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Flaherty concedes to Wagner in Allegheny County Controller race

| Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 9:13 p.m.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner prepares to acknowledge supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner prepares to acknowledge supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Mark Patrick Flaherty hugs Angie Gialloreto, 85, of Wilkins Township after conceding his race for Allegheny County Controller to Chelsa Wagner at his election night party at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the South Side on Tuesday evening, May 19, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Mark Patrick Flaherty hugs Angie Gialloreto, 85, of Wilkins Township after conceding his race for Allegheny County Controller to Chelsa Wagner at his election night party at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the South Side on Tuesday evening, May 19, 2015.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner greets supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner greets supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner prepares to acknowledge supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner prepares to acknowledge supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner addresses supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner addresses supporters at Young Brother Bar in Woods Run Tuesday, May, 18, 2015.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner leaves the Point Breeze polling station in Westinghouse Park after voting on Tuesday morning, May 19, 2015.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner leaves the Point Breeze polling station in Westinghouse Park after voting on Tuesday morning, May 19, 2015.
Democratic candidate for Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty arrives outside the polling place at Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before casting his ballot.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Democratic candidate for Allegheny County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty arrives outside the polling place at Markham Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, before casting his ballot.
Mark Patrick Flaherty stands with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Deirdre, 10, as he concedes his race for Allegheny County Controller to Chelsa Wagner at his election night party at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the South Side on Tuesday evening, May 19, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Mark Patrick Flaherty stands with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Deirdre, 10, as he concedes his race for Allegheny County Controller to Chelsa Wagner at his election night party at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters on the South Side on Tuesday evening, May 19, 2015.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner survived a fierce and well-funded challenge to her job Tuesday.

Wagner defeated Mark Patrick Flaherty, a former controller who benefited from support and campaign donations from powerful county officials.

Wagner won 52 percent of the vote while Flaherty took in 48 percent, according to preliminary returns. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

No Republican ran in the primary, nearly assuring Wagner will hold the job for another four years.

“I want to thank everyone for all their efforts tonight. Obviously, the night did not go the way we wanted it to; that was not from a lack of trying,” Flaherty told supporters. “I thought we ran a great campaign, but obviously it wasn't enough. I am so sorry we came up short. As Democrats, we have to move forward, and that's what we will do.”

Flaherty, 53, of Mt. Lebanon and Wagner, 37, of Point Breeze sparred throughout the campaign about the role of the controller; a 35 percent raise Wagner received when she took office; side jobs Flaherty held while in office; and the integrity, transparency and independence of the post.

Wagner appealed to women, rallying against “the old boys' club that has dominated local politics for way too long,” she said during a debate last week.

Flaherty said Wagner focused on grabbing headlines with her audits and not working to fix problems in county government.

Flaherty spent nearly $320,000 and outspent Wagner four to one. He raised $472,000, compared to $96,000 raised by Wagner.

The race was as much about county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who ran unopposed for a second term, as it was about Wagner and Flaherty. Fitzgerald and Wagner clashed continually during their first terms.

Fitzgerald said he called Wagner and congratulated her on the victory.

“Obviously, it's a humbling night for me,” Fitzgerald said.

Wagner claimed to be Fitzgerald's watchdog and the only person in county government fighting against what she called his “overreach” during a debate a week ago.

Wagner claimed Fitzgerald blocked her recent audit attempts; Fitzgerald said she doesn't have the authority to conduct audits she proposed.

Wagner accused Flaherty of being Fitzgerald's puppet and warned voters against electing a lapdog. Fitzgerald donated $25,000 to Flaherty's campaign.

Flaherty maintained he would be independent of Fitzgerald yet work with him to improve government.

Flaherty was controller from 2004 to 2012, when he ran against Fitzgerald for executive.

He stepped down as head of North Shore-based US Asset Management during the campaign.

Wagner gathered with supporters at Young Brothers Bar in the North Side's Woods Run. Flaherty supporters watched results inside the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers headquarters in the South Side.

Before making his concession speech, Flaherty walked around to every supporter, shook hands and hugged some.

Voter turnout was light, about 18 percent countywide.

It's possible Wagner could appear on the ballot in November as a Republican.

Fliers circulated at polls asked Republicans to write in Wagner for county controller. Republican voters cast nearly 1,800 write-in votes. It could take days to see how many of those were for Wagner.

Curtis Kovach, 77, of Point Breeze, voted for Wagner.

“It's refreshing to see someone doing her job and being an independent auditor,” Kovach said. “New blood can be good for an organization, but I also think people need to be rewarded for good work.”

Tribune-Review staff contributed to this report. Aaron Aupperlee and Salena Zito are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Aupperlee at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com and Zito at szito@tribweb.com

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