NEWS STORIES - April 19 Debate Coverage



Three takeaways from WTAE’s Pittsburgh mayoral debate

Lead! Affordable housing! And yes, there was even a mention of bike lanes.

Sarah Anne Hughes

Apr 19 2017 · 9:21 pm

The Incline

Mayor Bill Peduto debated his two opponents for the Democratic nomination — councilmember Darlene Harris and Rev. John Welch — live tonight on WTAE.

There were no major revelations or surprises during the one-hour debate — no name-calling, no yelling and only one mention of bike lanes.

If you missed tonight’s debate, you watch it online or on WTAE at 5 p.m. Saturday. There are also several other debates and forums scheduled between now and May 16, the primary. (Remember that date! And to vote!) Below are our three takeaways from tonight’s debate.

Lead and affordable housing are top topics

Two big topics tonight: Lead in water and affordable housing.

Peduto touted his administration’s efforts to restructure PWSA and provide filters, while Welch promoted his own plan centered on point-of-entry filters. Harris said she would bring back people Peduto’s admin “left go” who had institutional knowledge.

On affordable housing, the three candidates each had different ideas about how to find the $10 million a year needed for the still-unfunded housing trust fund.

Peduto said he still supports an increase in the realty transfer tax, “because that is what they use in other cities.” If that’s not possible, he said, “We need to be able to look at our Urban Redevelopment Authority portfolio and refinance.”

Welch said he’d looked at money from current sources like expired Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance districts. He said the city should also audit the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Housing Authority “to make sure that funds that were supposed to be appropriated for low-income housing” actually were.

Harris said she’d pay for it with Community Development Block Grants. When it was pointed out to Harris that President Donald Trump wants to cut CDBG money, Harris said she’d “go to Washington, D.C. and explain what our problems here in Pittsburgh are.”

John Welch: The anti-Uber candidate

Like he did at a February campaign event, Welch said he wouldn’t do business with Uber because of the way it treats employees including women. “This is a company behaving badly,” he said. Welch also expressed concern that autonomous vehicles will ultimately take jobs away from people, not add them. Peduto responded to that by saying it’s not a question of if autonomous vehicles will be developed, but where.

When asked if he would ask Uber to leave the city, Welch said he’d “have no problem asking them to leave.”

Harris also criticized Peduto’s relationship with Uber.

“You look at other states, and they’ve had accidents. I was actually cut off the road by an Uber car on South Side,” she said. “I would have a lot of conversations before I’d ever come driving up to the City County Building and saying, ‘I’m with Uber.'”

Darlene Harris is still Darlene Harris

Harris, known for her combative style on Pittsburgh City Council, continued to paint herself as the really anti-Peduto candidate. She distinguished herself from her two opponents by opposing sanctuary cities and saying Council shouldn’t legislate issues like campaign finance limits and marijuana decriminalization, as that’s a state responsibility.

It was also Harris who ensured the debate did not end without a mention of Everybody’s Favorite Topic. She began her closing statement by saying, “We did not talk about bike lanes at all this evening, and I wonder why?”


Mayor, 2 challengers debate Pittsburgh's progress and future

Tom Fontaine | Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 10:10 p.m.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's two Democratic challengers went on the offensive Wednesday night in a televised debate, criticizing Peduto on a range of issues that they said he handled poorly or failed to address in his first term.

Peduto didn't swipe back at his challengers, Councilwoman Darlene Harris and the Rev. John C. Welch, but touted the progress he said his administration made on a number of fronts. He promised to build on that work if re-elected.

An incumbent mayor seeking re-election hasn't been defeated in Pittsburgh's modern political history, and Peduto has an overwhelming fund-raising advantage over his opponents. Still, Peduto said he's not taking anything for granted.

“I think the worst thing to have in life is regret, so we intend to put together a full campaign,” Peduto, 52, of Point Breeze said after the hourlong debate on WTAE-TV.

Welch, 56, of Homewood and Harris, 64, of Spring Hill vowed to do the same.

While city records show that Welch spent a little more than $10,500 and had about $9,600 on hand as of March 31, compared with Peduto's spending of close to $150,000 and his nearly $700,000 in the bank, Welch said, “I'm a clergy. I know very well the David and Goliath story.”

Welch is dean of students for the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the city's head police chaplain.

Welch said: “The main thing is reaching the people who have been neglected not just for the past 3 1⁄2 years, but who have been neglected for decades.”

Harris, who has not released any campaign finance information to the city during the campaign, said she traditionally hasn't raised or spent much money on her past races for the city's school board and council. She relies, instead, on the relationships she said she's made in decades of public service and a resume of hard work for constituents.

“I haven't been bought in 43 years, and I'm not about to start being bought now,” Harris said.

The candidates fielded 15 questions from panelists and people who submitted queries online.

Among the differences, Welch and Harris said the city became too cozy with the ride-share giant Uber during Peduto's administration — allowing the company to develop its autonomous-vehicle technology without getting formal assurances that it also would provide community benefits.

Peduto said he believes Uber has “a moral obligation” to improve working conditions for drivers and offer programs to help the poor and elderly, and he's working to convince the company to do more on that front.

Welch and Harris also criticized Peduto for dropping a lawsuit challenging UPMC's tax-exempt status in the hope that it would clear the way for more fruitful negotiations in the city's quest to obtain millions of dollars in annual contributions from UPMC and other nonprofits.

Peduto admitted “frustration” that such a deal hasn't been struck, but described the lawsuit as “a dead end.”

While Peduto said he has been working to restructure the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and replace the city's worst lead service lines, Welch argued that the city should declare a state of emergency in light of findings that its drinking water contains elevated levels of lead and then use the declaration to pursue state and federal funding.

Instead of replacing the service lines at an estimated cost of $411 million, he believes the city could save money and address the lead problem by installing “point-of-entry” filters in every home.

All of the candidates agreed that the city needs to do more to improve community-police relations, develop more affordable housing and find ways to spur growth in neighborhoods that have been overlooked while areas such as Downtown, East Liberty and Lawrenceville boomed in recent years.

Peduto said his administration has made significant strides on each of those fronts.


First debate among Pittsburgh's mayoral candidates is a low-key affair

April 20, 2017 12:00 AM

By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mayoral hopefuls Darlene Harris and John C. Welch knocked Pittsburgh incumbent Bill Peduto for much of their inaugural debate Wednesday night, criticizing his administration over its handling of Uber and public water problems.

But Mr. Peduto delivered few return jabs during the hour-long broadcast. He said later that he wanted to focus on “a good message” about his record and priorities, although he acknowledged concern that he could lose the May 16 race for the Democratic nomination.

“Look who’s in the White House,” Mr. Peduto said after the debate, held at WTAE-TV studios in Wilkinsburg. “I never would have predicted that in 1,000 years.”

Questions focused early on the troubled Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, which is trying to ease lead contamination, brush up customer service and fix deteriorated infrastructure. Mrs. Harris, a City Council member, said Pittsburghers have endured PWSA problems “for probably this whole administration.”

“I would declare a state of emergency seeking funding from the federal government and from the state,” said Rev. Welch, dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He said he would prefer advanced, individual filtration devices over announced plans to replace underground lead service lines across the city. He argued the latter approach would not guarantee clean drinking water.

Mr. Peduto, in his fourth year as mayor, said he didn’t think an emergency declaration was necessary, asserting that more than 5,000 other water systems in the U.S. have elevated lead levels. He has cast the PWSA’s problems as years in the making. His administration is working toward a likely organizational overhaul at the authority, designed to generate revenue and rebuild infrastructure.

Among other issues Wednesday night:

• Mr. Peduto said he would favor Pittsburgh’s receiving “sanctuary city” status, a variable term that often refers to municipalities that don’t cooperate fully with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. He said Pittsburgh already follows many provisions that fall under the common definition. Mrs. Harris said she would oppose the designation, adding that the city could not afford to lose federal funds that the move could jeopardize. Rev. Welch said he would not want Pittsburgh police to act as an extension of ICE.

• In a slam on Uber, Rev. Welch ripped the San Francisco-based ride-share company over corporate ethics, adding he would “have no problem asking them to leave.” Mr. Peduto has encouraged the group’s research in Pittsburgh, including with self-driving cars. But “if we’re going to be a 21st century city, we’re going to have to make sure that we have companies that respect women, respect minorities and respect the vibrancy and the spirit of the City of Pittsburgh,” Rev. Welch said. Mr. Peduto said he would keep pressuring Uber “to do the right thing.” Uber did not immediately answer a request for comment.

• The candidates diverged over how to approach large nonprofit organizations, such as UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, for financial contributions to the city. “There should be frustration” that the city has yet to reach an agreement, although earlier litigation under former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was “a dead end,” Mr. Peduto said. His administration has said it’s working productively toward a long-term funding deal. Mrs. Harris said the past litigation, withdrawn under Mr. Peduto, should have continued. Rev. Welch said wouldn’t hesitate to pursue UPMC in court for tax revenue.

• The candidates disagreed over pending state legislation that would allow the release of video footage from police-worn body cameras — but only if authorities agree to the disclosures. Rev. Welch said the public always “deserves a right to have access to that information.” Mr. Peduto said such video evidence should be withheld only in extreme circumstances. Mrs. Harris said the footage should not “be opened up widely” and that “we have to trust our police.”

Moderated by WTAE broadcaster Sally Wiggin, the debate hosted jointly by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh was the first among several expected before next month’s primary. Post-Gazette political reporter Chris Potter joined three other panelists: KQV-AM reporter Elaine Effort, WTAE reporter Bob Mayo and Brianna Horan of the league.

A rebroadcast is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday on WTAE.


Democratic mayoral debate roundup

Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor
April 20, 2017

The Pitt News

For the first time Wednesday night, all three of Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayoral candidates took to the same stage.

Live on WTAE, City Councilperson Darlene Harris, Rev. John Welch and current Mayor Bill Peduto traded opinions, arguments and occasional barbs in a fight for Pittsburghers’ votes in the primary May 16.

The minute long answers sometimes left candidates lost for words or presenting unclear opinions, but three topics showed clear differences — how to fix the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, when to release police body camera footage and whether Pittsburgh should be a sanctuary city.

Darlene Harris

While the veteran councilperson said she was disappointed she didn’t get a chance to bring up her hatred of bike lanes, she did put her moderate view of governing on display. Harris focused more on fixing potholes and strong policing instead of longer term issues like housing developments.

Harris, who represents much of North Side, said the reason for the PWSA’s myriad issues — from lead in the water to overbilling — is mismanagement. She asserted that under Peduto, the authority let go of too many employees, leading to less expertise and overstretched staff.

Harris also said she supported a bill currently in the Pennsylvania House that would give police final say on the release of body camera footage.

“We have to trust our police, we have to trust our law enforcement,” Harris said.

And on sanctuary cities, while she expressed her support for immigrants, she rejected the notion that the city should risk losing any funding by refusing to cooperate with federal authorities to deport undocumented immigrants.

“We cannot afford for the people that live in Pittsburgh to lose any of our federal or state funds,” Harris said.

John Welch

Welch, a social activist and dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, hit Peduto hard, calling Uber, a company Peduto has partnered with, an “unethical corporation” and questioning his fundraising from Pittsburgh developers.

That disagreement carried over to his solutions for the city’s problems. Welch stressed the threat that lead in the water posed to Pittsburghers, and compared the city’s water situation to Flint, Michigan — a city whose crisis was so bad it became a state and federal disaster area.

To solve the problem, Welch, who has never held elected office, advocated the city proclaim a state of emergency and provide filters to every resident — a solution Peduto has announced but has yet to implement.

On body cameras, Welch, who marched in Ferguson during the controversy surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown by police, was adamant for transparency.

“It should absolutely be made available to the public,” he said of body camera footage.

And on Pittsburgh becoming a sanctuary city, Welch was fully in favor, saying, “Pittsburgh police will not act as an extension of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”

Bill Peduto

As for the incumbent, Peduto spent the night firing back at Welch’s quips. When the reverend claimed he gave out a specific tax credit “like Tic Tacs” to developers, Peduto responded he’d only given one. After Welch decried autonomous vehicles for taking away jobs, Peduto made clear that resistance to automation was futile.

“The question of whether automobiles are going to become shared, autonomous and electric, it is not debatable,” the mayor said.

On the PWSA, Peduto claimed the authority needed more investment, and that the lead in the water was a result of “bad infrastructure.” He also thought Welch was overstating the extent of Pittsburgh’s problem with a Flint comparison.

Peduto sought to find middle ground between Welch and Harris on body cameras. The 12-year City Council veteran said while he backed the release of police body camera footage, he thought police had some right to hold footage in special situations — though he didn’t clarify any criteria.

When asked if Pittsburgh should be a sanctuary city, Peduto said that in practice, Pittsburgh already was — regardless of any official proclamations.

“It’s not just following [the policies of a] sanctuary city,” he said. “It’s following the constitution of the United States.”




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