With few women in office and many deeply rooted jurisdictional boundaries dividing governments, the Pittsburgh region’s political establishment is fairly entrenched. One official who has championed reforms is Chelsa Wagner.
While serving her third term as a state representative, Wagner opted in 2011 to run for Allegheny County controller, a position that in her view played a greater role in shaping local and regional policy. She has since worked to bolster accountability and transparency, particularly for the county’s public authorities. Earlier this year, her office launched a new open government website and posted county government contracts online. “You see all these different things that ‘wow’ people where Pittsburgh has been able to put itself on the map,” she says. “But the government is still in many respects in the Dark Ages.”
Wagner equates the region’s political class to an “old boys’ club.” Other than judges, she’s the only woman in a countywide elected office. Her aggressive approach hasn’t enamored all local officials. But voters in 2015 elected her to a second term despite not receiving her party’s endorsement and being significantly outspent by an establishment-backed candidate in a primary.