Former Alcoa financier challenges longtime incumbent in Allegheny County treasurer's race


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The longtime Allegheny County treasurer is facing competition this election season from a former treasurer of Alcoa.

The county treasurer oversees the collection of various county taxes, including those for property, alcoholic beverages, vehicle rentals and hotels. The treasurer also manages hunting, boating, fishing and dog licensing.

Democrat John Weinstein, 47, of Kennedy, who has held the office for 12 years, said he is running on his record and credits his office with increasing efficiency by implementing electronic county tax bills.

"It's a major step toward automating the tax billing process," he said, adding that the county is the only one in the state with electronic tax bills.

His Republican challenger, Ned Pfeifer, 78, of Shadyside, said the office can still be more cost-effective. He criticized the size of its 80-person staff and its $5.7 million budget.

"The first thing I would do is look at the budget," he said. "See where 80 people spend their time."

Mr. Pfeifer added that he has "some real concerns" about the management of the county's pension fund. As county treasurer, Mr. Weinstein sits on the retirement board, which oversees the fund.

The 2008 national financial crisis diminished the value of financial assets, such as corporate equities and bonds, upon which pension systems across the country rely for funding, and Allegheny County's system is no exception. The system dropped from 93 percent funded in 2008 to 71 percent funded in 2010, according to actuarial reports.

Regardless, Mr. Weinstein said the fund's diversified portfolio helped it remain one of the strongest in the state.

Mr. Pfeifer said his experience in financial management would help him play an important role in reversing what he said is the county's economic decline. He said his 30-year career in financial management at Alcoa Inc. -- a multinational aluminum production corporation based in Pittsburgh -- including four years as its corporate treasurer and nine years as CFO of its Australian subsidiary, has prepared him for any issues a county treasurer could face.

Mr. Weinstein, who was once deputy treasurer, ascended to the office in 1999 when his predecessor retired. Mr. Weinstein then held onto it through three elections, facing little competition. The last election had no Republican challenger, and Mr. Weinstein received about three-fifths of the vote in the preceding election.

There is no way to know if Mr. Weinstein will win again, Mr. Pfeifer said. "Nobody has been brave enough to run against him," he said.

That history has not stopped former county chief executive Jim Roddey, now chairman of the county Republican Party, from supporting Mr. Pfeifer's campaign. Republican Councilman Vince Gastgeb criticized Mr. Roddey earlier this year for backing Mr. Pfeifer, saying the party should instead be concentrating its resources on winning higher offices, such as county executive.

Now just weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Mr. Roddey stands by his decision to support Mr. Pfeifer.

"I have an obligation to support him, as does the party," Mr. Roddey said. The county party has helped Mr. Pfeifer distribute mailings and yard signs and make phone calls to voters, he said.

Although support for Democrats has dwindled nationwide since 2008, Mr. Weinstein said voters will vote according to the job he has done over the last 12 years. "I trust that taxpayers are confident in the job I am doing," he said.


Chris Kirk: ckirk@post-gazette.com .


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