State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County's next controller, hailed her victory Tuesday night -- and that of other Democrats running for office -- as a message from the voters.
"This is a great night for our team," she told friends, family and campaign volunteers at the IBEW Local 5 Hall on the South Side as the results showed her winning her race with more than 60 percent of the vote. "And I think, as a team, we're going to do great things here.
"Our supporters are people who believe in government and believe in the good that government can do."
That faith, she said, is what helped pass the citywide library initiative and elect her and Rich Fitzgerald, the next county executive. She said the fact that the margins were so lopsided indicates that "people are paying attention."
But Ms. Wagner, 34, a Brookline resident who has served in the state Legislature since 2007, made a point of thanking "the Democratic Committee for support from very early on" and the endorsements and campaign work of "organized labor."
Her opponent, Republican businessman Robert Howard, 61, of Marshall, likewise credited the outcome to Ms. Wagner's coalition of support, as well as to the Democratic Party's edge in numbers in Allegheny County.
"Running against any party with a 2-to-1 registration [advantage] is difficult," Mr. Howard said as the outcome became clear. "I thought [a Republican win] would happen this year due to the frustration with taxes, et cetera. But the machine won the race."
Ms. Wagner said she will resign her seat in the General Assembly just before taking charge of the county controller's office the first week of January. In the meantime, she said, she will continue to fight for the residents of her legislative district, which has been targeted for reshaping and possibly merging into neighboring districts.
Not that her new job will offer much of a honeymoon. Beginning Jan. 1, the city will join the county's financial management system, a partnership that is expected to lead to more efficient management of city finances and present opportunities for cost savings. Approved by the city and county councils, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Mark Flaherty, the current county controller, signed off on the deal in April. But it will be up to the next controller to make it work.
"But that gives us a chance to do things better," Ms. Wagner said. "We're moving forward. This office needs to be more than just pointing out the problems, but helping to find solutions.
"Making things better here in Allegheny County in the face of some very serious challenges really does involve a broad coalition." Still, she said, she will "maintain my integrity," when dealing with other county officials, even if they are fellow Democrats.
"We're all professionals, and we are going to have disagreements," she said. "Things will be carried out fairly."
Desiree Francis contributed.