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Politics & Government

Six Dems for Pittsburgh Mayor Face-off

Emily Farah/90.5 WESA

Sparks did not fly but the six remaining Pittsburgh mayoral candidates did begin to outline some of their platform planks Sunday in a forum hosted by the Barack Obama Academy's Youth and Government Club.  It was the first such gathering since candidates had to have their nominating petitions submitted.

All invited candidates attended with the exception of State Senator Jim Ferlo who announced Friday that he was withdrawing from the race. 

  Each participant had a maximum of 60 or 90 seconds to answer the questions posed to them, one by one.

Participating from Pittsburgh city government: Council President Darlene Harris, Controller Michael Lamb and Councilman Bill Peduto.  Others on the ballot participating in the debate included: Community Organizer A.J. Richardson, former state Auditor General Jack Wagner and Pennsylvania Representative Jake Wheatley, who arrived 30 minutes late.

Obama Academy youth asked several questions, but it came as no surprise that the first on the list was about education.

What do you think your role as mayor should be to help out city schools?

Harris said the leadership of the city and the school district must focus on helping students to go to college or trade school.

"I think that the mayor should be working with the superintendent of schools and doing what we can as a community to help with the children," Harris said.  "We can't do it alone though."

Harris suggested the city needs the community to work with the city on the educational front. 

Lamb said a mayor should advocate for more educational funding, but also act as cheerleader.

"We know there is success here, and it's one thing when the principal says it, or when the superintendent says it, but it's another thing when the mayor says it," Lamb said "We need to be out there and doing that."

Lamb also noted that after-school programs contribute to educational success.

Peduto responded by adding that the city can help students become "promise-ready" by providing and funding wrap-around services.

"You ask any educator: the thing that makes a student successful is somebody at home who is able to help them, and a lot of our kids don't have that," Peduto said.  "We have facilities and programs that we can create to do that."

For the other three candidates, a slightly different education question was asked.

What is the first thing you will do as mayor to create a safe environment for kids to develop outside of school and in our communities?

Richarson, who is originally from Brooklyn, Ny., said as the Pittsburgh mayor he would ask the community to be more proactive in childhood education and protection.

"I'm a firm believer in an old African proverb that it does take a village to raise one child," Richardson said.  "But to go one step further I do believe that it takes a village to protect one child."

Wagner said cooperation among city leaders, funding, and tackling the dropout rate can better the city's educational system.

"If we're going to have a safe city we have to keep children in school," Wagner said.  "That requires early childhood education, that requires full day kindergarten, it requires aggressive tutoring programs, it requires keeping kids in school."

Wheatley had not yet arrived when the first set of questions was asked.

The next round of questions focused on long-debated Pittsburgh problems like taxes for non-profits, gun control, crime, minimum wage, and retaining population and businesses.  The most to-date topic: governmental corruption.

What will you do as mayor to create an atmosphere that limits corruption?

The candidates were also asked to provide examples of times in which they combated an instance of corruption, if possible.  First to tackle this issue was Councilman Bill Peduto, who said he's stood up against corruption several times in his career.

"What we need is a complete cleaning," Peduto said.  "We don't need a 'Redd-up' crew down in our neighborhoods, we need a 'Redd-up' crew in city hall."

Richardson said the way to limit corruption is to be mindful of lawmakers.

"Be careful of the company that you keep," Richardson said.  "We've got to realize first and foremost that we are people that can be influenced as well as influence."

Wagner took the time to give examples of his efforts against corruption, including cyber and charter school funding practices.

"The Pittsburgh public school system is losing literally tens of millions of dollars every year because they're paying the same approximate costs to cyber charter schools where a child stays home and goes to school on a computer as in a building in the Pittsburgh Public School system," Wagner said.

Wheatley took a different approach.  He said the process of government on the city and state levels is not transparent enough.

"When we have programs in place that are supposed to open up fairness and make sure equitable businesses have a fair shot, but the processes that are in place have no transparency, there's no monitoring, there's no accountability," Wheatley said.  "That's a corrupt system that needs to be changed."

Harris approached corruption by saying she's not a professional politician, she's a community person.

"I don't have a lot of money to spend, and corruption comes from money too," Harris said.  "When you go into a position like this, everybody wants to buy you and give you money.  I've never been sold and I never will be."

"I've always believed that sunlight is the best disinfectant, so we're opening the windows on city government and the city controller's office," Lamb said.  "As mayor, we're going to make this city government the most open, transparent, and honest government that this city has ever seen."

Also attending was Republican candidate for Pittsburgh mayor, Josh Wander, although he did not participate.