NEWS - Peduto to face challenger in May primary


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Peduto to face challenger in May primary

January 18, 2017 12:00 AM

By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto appears to be drawing his first election challenge, not from a political foe but from an activist and past supporter, the Rev. John Welch.

“Whether it’s related to jobs or housing or education, things aren’t favorable for those who have been marginalized,” Rev. Welch said Tuesday. He plans to launch his candidacy Saturday afternoon at the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and would face Mr. Peduto in the Democratic primary election May 16.

“We’ve won ‘most livable city’ twice, but the numbers are in on African-American poverty,” which by some measurements have been among the highest in the country, he said.

The 56-year-old Homewood resident is dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has a history of social activism, having served as the president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, an association of faith groups that addresses social justice issues. He currently chairs the Gamaliel Foundation, a national network of such groups, and he is on the board of the Sports and Exhibition Authority.

“I’m not in the [political] camp, but I’m not on the outside, either,” he said.

Political observers have expected Mr. Peduto to be challenged by city Councilwoman Darlene Harris. But although Ms. Harris has long been a vocal foe of the mayor, Rev. Welch said, “I still look at him as a friend, although he may not look at me that way after this. I was a supporter of his. But it’s not about Bill, it’s about the office. He just happens to be sitting in it.”

Rev. Welch may be more likely to challenge Mr. Peduto on social justice issues. In 2013, Mr. Peduto campaigned in part on such issues, and was warmly received at a PIIN gathering in 2015. But there is mounting concern about topics such as affordable housing, especially in East Liberty and other trendy East End areas. “You can smell the gentrification coming into Homewood,” Rev. Welch said.

In a statement, the mayor said he was “proud of what we have been able to accomplish for all Pittsburghers,” and pledged to “keep fighting alongside our neighbors to break down … barriers to progress.” Among Mr. Peduto’s efforts: In December, he and City Council created a fund to finance affordable housing, though its funding source is unclear.

“There will be some who either want to turn back the clock or don't think that the progress that we've made has been fast enough,” the statement added. “It's healthy for our city to have that debate."

Reports of Rev. Welch’s intentions have circulated for weeks, and Mr. Welch has been reaching out to community activists for support. Some who spoke to the Post-Gazette said they were enthusiastic but not ready to declare their support.

Conventional wisdom suggests Rev. Welch faces an uphill battle. Mr. Peduto had more than $640,700 in his campaign’s bank account as of a year ago, and although a number of African-Americans have run for mayor — Hill District state Rep. Jake Wheatley challenged Mr. Peduto in 2013, for one — none has come close to winning.

Don Friedman, a political consultant who has worked on local campaigns, said Rev. Welch’s bid sounded like “a noble effort to bring continued attention to real problems. But Pittsburgh has never unelected a mayor in any of our lifetimes.”

Rev. Welch was undaunted. “... I don’t want to run a conventional campaign,” he said. “I want to shake the rafters and the foundations of this city.”

Chris Potter: or 412-263-2533.



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