A mayor’s debate at Westinghouse Academy lasted more than two hours on Friday, and Mayor Bill Peduto could be forgiven for being longer.
During the discussion, he was attacked from all sides by three challengers moderated by students from Pittsburgh Public Schools and streamed live from the district. The debate centered on issues that were at the heart of the campaign: affordability and gentrification of housing, police behavior and racial inequality.
For the most part, Peduto tried to stay above the fight, focusing on his political achievements. However, in his opening remarks, he acknowledged that these issues remained a matter of concern.
“We’ve talked about two Pittsburghs for too long – a black Pittsburgh and a white Pittsburgh,” he said. “However, there are programs and guidelines that can be institutionalized to minimize this. But it takes one thing. It requires partnership. “
His critics countered that new leadership was needed.
State Representative Ed Gainey spoke at length about the fact that too many “conversations” had been held about the city’s problems. And while spending little time discussing the policies he would advance as mayor, he accused Peduto of not prioritizing justice issues.
“We can keep talking about the rhetoric,” he said. “But let me tell you what we know for sure: If you haven’t planted the seed of growth in eight years, you won’t in the next four years.”
Peduto has dealt with Gainey on occasion, perhaps most sharply over Gainey’s criticism that a report on the plight of black women in Pittsburgh did not set out a course of action.
“You are not making changes without a foundation of information to initiate that change,” said Peduto, who added that the government, through partners like UPMC, was seeking solutions to problems such as high infant mortality rates in the black community. He specifically added, “You don’t do it by suing people” – an obvious indication of Gainey’s support for reinstating a lawsuit against UPMC’s tax exemption status.
As an example of action, Peduto pointed to a pilot program to provide black women with a guaranteed income of $ 500 per month.
“Again, this was a recommendation that emerged from the report we commissioned. How many mayors do you know willing to publish reports showing the scars of their own community? “Asked Peduto.
But Tony Moreno, a retired cop who also challenges Peduto, complained that the money was funded by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for only two years. “And there are maybe only 25 people who get that. What about everyone else? What happens to everyone else? … And after these two years, what then? “
Moreno also complained that Peduto was hindering efforts to improve the police’s way of dealing with calls from the homeless or people with mental health problems. He said a recent attack on a 12-year-old boy downtown could potentially have been averted if the city’s policies had been clearer. Officers were, he said, “depopulated” and “confused” about how to deal with such cases. “That’s why you see a lot of suffering right now,” he said.
While Moreno criticized Peduto for the police’s obstruction, Gainey said the mayor should do more to contain it. Referring to an Associated Press story on a private Facebook group in which officials in southwest Pennsylvania talked sourly about LGBT people and color communities, Gainey said, “We just saw private officials on Facebook about black and brown people talked and how unfortunate Black Lives Matter was and how unfortunate the LGBTQ community was. None of these officers, officers were examined. “
The AP story mainly focused on out-of-town officials, although some city officials mentioned it, sometimes for stories previously reported elsewhere.
Peduto did not respond directly to the criticism. But when he took office he said “our police office is broken” and there was talk of making a federal consent decree regulating its operations. But after hiring Cameron McClay, Peduto said, “We worked this through. And … President Obama has reached out to us to work on the 21st century police plan. … Pittsburgh was one of six cities that President Obama selected to experiment implicit bias training for our police officers. And they wanted to find the cities where it would work.
Candidates also grappled with concerns that the city’s growth had not only left out the less affluent, but actually pushed them out. Peduto said this was a problem in some parts of the city, but this disease could also drive residents away, and the city needed new residents and tax revenues to reverse this.
“Gentrification is real,” Peduto admitted. “But do you know what else is driving people out of the community? Divestment. When people have the opportunity to go to better schools, more security, better opportunities for themselves and their children, they will move. “
“What we really haven’t talked about is a black flight based on going to Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, Gateway and other places to raise their children,” he added.
Peduto said the city is making an effort to work with low-income communities on its own development plans to ensure long-term residents are included in future advances. But his characterization of the black escape led to a reprimand from Gainey.
“Words are important,” said Gainey. “We said first that we know that gentrification is real. Then we went on to say that most of the people who moved out of East Liberty did not do so for gentrification. They did it because they wanted a better school district, a better neighborhood. Ask the people in East Liberty. How it feels to be gentrified. … Either we say gentrification is real without an excuse or not. And we know it’s real. “
Sometimes the challengers kept their fire on Peduto and shot each other instead. Gainey criticized Moreno for resisting arms control efforts and Moreno accused Gainey of receiving a $ 2.5 million government grant related to the development of Bakery Square in East Liberty. Critics see the project as a case study on gentrification, even though the money is actually related to improving local transport in the area.
“I don’t think anyone asked East Liberty if they wanted Bakery Square, they just did it,” Moreno said. “Mr. Gainey moved $ 2.5 million towards it. And that is what you have with this still broken neighborhood.”
For his part, Moreno was attacked by the independent Will Parker, who will not appear in the main vote but was allowed to participate. Parker struggled with Moreno denouncing his own file as a cop. “They lead the city in arrests, which means there are mothers out there with children behind bars,” he said.
The fourth candidate for the Democratic nomination, Mike Thompson, did not participate in the debate.
Chris Potter: email@example.com
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