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Former Peduto Supporter John Welch Hopes To Unseat The Mayor

Kevin Gavin
90.5 WESA
Rev. John Welch hopes to upset Mayor Bill Peduto in the May Democratic primary.

Four years ago, Rev. John Welch, dean of students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was a strong supporter of Bill Peduto in his successful bid for mayor.

Four years later, Welch wants to unseat Peduto.

“I've seen a lack of attention in the areas of public safety," Welch said. "I've seen a lack of attention in the areas of affordable housing."

He's challenging Peduto in the May 16 Democratic mayoral primary.

While Peduto has estimated the need for affordable housing in the city to be between 7,000 and 9,000 units, Welch said he believes that number could be higher. 

“I would not pinpoint the need in any specific area,” Welch said. “We want people to be able to live in any of the areas in the City of Pittsburgh. We don't want to even masquerade another view of concentrated poverty because people can move into affordable housing in one particular area. I don't think that's the message we want to send.”

Last week, Mayor Peduto signed five executive orders on affordable housing ranging from helping individuals stay in their homes through promoting larger homestead exemptions and increased tenant protections, to encouraging developers to make affordable options a priority through tax incentives and improved zoning rules

Welch said he wants to tap into different resources for affordable housing, including Habitat for Humanity.

“There are other organizations like Habitat," he said. "Many of them are church-based organizations that will go in and rebuild homes for first time homeowners. So we don't necessarily have to just look at for-profit corporate developers."

Welch, who has a background in chemical engineering and a Ph.D. in health care ethics, is the former president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network . He also still serves as chaplain for the city’s police bureau, and said one of his priorities would be to make sure officers are well-trained to recognize and eliminate implicit bias as a means to improve police-community relations.

“Police are human beings," he said. "They're no different than the rest of us who are not officers. And I think the community really needs to appreciate the fact that they have the same concerns they have the same challenges that everyone else does."

Welch praised new Police Chief Scott Schubert’s efforts by holding community meetings to create better relations. 

“But we need for every officer in each zone to have the same ideas and the ideologies as a chief of police does and be willing to converse and have conversations with the everyday person in the various communities," he said. 

Welch is facing long odds to upset Peduto in the primary election. No incumbent mayor of Pittsburgh seeking reelection has lost.

“Until 2017,” Welch said.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm