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Wagner and Four Other New Names Enter Mayoral Race

There are now seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh Mayor.

Joining Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb, who have been running for months, are State Senator Jim Ferlo, State Representative Jake Wheatley, City Council President Darlene Harris, Community Activist A.J. Richardson and former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner. 

Wagner filed his nominating petitions two-and-a-half hours before Tuesday’s deadline.

“It’s an honor to be able to file for mayor in a city that I love and in a city that I think has a very bright future,” said Wagner who has also been a member of city council, a state senator and the Pennsylvania Treasurer.

Wagner said he would bring fresh leadership and ideas to the position including a new look at promoting a strong public education system.  “Early childhood education, tutoring programs for children,” listed Wagner as issues on which he would focus.  “Our dropout rate in public education is simply too high.  That impacts not only the children, the individuals, the families but also our economy.”

As mayor, Wagner would have no direct say over the operations of the Pittsburgh School board but said he would work to change the system.

Noting that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who is not running for reelection, announced that he would not name a replacement for ousted police chief Nate Harper, Wagner said he will look within the police department to find the next chief. 

“I was in the Marine Corps, there is a theme in the Marine Corps, ‘esprit de corps’ and that is very important in the police department,” said Wagner who said he will be able to find a confident and qualified individual to run the department.  Wagner said he would also look at the chain of command to see if the chief should answer directly to the mayor rather than to the director of public safety.

Wagner admits that he has potentially lost some ground to City Councilman Bill Peduto, and City Controller Michael Lamb when it comes to time on the campaign trail and time raising funds; however, he said he thinks he has some $300,000 in campaign funds left over from other races.

Wagner said he has lawyers looking at the city’s campaign finance laws to make sure he can use those funds, and so far they have told him he will be able to use nearly all of the money in that account.

It is unclear if by using the money he will trigger a “Millionaires” clause in the law that kills the fundraising rules if a candidate puts in more than $18,000 dollars of his or her own money into a campaign over a 4-year period.  Bill Peduto has already questioned if the law is in effect because of Michael Lamb's past campaign funding.

"He simply can't use the money that was raised for a different race to be able to use it for the mayor's race in Pittsburgh," said Peduto, who noted that he drafted the city's latest campaign finance law. "That's the law in the city of Pittsburgh."

Ferlo enters the race

Jim Ferlo, a member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the last ten years, served on the Pittsburgh City Council from 1988 to 2003 and prior to that was a community activist.  "Obviously we have a seismic shift in the political landscape with the mayor's announcement a few days ago that he's not seeking reelection," Ferlo told WESA in an interview last Friday.

Ferlo admitted he has some ground to make up.  "I don't have the benefit of resources and organization and haven't been out their working for the last year organizing a mayoral campaign as opposed to Mr. Lamb, Mr. Peduto."

The Highland Park resident says he's proud of his role in economic development in the city as a member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority board the last seven years.  "I feel very proud of the track record of the URA in rebuilding and growing our city," said Ferlo.  "So I'd like to continue that effort locally and it's really up to the electorate, we'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks."

Ferlo was referring to the March 27 deadline for candidates to withdraw their names from the ballot.  After that it would require a court order to do so.

Harris launches mayoral campaign

City Council President Darlene Harris also entered the race Tuesday with an estimated 1,200 nominating signatures. The North Side Councilwoman said she simply hopes to serve the residents of the city with a good work ethic.

Harris said if she does take the mayor's office, one of her first actions would be to perform a financial review of all city departments.

"What I'd like to do is make sure that any incoming money, we have checks and balances [on]," said Harris.

The City Council President conceded that coming late to the game puts her at a disadvantage, but she said her strong work ethic will make up for the lost time.

The other new candidates were not available for comment Tuesday.

Peduto files nominating petitions

Just after he dropped off some 2,700 signatures with the County Division of Elections, Bill Peduto said he was able to "probably file more petitions than all the other candidates combined."

The East End City Councilman said he thinks he has a leg up on all other candidates but Michael Lamb because his campaign has been rolling for nearly eight months already, raising more than half a million dollars.

"While other candidates are going to be looking for office space and hiring campaign managers and trying to come up with a logo, we're going to be working very hard in every neighborhood to win this race," said Peduto, whose goal is to raise $1.1 million.

Peduto said if elected mayor, he would consider police chief candidates from both inside and outside the bureau. He does have some specific attributes in mind, though.

"An urban police chief needs to have the ability to work with the community, to have integrity beyond reproach, and also understand how to utilize technology and basically, build morale," said Peduto.

Peduto said the Pittsburgh police slush fund scandal that has embroiled the bureau for the past month might have been avoided if the city had a more modern financial system, a goal he said he would pursue as mayor.