I want the Controller’s office to go beyond simply pointing out problems and moving on and work in collaboration with County and City departments, as well as outside stakeholders, to set policy and provide a vision for the county’s future.
Our next post in 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.
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
I’m not a fan of political family dynasties, but I must admit that Corey O’Connor has pleasantly surprised me – he’s smart, thoughtful, and accomplished. Each time I’ve interacted with him or his staff, he’s been responsive and thoughtful. When he moved to the County Controllers office as an appointee to fill a vacancy, I was curious what he would accomplish and so far, I’m impressed. I was quite pleased that he agreed to complete the Q&A – and more pleased with his responses. He committed some rather progressive stances. This entire campaign Q&A cycle has really opened my eyes to the important roles of the Controller and Treasurer in our leadership structures. I hope you are paying close attention as well.
Your Name: Corey O’Connor
Your Pronouns: He/Him
The Office You Seek: Allegheny County Controller
How do you describe your identity?
I identify as a cis-gender, straight man,
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about?
As Allegheny County Controller I represent all 130 municipalities in Allegheny County – from Aleppo to Wilmerding. There are so many great places to visit throughout the County, but my pick for a hidden gem would have to be the buffalo herd at the South Park Game Preserve. Yes, Allegheny County owns a small herd of American bison. No, this isn’t new – they’ve been in South Park since the 1920s. And yes, you can visit them free of charge.
How has redistricting impacted your district?
As a countywide elected official redistricting won’t directly impact my district, however I have long supported redistricting reform in Pennsylvania and will continue to advocate for this cause.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine.
The first LGBTQ person I can remember meeting was the uncle of a close childhood friend. We only met briefly, but when I was in third or fourth grade, I learned from my friend that his uncle had died from a terrible disease, AIDS. I can vividly remember the conversation that followed where my friend explained to me what AIDs was, how his uncle had contracted it, and how, because there wasn’t a cure, it had killed thousands and thousands of other people around the world, particularly people like his uncle. This conversation stayed with me over the years and directly informed many of the actions I took when I was elected to Pittsburgh’s City Council, including my first bill, which created an official City Commission focused on HIV/AIDs.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you took municipal office?
My priority while on City Council was on engaging with my district’s LGBTQ community and learning how I could use my office to be a more effective partner and ally. I worked directly with stakeholders within the community to craft legislation and solve problems. In addition to the HIV/AIDS Commission mentioned above, I voted to ban conversion therapy in 2016 and to add gender identity and expression as protected classes to the City’s code in 2019.
Yes, I support replacing the ACJ Warden. Current conditions at the jail are deplorable and we need new leadership.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities?
One trend that has alarmed me is the rise of anti-trans violence and the growing number of bills directly targeting trans youth and restricting access to gender affirming medical care. In 2022, I campaigned extensively for state legislative candidates who publicly opposed any efforts to discriminate against transgender Pennsylvanians and will continue to speak out against the spread of anti-LGBTQ policies in general.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.
My City Council district was racially and socio-economically diverse and it was important to me to understand how each policy I supported might impact each individual community. What worked for Squirrel Hill might not for Hazelwood or Lincoln Place. This same approach is key to my work as Controller. By following the money, we can gain a clearer understanding of how current policies are failing Allegheny County’s most vulnerable residents and what we can do to better support them.
Looking back at your City Council tenure, please give an example of when another member of City Council has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
The first example that came to mind when I read this question was my work with then Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak on early childhood education. My undergrad degree was in early childhood education, and I was passionate about the topic but struggled to figure out how to turn this passion into real legislation. Natalia had been championing this issue before I joined Council and we worked together to advocate for the issue and gain support from the other members of council. Working together we were able to add $2 million dollars towards support for early childhood education to the city’s budget. This was the single largest one-time investment in early childhood education made by the City of Pittsburgh.
Help us understand the difference between the County Treasurer and the County Controller. Why are both necessary? Note for readers: Both are elected offices and on the current ballot.
The County Treasurer collects tax money, makes investments, and writes checks to cover the budgetary obligations created by the County Executive and County Council. The Treasurer disburses the payment only after approval of the Controller.
The County Controller provides the accounting function by keeping track of the funds using government accounting standards and best practices to make sure the government’s commitment when it uses tax money is honored. The office also handles mandatory financial reporting (single audit and ACFR) for fiscal transparency, fiscal and performance auditing of departments and agencies, payroll, as well as job site inspections for any construction project that receives public money and review for contract compliance.
Separating these functions into independent elected offices provides additional oversight and an additional check and balance on the executive.
The County Controller along with the County Treasurer and County Chief Executive is statutorily responsible for oversight of County Employee Pension Fund. It is reported that the fund is significantly underfunded. 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?
I understand that by the year 2042, the Allegheny County Pension will be underfunded – meaning, there is a very real risk that in less than 20 years hard-working County employees may be denied financial security in retirement. The reasons for the underfunding are numerous and include mismanagement by the people supposedly overseeing it. But focusing on the causes of the problem will not solve it. As County Controller, I am focused on crafting solutions to identified problems, not dwelling on the problems. To that end, I hired the City’s budget director who was able to solve the City’s pension woes to help fix this urgent problem. By bringing together the right people, I am convinced that we can successfully resolve the issue. In addition, I have also proposed a package of ethics reforms for the Retirement Board that will reduce conflicts of interest, prevent political interference in investment decisions, and help to increase transparency and trust in the Board.
Employee members of the board are entitled to receive a pension if they meet the same requirements as everyone else.
The current Retirement Board actually seven white cisgender heterosexual people? What steps will you take in conjunction with the other three elected leaders to ensure that board is representative of the workforce?
The composition and election procedures of the Retirement Board are statutorily defined by PA’s 2nd Class County Code and there are limited opportunities for changing these procedures. I agree that the Retirement Board should do a better job of reflecting our County’s diverse workforce and will use my position to push the County Executive and County Council to take diversity and equity into consideration before making future appointments.
By following the money, we can gain a clearer understanding of how current policies are failing Allegheny County’s most vulnerable residents and what we can do to better support them.
Your campaign site specifies a “long overdue” audit of Visit Pittsburgh. Have they ever been audited by your predecessors? What other publicly funded nonprofits and entities are on the list of “long overdue” or “overdue” audits?
It’s been about a decade since Visit Pittsburgh was last audited.
Upcoming audits and reports include:
- Allegheny County Jail where we are in the process of conducting the first staffing audit in at least a decade and just completed a first of its kind audit of DHS focusing on services for children of the incarcerated
- The Clean Air Fund
- County services for those experiencing homelessness
- Successes and shortcomings of emergency rental programs funded with non-county money
- Indigent defense funding
Your duties include serving on the Jail Oversight Board, and Juvenile Detention Board of Advisors. What specific proposals are you supporting to address the significant concerns with both? Do you support replacing the ACJ Warden? How do you audit a juvenile justice system that literally has nowhere to adjudicate youth?
Yes, I support replacing the ACJ Warden. Current conditions at the jail are deplorable and we need new leadership.
My office is currently working on multiple projects focused on the ACJ including:
- The first audit of jail staff in at least 10 years. This will help us identify core needs, patterns, and recommendations, as well as provide support and evidence for how to better enforce supplementary contracts for service-providers, like for food vendors.
- Monitoring the fiscal health and longevity of the Incarcerated Individual Wellness Fund, which is used for, among other things, transferring money to ACJ residents for use, and also hopefully advocating to democratize its use so that ACJ residents have a say
- Advocated for better and higher nutritional standards to be included in new RFP for food services, thereby setting a higher floor / minimum standard
- Ensuring that services for the families and loved ones for residents of ACJ are accessible and effective, as will be shown with audit of DHS services for children of the incarcerated
Your predecessor at the County Controller had two known domestic violence abusers on staff one as an analyst and the other as a manager, one is LGBTQ and the other is cisgender heterosexual, both with ties to local Democratic committees structures. Did you keep them on staff when you were sworn in during 2022? Would you commit to not including domestic violence abusers on your team in the future? Note – I was unable to confirm the employment status of these two individuals before I submitted this Q&A.
Intimate partner violence in all its forms is abhorrent and unacceptable. I denounce that behavior and the behavior described in these allegations.
When I was sworn-in, I sought outside legal counsel about what rights this office, as an employer, must address these allegations. Legally, there are limited avenues forward for specifically responding to these allegations with termination or disciplinary action in the workplace.
However, I’ve made it clear to my employees that I have zero tolerance for intimate partner violence, and it has no place in my office starting from day one. I can’t speak for the tolerance of past administrations, but this behavior won’t be condoned or accepted while I’m Controller.
I can’t comment on all the specifics of these employment and legal matters, but these issues — and Countywide policies on intimate partner violence — are under review. I’m partnering with Standing Firm to introduce and codify intimate partner violence policies and regular, recurring training in this office. My long-running relationship with the Standing Firm has been collaborative, instructive, and critically important to my time in government. I’ll continue to explore best practices in protocols and policies for the Controller’s office and our County government and act on them.
Consolidations and mergers are significant Controller issues. When the City consolidated its 911 operations with Allegheny County, City employees lost access to domestic partnership benefits because the County did not and no longer offers them. Would you commit to advocate to the ACE and County Council that they adopt comprehensive domestic partner benefits for same sex and opposite sex employees, both non-unionized and those represented? Why or why not?
Yes, I would commit to advocate that ACE and County Council adopt these benefits.
I agree that the Retirement Board should do a better job of reflecting our County’s diverse workforce and will use my position to push the County Executive and County Council to take diversity and equity into consideration before making future appointments.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Many elected officials seem to resent the idea of having to run in a primary, but voters deserve to have a choice and an opportunity to learn more about those seeking to represent them.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
- Experience: I’ve been working in and around county government for over a decade. I understand how this system works and how to craft effective policies.
- Independence: Allegheny County voters are about to elect a new County Executive, and potentially new row officers and new members of County Council. Regardless of the eventual nominees, I promise to be an independent check on their authority and always put taxpayers first.
- Vision: I want the Controller’s office to go beyond simply pointing out problems and moving on and work in collaboration with County and City departments, as well as outside stakeholders, to set policy and provide a vision for the county’s future.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
- Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey
- State Senator Jay Costa
- State Senator Lindsey Williams
- State Senator Wayne Fontana
- State Senator Jim Brewster
- State Representative Aerion Abney
- State Representative Emily Kinkead
- State Representative Dan Frankel
- State Representative Arvind Venkat
- State Representative Mandy Steele
- State Representative Jess Benham
- State Representative Nick Pisciottano
- State Representative Anita Kulik
- Pittsburgh City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith
- Pittsburgh City Councilor Bobby Wilson
- Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus
- Pittsburgh City Councilor Anthony Coghill
- Pittsburgh City Councilor Daniel Lavelle
- Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger
- Steel City Stonewall Democrats
- Young Democrats of Allegheny County
- Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council
- SEIU 32BJ
- Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
- Allegheny County Democratic Committee
- Teamsters Joint Council 40
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for reaching out to my campaign and allowing me to participate in this series!
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Corey.
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
- Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Lita Brillman, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Kate Lovelace, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Valerie Fleisher, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Barb Warwick, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Nerissa Galt, Candidate for PENNCREST School Board
- Q&A with Todd Hoffman, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Dan Grzybek, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 5
- Q&A with Khari Mosley, Candidate for City Council, District 9
- Q&A with Alexandra Hunt, Candidate for Philadelphia City Controller
- Q&A with Deb Gross, Candidate for City Council, District 7
- Q&A with Phillip Roberts, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Matt Dugan, Candidate for Allegheny County District Attorney
- Q&A with Corey O’Connor, Candidate for Allegheny County Controller
This blog proudly built by snowflakes, social justice warriors, and the politically correct.
Join the Steel City Snowflakes with a one time or recurring investment in our projects. Click the image to see our current snowflakes.
Follow us on Twitter @Pghlesbian24
This post and/or others may contain affiliate links. Your purchase through these links support our work. You are under no obligation to make a purchase.