Chris Briem has a nice look back at why Allegheny County government really went through its changes a decade ago, leading to the strong-executive system that employed Jim Roddey and Dan Onorato:
People have forgotten the fundamental switch in county government happened just over a decade ago when the county had a referendum on a new county charter. What is completely forgotten is that the home rule charter vote passed by the slimmest of margins, it just slipped by in a virtually 50-50 vote. Yet why did it pass? The previous attempt just a decade or so earlier had strong bipartisan support by the most popular local officials of both parties. Yet failed.
Was their a growing Republican base in the county, or decreasing Democratic support, that lead to the change? The first election for an ACE in 2000 did indeed elect Jim Roddey, which people also forget was only by a very slim margin over the always controversial Cyril Wecht. But Jim Roddey was only a one-term politican and would lose to Onorato the first time up for re-election.
But Jim Roddey's election was not the point at which Republicans regained control of county government. 4 years earlier Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, both Republicans at least at the time, gained a majority among county commissioners and effectively took control. One could make a strong case that the public's antipathy toward how badly county government was run in the years beginning with that 1996 election is really what made the difference between 50-50 vote for the charter and a 50-50 vote that comes out just against the charter. I still think Larry Dunn is the single most important person responsible for the passage of the county home rule charter.
What does it all mean? The law of unintended consequences is always in play. Democrats who likely were more against the change in local government structure may be the ultimate winners. With less party infighting than there was a decade ago and before, coupled with selective migration that has left the county more leaning D over time, the switch to a simple strong ACE leaves R with less influence in county government than ever before..