As questions begin to grow about Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein’s role on a local sewer board, another Democratic candidate for County Executive teed off on new revelations and accused Weinstein of “abusing his public trust.”
Dave Fawcett, a trial lawyer and former County Council member, held a press conference on Friday and called for more rigorous campaign finance regulations that would limit contributions and increase transparency at the County level.
“At a minimum, the use of campaign monies by elected officials and candidates to exercise influence is wrong and erodes the public trust in our institutions and elected officials,” said Fawcett. “Other times, it is flat out illegal behavior.
“I have firsthand experience standing up to the corrosive nature of campaign money in politics. I took on an out-of-control CEO of a corporate giant in the coal industry, Don Blankenship, in a state that, like Pennsylvania and Allegheny County, has no campaign contribution limits. Similar to the case with Blankenship, John Weinstein is abusing his public trust to try to wield influence over the awarding of hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has reported that in the same week that Weinstein lost a powerful seat on the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) board – County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam reached out to state Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) and suggested that Kinkead might resign her seat on the board. This would create an opening for Weinstein to return with a quid pro quo that he would stop supporting Kinkead’s opponent in the 2022 primary.
According to the P-G, Kinkead rejected the suggestion, won reelection and still remains on ALCOSAN’s board as secretary.
As ALCOSAN has begun a $2 billion Clean Water Plan to bring the county in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, a seat on the authority brings with it a lot of power has contracts are being handed out to area construction fims.
“All of the reports we’ve seen in recent days and weeks involve the same pattern … a career politician using campaign money to curry favor to receive something in return,” said Fawcett. “That’s an abuse of power. People need to be able to trust their elected officials.”
Weinstein had served on the ALCOSAN board for a decade when Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald replaced him in April 2022. It has been reported that before that removal, the FBI had begun raising questions at ALCOSAN about Weinstein, while a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh had expressed concerns about Mr. Weinstein’s work there to county and city leaders.
What was asked and what concerns there were remained unanswered. Weinstein has not been charged with any wrongdoing or publicly identified as the subject of any investigation.
Hallam has denied the allegations about her involvement to the Tribune-Review, saying there was no quid pro quo and that Fitzgerald may be behind the whole thing.
She said in April 2022, “For too long, the county executive has been awarding board positions as political favors. Council is putting a stop to that unethical practice.”
Kinkead’s campaign manager at the time – Schuyler Shaeffer – claims that Hallam did make the offer and is not telling the truth about the incident.
In response to an earlier online story from the P-G, former Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania judge Robert L. Byer tweeted about Kinkead, “She is smart, honest and a dedicated public servant. As for the others, we need a grand jury.”
It is no surprise that @emily4pa20 did the right thing here. She is smart, honest and a dedicated public servant. As for the others, we need a grand jury. @PAAttorneyGen https://t.co/AJOkwlmhSF— Robert L. Byer (@Rlbyer) March 16, 2023
Weinstein responded in a late Friday afternoon statement, saying ““Enough is enough. I understand that the Post-Gazette is in need of headlines, but I will no longer accept my more than two decades of service to our taxpayers being dragged through the mud on the basis of rumors, outright falsehoods, and innuendos slung by competitors. I did not speak with either a board member or another elected official about the expiration of my ALCOSAN term. As a longtime board member, I am well aware how seats are allocated. Even had the other member resigned, I would not have been eligible for that position which is exclusively reserved for City-based appointees. Their lack of awareness about this requirement only further demonstrates the inaccuracy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reporting. My goals never were and never will be to advance me; my goals are to advance this County.”
As for Fawcett who has not been considered one of the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination for County Executive, his timing is well-placed.
“As County Executive, I would act to place reasonable limits on campaign contributions in this County. Federal races have limits. Our City has limits. Our County should also have the same limits … There should be greater transparency through timely reporting of contributions. Reporting should be every 60 days during the election cycle, plus two weeks before the election.”
this story has been updated to add quotes from Weinstein (5:34 p.m.)
Weinstein cléverly limits his denial to saying ‘he’ never ‘personally’ ‘spoke with’ a board member or another elected official ‘ about the expiration of his ALCOSAN term. This carefully phrased denial leaves open the question: Did he contact anyone—‘elected’ official or not — about getting BACK ON the Board ? (Like: Corey o Connor , who held an appointed County position. ) Or Did Weinstein have his agent (such as a fellow ‘elected official’ ) do it for him ?