Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato's decision not to seek a third term clears the way for several Democratic candidates to pursue their party's nomination for the post in the May primary.
County Council President Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb had indicated they would consider running if Mr. Onorato declined to seek re-election.
And shortly after Mr. Onorato's announcement, a statement from The Friends of Mark Patrick Flaherty announced that Mr. Flaherty would formally announce his candidacy for county executive on Wednesday.
Mr. Lamb, the Pittsburgh controller up for re-election to his current post this year, said he was "taking a very serious look" at switching his sights to the county position.
Mr. Fitzgerald said he wasn't ready to elaborate on his plans, but he had made clear in the past that he would run for the job if his ally, Mr. Onorato, decided to relinquish it. Instead of discussing his ambitions, Mr. Fitzgerald released a statement praising Mr. Onorato.
"It would be like if Troy Polamalu announced he was going to leave the Steelers a year from now," he said.
For his part, the incumbent said it was too early to discuss who he might support in the May primary.
The county's Republicans also say they plan to back a candidate for the post in the general election.
Mr. Onorato, who had easily won election to the executive's post in 2003 and 2007, appeared vulnerable after his unsuccessful run for governor in November. Republican Gov.-elect Tom Corbett of Shaler took a small majority of votes in Allegheny County despite the Democrats' strong advantage in party registrations. Mr. Corbett, a veteran prosecutor, is state attorney general.
Mr. Onorato, however, described the results of the governor's race in Allegheny County as essentially a tie. He said he was confident he could have won a third term as county executive.
Encouraged by Mr. Corbett's victory over Mr. Onorato in the county, Jim Roddey, the county GOP chairman and Mr. Onorato's predecessor as county executive, and Robert Gleason, the party's state chairman, have identified the county executive's post as a prime target for the Republicans this year.
Mr. Roddey said he wasn't ready to name a potential GOP nominee but insisted that the party would produce a strong contender soon.
He suggested the GOP candidate was likely to be a woman.
Allegheny County has about 1.2 million residents, and the county executive's job has been described as the third most influential executive position in the state, behind the governor and the mayor of Philadelphia.