are biased against people of the global majority (“black people & people of color”), against LGBTQIA+ folks, against women, against people experiencing poverty, against people with disabilities, against people of certain immigration statuses, against people practicing certain religions, and the list goes on and on. We need to purposefully make space and have conversations and healing so that we can move forward from those traumas to recreate the country we deserve. 

Please give an example of when another member of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue, big or small. 

With the start of this election season, a Committee member brought up a question of whether paid campaign workers or candidates who are chairs have unfair access to Democratic Committee data. While his question came from a place of wanting a fair playing field for all candidates, I could hear that my reaction was coming from a place of defensiveness (I’m not using the data unfairly and neither are the folks I know!). We moved on to other topics in the meeting and at the end I circled back around to him to get specifics about his concerns.

By shifting from a place of defensiveness, I was able to hear his ideas and concerns. Seeing a new perspective helped me to understand a way that the Allegheny County Democratic Committee has been used to the advantage of insiders and disadvantage of outsiders in the past. I joined the Committee and moved into a leadership role to help make our County Committee more accessible and active; the Committee member’s concerns highlighted a way we could do that. I followed up with our City and County leadership to gain an understanding of what our County Committee’s processes are to ensure they are equitable and moving toward greater transparency.

Help us understand the difference between the County Treasurer and the County Controller. Why are both necessary? Note for readers: Corey O’Connor is the current County Controller. 

The County Treasurer collects and distributes our county tax money: real estate tax, alcoholic beverage tax, hotel room rental tax, and rental vehicle tax are the big four. The Treasurer is also responsible for investing the money that the county has in the bank. Some folks refer to the Treasurer’s Office as the County’s “bank” and/or the Tax Collector. This office also issues dog licenses (for folks who don’t live in the City of Pittsburgh), bingo/small games of chance licenses, and hunting and fishing licenses.

The County Controller is responsible for ensuring that Allegheny County tax money is spent to the advantage of the taxpayers. Their office approves contracts, payments, county payroll, and they house all county contracts in a publicly available database. This office can look for inefficiencies, shed light on or spotlight where better practices can come into play or areas that are having troubles. The County Controller also sits on the Jail Oversight Board.

The County Treasurer and Controller both serve on the Retirement Board of Allegheny County, the Investment Board, and the Depository Board. Their offices interface when it comes to payments from the County – the Controller’s Office approves them and the Treasurer’s Office pays them.

I can’t pay for my dog license (I do not currently have a dog) online. That seems patently absurd in 2023 and even a deterrent for folx who are unbanked, but do pay their taxes (or want to.) How hard is it going to be to get the County accepting tax payments via Paypal, Venmo, and Google Pay? What should we expect from that process? 

I love this question. It exemplifies how including more folks in a conversation brings in more ideas and perspectives. One of my goals is to find ways to improve equity and raising issues like this is how we get there. I do not know the ins and outs of getting additional payment forms added, but I can promise to look into it and work toward it. You are right, there are lots of unbanked folks, and we should work to provide the highest quality of services for them as well.

Similarly, we need to move payments for lifetime dog licenses to be online so it’s easier for folks to choose that option. The lifetime dog license usually saves money in the long run.

One thing I will note is that folks who live in the City of Pittsburgh buy their dog licenses from the city and it’s a whole different process.

I will point out a big shift that happened in Allegheny County because of redistricting. We now have two more elected Democrats in our delegation to the state house than we did in 2022 and there is now a Democratic majority in the state house for the first time in over a decade. I am hopeful that we will see more productive legislation coming from Harrisburg in the next two years.

The County Treasurer is responsible for the County Employee Pension Fund. It is reported that the fund is significantly underfunded. The current treasurer has been watching over it for at least 23 years as chair of the pension board. Who was watching over the pension board all of these years? And how will you shore up the pensions of thousands of retirees? Do members of the pension board receive a County pension? 

Per the County Charter, the Pension Board is made up of

  • County Executive (Rich Fitzgerald)
  • County Controller (Corey O’Connor)
  • County Treasurer (John Weinstein, current board president)
  • Four members of the retirement system, each serving a four-year term
    • One appointed by Chief Executive and approved by County Council (Jennifer Liptak)
    • One appointed by County Council (Sarah Roka)
    • Two elected by ballot from among the members of the retirement system (Ted Puzak and Frank DiCristofaro)

These are the folks watching over the pension board.

The public can also be watching this board. The Board’s minutes are online to read and their meetings should be public. In December, I was told the meeting was only available to the public via Microsoft Teams. Access to this meeting started late, the sound quality was poor, there was no mechanism for public comment, and viewers could not see the room or who was speaking or present. In January after not receiving a response about my request to attend in person, I planned to attend again via Microsoft Teams, only to find the day-of that the meeting was in person and not available via Microsoft Teams. Access to public meetings should be simpler. As a member of the board, I will work to ensure that the meetings are public, recorded, and available to attend both remotely and in-person.

The first step to shoring up the pension plan is to get realistic estimates of the cost to properly fund our promises to our workers and retirees. Ultimately more money will need to be put into the pension fund. How fast that money is put in the fund and where that money comes from are the next big questions. It will take brainstorming and discussing options. I do not know what the solution will be but imagine it may include elements such as raising taxes, finding new revenue sources, getting state or federal funding, changing the investment mix, or other options. One thing we do know is that we won’t find solutions if we are not looking for them. And I pledge to start on the path of having these conversations.

My understanding is that everyone on the Pension Board is eligible for the County Pension, subject to service requirements, because they are or were employees of the County.

I just looked. Is the current Retirement Board actually seven white cisgender heterosexual people? How is it possible there are no BIPOC members? 

I did also notice that it’s seven white-presenting people, though I have not researched their gender/sexuality or self-identified race/ethnicity. But, your point is taken.

We, the voters of Allegheny County, put two of those men onto that board by electing them to their offices. Controller O’Connor’s was appointed by the Governor to his current seat. Then two were chosen by folks we elected; I will highlight these are the two women on the Board. And then two were chosen by members of the retirement plan.

The makeup of that board speaks to the fact that our government still doesn’t look like us. It also speaks to the fact of what happens when leaders, the electorate, or voting groups aren’t intentional about looking for, promoting, and supporting diversity and folks with different experiences and backgrounds.

What is an actuary? How did you end up in that career trajectory? 

Great question! An actuary is someone who does financial calculations that involve risk. I worked with pension plans, so the risks we estimated were things like how long payments would be made (i.e., how long someone would live), what a person’s future salary would be, when a person might retire or stop working. We would also do some work that would estimate different asset return scenarios.

I’ve always loved and excelled at math, so I opted to study it when I went to college at Carnegie Mellon University. After college I wanted to do something far outside my experience, so I taught public school in rural Mississippi as part of a two-year state-sponsored teaching fellowship at the University of Mississippi. Teaching public school was not a long-term fit for me. When I called my prior college advisor at Carnegie Mellon he said, “they’re always looking for actuaries.” So, I gave that a try. It’s a professional field that’s more accessible than others because you don’t need an advanced professional degree for it, just to start the professional exams. I wasn’t sure that I’d stay in the field long. But, I found that I loved working on complex calculations and serving clients (usually human resources and finance leaders in companies that sponsored pension plans). My work and responsibilities shifted over my career – training more junior staff, streamlining processes, planning and transitioning large data and administrative outsourcing projects – which kept things interesting.

You worked on the 2020 Senate Runoff Election in Georgia, through a racial justice lens. What lessons from that experience could benefit Allegheny County? 

I learned two key things in my month of knocking doors and talking to voters:

— Folks want to make human connections. I had incredible conversations with strangers – folks who were kind enough to open their door and give their time. The group I was there with, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), focuses on training white folks to reach out to white folks to talk about anti-racism. To me it means letting a person share their experiences and, if there’s space, helping them reflect on it or share my personal experiences to add a perspective.

— I also learned a lot about how to be an organizer from SURJ’s staff. I have carried that into political campaigns and non-profit volunteering I have done here in Pittsburgh.

You also taught middle-school math for a few years. What’s more daunting – a room full of 13 year old math students or a board room full of pensioners?

When I was 21-year-old I started teaching and it was definitely a room full of 13-year-olds. It might still be a room full of 13-year-olds 😉

If the County re-extended domestic partnership benefits to employees both same sex and opposite sex, would it have significant financial impact on the County budget? Would it have a significant financial impact on the health of the County? 

I don’t know the cost of restoring or providing that benefit, that’s a question best directed to the County Controller or the County Office of Budget & Finance. However I do agree with what I believe is the underlying premise of the question which is should people be treated equitably: yes.

How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community? 

When we are given choice, it’s easier to envision what is possible. And when we are given competition we hear new ideas, we learn more about candidates, and we get a better feeling for what the community and voters want and don’t want.

I came into this race expecting to have a competitive primary against the incumbent. He had run unopposed for the past 20 years. As I speak with residents and neighbors, I can see one of the costs of that is that residents don’t know what the office is. And as discussions emerge we see ideas like easier, more inclusive online payments; options for more ways to go paper-free; experiences exemplifying areas of improvement; possibilities about collaborating on tax collection services. These conversations have also revealed that simple kindnesses like personal notes upon a pet’s death or upon a community achievement that have come out of the office go a long way to improving the connection between our government and residents.

What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?

  1. I am dedicated to transparent, easy-to-access government.
  2. I am committed to working with people and departments for thoughtful, collaborative, forward-moving solutions.
  3. My experience as a pension actuary makes me uniquely qualified to lead in the work that needs to be done by our Pension Board.

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.

I have been finding broad support as I get out in the community and to Democratic committee meetings.

Endorsements will be rolled out in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for them on our website at www.EricaForTreasurer.com

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

I appreciate your tireless work to illuminate the workings of government and highlight the people who want to be in our elected offices. You provide a lens that broadens a voter’s perspective. Thank you, Sue!

Where can readers find your campaign on social media? 

Give us a follow on your platform of choice!

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Erica4Treasurer

Instagram @Erica4Treasurer

Twitter @Erica4Treasurer


Sign up to volunteer https://www.mobilize.us/erica4treasurer/

Thank you, Erica.

This is our seventh year of creating and publishing these Q&As – nearly 80 to date. If you value this work, please consider investing in our blog. Become a Patreon. Create a Steel City Snowflake. Venmo @Pghlesbian Or consider other options. Thank you.

To participate in this Q&A series:

  • you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
  • identify as pro-choice
  • you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results

Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. 

  1. Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
  2. Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
  3. Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer


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