2021 Mayoral candidates on Pittsburgh insurance policies: Tony Moreno | Information | Pittsburgh
Retired Pittsburgh Police officer Tony Moreno
Like most political races, the 2021 Pittsburgh mayoral contest has been filled with attacks, broad goals, and debates, as it should. But what gets lost sometimes, is a focus on what a mayor of Pittsburgh can actually accomplish. Every politician loves to comment on national stories, but in reality, there are many limitations to being a mayor of a second class city in Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh City Paper has conducted policy interviews with all four of the Pittsburgh mayoral candidates who will appear on the Democratic Primary ballot with these factors in mind. All interviews were conducted before publishing, as to ensure fairness, and all discussed topics are the same. Links have been added in places to provide more detail on certain topics.
This is in hopes of discussing each candidate’s goals and specific plans concerning the city’s ability to tackling climate change and environmental issues, transit and land-use, and police reform. City Paper chose these topics because they are areas where a Pittsburgh mayor can make both immediate and long lasting change.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was interviewed first, and was followed by state Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Lincoln-Lemington). Now, retired Pittsburgh Police officer Tony Moreno is up. Moreno announced his candidacy very early back in fall of 2019 and has focused his campaign, boasting about his outsider status. This interview was conducted on March 29 and has been edited for clarity and length.
CITY PAPER: There are a lot of big bold plans out there right now to tackle climate change, whether that’s the Green New Deal or whatever. But many of those require outside funding from either the federal government or corporations or require coordination on a broader scale than a city mayor would do. So I’m curious, what would a Moreno administration do in the immediate to work to combat climate change, and clean the environment at the municipal level, and what can Pittsburghers expect if you were elected?
TONY MORENO: Well, we know for sure climate change is real. I am an outdoor enthusiast. I am hugely, greatly worried about how our climate ends up. As far as how we deal with it, as the city, is very specific. Right now, what we know is when our mayor — and I’m going to direct it right at the mayor because he is the environmentalist guru — when he came into office, eight years ago, we had the 17th worst air quality in the country. At the end of 2018, we had the 10th worst air quality in the country. Now, that’s backwards for the environmental specialists, I think it’s a point.
If you wanted to get a permit to have a triathlon in the city of Pittsburgh where swimming is involved, and that’s part of the triathlon, you could not get that. I know that for a fact because we were involved in getting a permit for that in the past to swim in the rivers in a triathlon. You can’t get it because the fecal count is too high in the river. There’s a lot of different reasons for that. But neither of those things have been addressed at all by the mayor of Pittsburgh. Climate and environment are one in the same. So when you go through the city of Pittsburgh and you just see garbage everywhere, that’s a misuse of our public works.
We pay people to clean our streets. It’s Mayor 101, Public Works and Public Safety. Keep us safe and keep our streets clean. The mayor just absolutely reduced the Public Works budget. The [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] came out with an article that said the budget is a reflection of the mayor’s view and outlook of the city. While the budget only reflects 9% of the Public Works. That means that’s how much he cares about what the city looks like and how we are going forward and presenting the city.
So what I would do is immediately use our police officers to free up traffic. The people I’ve talked to say that the weather has a lot to do with how … the air quality works. We have bad air days. I’m from Los Angeles. I remember in the ’80s, where we weren’t allowed to go to school because the smog was so bad. And it took the Olympics coming to L.A. for us to cure those problems. All of a sudden, the air got better and that’s because they had a lot of traffic issues that got freed up. It may sound strange, but that’s where all that smog comes from is cars just sitting and idling.
[Editor’s note: This is a common myth. Studies show that air pollution from cars is more correlated to length of trip, not time spent in congestion.]
A lot of the direction is aimed at the cracker plant creating bad air, but bad air has been here for a long time, it’s not just a cracker plant that’s just gone up for the past few years. What we see here in Pittsburgh is, we’re in a valley, and there’s a lot of low air pressure that comes down on us. When you have car seats idling during those rush hour situations, that smog just builds up, and we’re not, we can’t get rid of it. What the city’s done right now with DOMI is narrowed our lanes of traffic. And now we just have these traffic jams set at certain times, and it just emits all that pollution into the air.
CP: How would you use police officers to free up traffic?
MORENO: When I started in 1994, we had a traffic unit. That’s a whole group of motorcycle officers, that’s all they do is focus on traffic. They go to the main intersections, and they run the lights and they coordinate the lights so when one light turns green, they all turn green, and that goes from town, all the way through the tunnels. There were officers at the tunnels, and it would free up those legs so you don’t have these intermittent crossings, and you don’t have people blocking traffic.
If you ever notice when you get Downtown and somebody gets stuck in the middle of an intersection because they want to make that turn before the light turns red and then it gets stuck in the middle, it’ll hold up a light for three lights. It just gets so backed up, but there’s nobody there to make it better. The police officer is able to control that. They’re able to stop traffic, move the car out of the way, or direct that car not to make that turn and travel becomes free flowing, and it’s regular. It also prevents people from crossing against lights. Jaywalking is a big problem. Most big cities, you don’t dare jaywalk because if you do, you have an officer there that’s going to stop you and fine you because you just disrupted traffic, and that traffic disruption goes very, very deep into the rest of the day. It could just take one intersection to mess it all up.
I know that they have studies out right now about trying to coordinate traffic lights and traffic flow. They paid a lot of money to do it. But if you just sit down and, and listen to the professionals, listen to those traffic officers, they can get a hold of that and change it.
There’s also a problem with how our streets are operated. If you free up our streets and make them available: bike lanes. They’ve been a big deal but politically, everybody has asked me about bike lanes. I’ll say it as many times as I can: bike lanes save lives, but not at the cost of ruining commerce. There’s some areas where you don’t need bike lanes. The bike can be ridden to the edge of town, and you can park your bike and walk to where you need to go. There’s nowhere in town that you can’t walk to within 15 minutes. There’s no reason to lay a bike lane down Penn Avenue, when there’s nobody that’s riding their bike to any of those restaurants there. And if you’re riding your bike to your house, you can get off or you can just use the regular use rules of the road.
CP: I mean there are counters on Penn Avenue and in the summertime, they get, like, 1,000 bike riders a day.
MORENO: Right. Well, there needs to be a control there because those 1,000 riders a day are not going to those businesses that need that vehicle traffic.
CP: How do you know that?
MORENO: Because I asked them. I went to those businesses and asked them.
CP: How do they know? Is a cyclist walking in and saying, “I’m a cyclist, can I have a sandwich, please?”
MORENO: No, they’re not parking their bikes out in front of the businesses and coming in. … It just shows that there are areas that are absolute for bike lanes. I believe in it because it does save lives and it keeps people safe. But they can also be diverted to different areas. There’s no reason why you can’t have that Penn Avenue bike lane over on Fort Duquesne Boulevard. There’s just no reason for it. If you wanted to ride your bike and you could park your bike there and walk one block over; it’s like the bus stop.
The biggest complaint on Penn Avenue was, they can’t get their deliveries. … The problem they had was getting their deliveries and when they complained to the city, the city said, “Well, they could park three blocks up and walk them down.” So you have all these restaurants that are now suffering because they can’t get their deliveries in on a regular, on-time basis.
CP: In terms of how this relates to the environment, wouldn’t freeing up traffic, or removing a bike lane for example, wouldn’t that encourage more people to drive into the city? Cars are the emitters of greenhouse gases. Wouldn’t that potentially hurt the environment?
MORENO: Yes, but this is the impasse we look at. You can’t get rid of vehicles. We know that for sure. They’re not going anywhere. So what we have to do is make it better, until we get to a place where we don’t have to worry about that problem. So, if you’re just trying to shut out vehicles, that’s what you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing these businesses being closed, because people can’t get to them, because they don’t have the ability to park. It’s a hassle to drive, and people aren’t coming, they’ll go somewhere else. So, if we can make that better to come in and out, so the emissions don’t sit on our city. We get in and out faster, then we can start working on how we better bring people into the city. And if that’s green, or park and rides, or create charging stations. There’s no charging stations Downtown.
[Editor’s note: There are dozens of Electric Vehicle charging stations Downtown.]
CP: How would you implement that?
MORENO: We need to put charging stations in parking garages. That’s the first thing I would do. There’s a charging station I know for sure down in the Strip District, and it’s right next to one of the hotels. You can pull up and just park your car, but there’s only four or five spots for it. The encouragement of having all cars going completely electric. If that’s the way that we’re going to go in the future, we should do that, but you have to make that available for everybody, just not the wealthy. And I say that because I don’t have a garage, and if I had an electric car, I don’t know how I would charge it.
CP: You mentioned about the rivers not being clean enough. How would you as a mayor address that?
MORENO: I have a friend who [runs a company called Epiphany Environmental Water Solutions]. He purifies water, he created a water purification system that runs completely on solar and it’s self sufficient. And it’s really wonderful. As a matter of fact, he made it so that other countries that don’t have a good, clean water supply are able to use salt water and purify it for either crops or drinking. The gas and oil industry bought into his system because he can go out to a well site and use this water purification system, and clean the water that the fracking industry is using. Right now, you don’t have to ship it, you don’t have to do anything and clean the vehicles or the place where you drop it off. They run it right at the site, so you’re reusing the same water so you’re not polluting the soil, the water tables, or anything. So I would go to these folks that are the most highly regulated people in the world right now. I mean fracking is the tipping point of what we’re talking about environmentally, and they are using water to break down the earth to get into those areas they need to get that natural gas and they’re finding other pockets of oil.
CP: What does that have to do with the sewage runoff? What does that have to do with the sewage runoff in the city?
MORENO: Well, it has to do with cleaning the water. If you can get these professionals here, and they tax them. I mean, Governor Wolf taxes them at a high rate, but they spend that money not in water purification, they spend it throughout our budget. I want to take that expertise, bring it into the city and say, “Look, we got three rivers here, and we are at the starting point of the Ohio River. How do we clean this water?” And where do we get to the point where the overage — when the rain comes, it floods over and we get sewage runoff into the city — we need to prevent that or we need to get those stop gaps where the water comes into the meeting point, how do we clean it and use their ability to clean the water and put those things into effect?
In the same aspect, we should use our rivers for hydro electric [power]. I don’t know why we don’t do it. I don’t know what’s going on, they don’t talk about it. But you have a dam system where the water flows over. We can do a garbage pickup, we can do water purification there, and we can also have some sort of hydro battery electric generation. Even if it’s just a little bit. It’s something we can use going forward, just to keep those things operational, if there ever was a power grid problem.
CP: I do think the county government is doing that now.
MORENO: Well, they’re talking about doing it.
CP: Right they’re building one at Emsworth, then I think they’re talking about doing more.
MORENO: Well, they’re talking about doing more. I’m going to take them all and make it an absolute 100%. We’re going to do this, and we’re going to spend money doing that in a big way. I know that there’s three different entities that control it. It’s the engineers, the Coast Guard, it’s the national city and state and county government, all are involved. But it’s in our city, so we need to make sure that we direct on cleaning that. And also there’s no river cleanup. We need to make sure that when anybody comes in Pittsburgh, when citizens go down to the rivers, that they can walk down and see that the river’s edges are clean. That they don’t go over to the South Side, at any of those marinas and see this disgusting pockets of white foam and garbage just there. And nothing’s being done about it. That’s environmental also. We need to make sure our rivers are clean.
CP: How would you do that as mayor?
MORENO: I would absolutely get people together that have done it.
CP: Would you use public works?
MORENO: There is no public works division for that right now. River cleanup would be something that I would focus on. I would bring in professionals in that. I would put money to it. Even if we had to buy a boat. They have these boats that have big front nets on them that go around, they just drive around and they pick up trash. And that’s just something that’s not done here. You can’t get it off, but you can’t ignore it either. So I would make a division of river cleanup and make it a focus. It’s one of our shining stars. We are the Three Rivers, but we don’t do anything to clean them.
CP: I want to move on now to transit and land use, which is something that mayors have a significant amount of power over in a city like Pittsburgh. This topic kind of gets lost a lot in campaigns, pretty much all campaigns …
MORENO: I want to tell you something and I think it’s the right time to bring this up because you asked me, nobody’s asked me this question specifically about the environment. I don’t know if you’ve been to old [Las Vegas] on Fremont Street. You know how they have that giant canopy that goes over when you walk down the street? What I want to do, and I’ve talked to some people that are from Carnegie Mellon that are going to help me do this, but to create a canopy over the top of our four major streets around the city where all this traffic is lined up. The canopy would have carbon eating plants. The canopy being a skeletal system matching what a Fremont Street looks like, but has English ivy that would grow over it, and it eats carbon at the highest rate of any plant. [It would use] the top three carbonating plants in this structure with a watering system that takes condensation and stores it inside of the pipe. And that uses gravity to water the plants, and then uses solar to have a lighting and entertainment sound system that goes throughout the structure.
It would be Grant Street, Stanwix, Boulevard to the Allies, and Fort Duquesne Boulevard. As these vehicles are sitting in this traffic. If we can capture some of that, and just have it eaten up by these plants. It’ll help. It’ll be a step towards naturally taking this away, and beautification of that area. We haven’t done anything in those areas to free up traffic, or make it better.
CP: But it wouldn’t be like Fremont Street because Fremont Street is also pedestrianized.
MORENO: But it’s conceptually the same having that canopy over the street. It’s just something that I want to look at.
CP: Mayors have a big sway in shaping transit policies by providing services through capital investments to help increase public transit or lower traffic deaths or increase other uses of mobility, like walking, bikes, scooters, whatever. What efforts — from capital projects to road redesign — would your administration take on?
MORENO: I think targeting usage is a big deal. If you go anywhere in town, anywhere in the city, you watch buses that go by that have one or two riders. And then you go to different areas that have lines and lines and lines of people that are waiting to get on a bus. And those routes aren’t adjusted. [Editor’s note: Port Authority of Allegheny County typically makes route adjustments every quarter].
I know it’s a county issue because Port Authority is run by the county, but the city has a lot of say on how those routes come into the city. I believe that we need to target those and increase the availability and the avenues to get them in and out faster. I know in the past they tried doing a circular route around the city with keeping buses out of the center of the city because of the traffic issues. And it failed, but it failed because they didn’t put forth an entire effort on making that available.
So what I would do — and it’s because I worked on them for so long, and watched it, I know that this game happened in a big way — you put those bus routes on a circular pattern around those same four streets that I said (Grand Street, Stanwix, Boulevard of the Allies, and Fort Duquesne) and make those run on a steady basis with the police officers they’re allowing those buses to go through and creating a bus lane that is a true bus lane only. Making sure that people use their crosswalks, and they don’t turn against lights or stop traffic at intersections. You get those buses flowing and then take our smaller buses and use the smaller buses to go inside of town — that are handicap accessible and also bike accessible. That’s a big deal when those buses stop, but you got to throw a bike on that bike rack, it takes up a lot of time and that creates a traffic problem.
So if you take those and you separate them out, target them, you can free up traffic, you can make it so they run better. You can make it so you don’t have this massive problem that goes on for about three hours every day during rush hour, that just keeps everybody from being able to get where they’re going, and it creates a deep environmental problem.
I don’t see why we need to have those islands on Grant Street. We have these gigantic planters in the middle of Grant Street, and we’re trying to free up traffic. They have them also on Fort Duquesne Boulevard.
Well, I don’t want to get rid of the trees, what we can do is take those trees and auction them so somebody can have a Grant Street tree. Take those planters out. With my canopy project, we can beautify the lanes of traffic, we can have more plants there than just those trees in the center which are causing a traffic problem, and then open up a whole other lane that we can have just for a bus, we can have a full bike lane there, we could have more pedestrian traffic. It would just open things up a little bit more.
Change the scenery, we could bring in our mobility unit and say, “Hey, how can we make this work better, and how can we make it look better?” And I think it needs to be a focus. Something needs to change because we’re doing the same thing right now. There’s no improvement in transit use. I would convince the county to do those things because it’s better for the citizens of Pittsburgh coming in and out.
CP: One thing that mayors have the control over, or somewhat control over, are police forces. There’s a balancing act that goes into any kind of reform or changes on the force. Whether that is negotiations with the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police], calls from residents who are concerned about violence or even perceived violence, and also ensuring accountability among officers who are participating in misconduct and being violent towards residents. How would you propose striking that balance so that there can be a positive reform moving forward?
MORENO: Entities all over Pittsburgh have this mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it.” And “this is how we’ve always done it” doesn’t work anymore. Things have changed and now we’re starting to be able to see exactly what happens inside our police department when we don’t follow our own rules. There is a way that they promote inside of this city that doesn’t bring forward the best, most productive, and useful police officers. That doesn’t promote the leaders that we need. That’s all done by nepotism.
[Editor’s note: Moreno details several accusations for several minutes against Pittsburgh police brass that CP could not verify, and they have been omitted from this interview.]
CP: How would you change that?
MORENO: First, identify the people who blatantly, openly violate people’s rights. How the Assistant Chief Linda Barone is still even an employee of the city of Pittsburgh is completely beyond me.
[Editor’s note: Barone is currently being sued by a former Pittsburgh police officer for allegedly blocking the promotion of this former officer after he came forward as a whistleblower. That officer has since resigned from the force without providing an explanation.
CP: OK, so how would you as the mayor change that?
MORENO: Total accountability. You don’t promote people that, and you don’t have people in charge that base their entire leadership on lies and discrimination. You just don’t do it. When it happens, you have to address it. They don’t address any of it.
CP: How would you address it?
MORENO: Change. You take them out of their positions. And then you put people in there that are proven leaders.
CP: So, like, through reassignments but not, like, through firings?
MORENO: Some people need to be fired. When you blatantly, intentionally violate people’s civil rights, you don’t need to be in these positions. You don’t need to be here, especially as leaders.
Let’s use Paul Abel as an example. Paul Abel has not made an illegal arrest. Paul Abel is just distasteful, when he’s making those arrests. So he should not be in public consumption. So you take somebody, and you take them out of the public view and you put them in a place where they can now rehabilitate and be retrained, and you show them how to deal with the public in a better way.
So there just needs to be a way to take people out when you’re not acting correctly towards the public, and you need to get rid of people that are committing crimes. It’s happening. People are committing crimes and nothing’s happening to them. I think that’s where the union is stuck. And everybody looks at the union as the bad guy. Well, nobody looks at anybody else’s union as a bad guy protecting the workers. The union’s not saying that what happened is right or wrong. What they’re doing is [acting] according to the contract and the protections of the officers. If someone violates the contract, it gets addressed. If somebody breaks the law, you need to bring the crime on a criminal level and then we’ll deal with it on a union level.
CP: Would you make a change at the chief of police position?
MORENO: Well, I would have to see what Scott Schubert’s viewpoint is. Is Scott Schubert in line with what the mayor is doing? And is he OK with allowing these people in these positions? I haven’t heard Scott Schubert come out and say he needs to get rid of Linda Barone … So, how in the world is this person in charge of anything? She’s been there for 40 years.
CP: So you would have a police chief that would address that issue?
MORENO: [One] that goes by the rules. It’s really easy when you just look at it that way. Policing isn’t political. Policing has no bend on it. We police according to the rules that are set forth. There’s city policy, there’s ordinances, and there’s laws, and then there’s the contract. When you go by those rules, they’re set up for everything to run the way it’s supposed to run.
When you start putting your own slant on it, when you start allowing rules to be ignored, when you start making policy that goes against laws, then it creates confusion, and that’s where we’re sitting right now. Our mayor has a policy out that says, “We are not going to enforce laws that are connected to addiction or poverty,” like minor laws that are connected to addiction or poverty. What does that mean? They are undefined. … So the mayor makes a policy that says we’re not allowed to enforce minor laws, and people are getting hurt for it. How do you make a policy that goes against an officer’s sworn oath to enforce the law to protect citizens, and you make a policy that goes against it? That’s a leadership issue and the chief of police should stand up and make that a public outcry that his officers are being told not to enforce the law. And if the chief gets punished by the mayor for saying, “I’m going to enforce the rules,” then he should put himself in jeopardy for the citizens of Pittsburgh and for the police officers that work under him.
CP: So you would rescind that rule, if you were mayor?
MORENO: Absolutely, I would rescind that rule. That’s the law, and you can’t make a policy that goes against the law. What you do is, in those circumstances, is we have diversionary routes that are in place right now that need to be used. And it’s a leadership issue that they are not using those models. The police officer is allowed to make a decision. Is this a crime? Is this a crime that needs to be addressed? If it’s somebody that’s walking around with their pants off, that’s indecent exposure, that’s a crime. Yes, you arrest somebody for it. Should you when somebody is obviously in a mental health crisis? No.
But you have to take that person into custody because obviously, they’re having a problem with decision making, and they’re in crisis. You take them to some place that they can get help. And if there is no way to get them there, other than an arrest, because they start fighting with you or they’re just not willing to go, then you use the arrest to get them into the intercept model of mental health court. That’s where law enforcement comes in.