The 90.5 WESA Voter Guide To The 2017 Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary
On Tuesday, May 16, three candidates will be on the ballot to become the next mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. Voters will decide who will oversee city government for the next four years and who will serve as Pittsburgh's ambassador.
What does the mayor do?
Pittsburgh’s mayor serves a four-year term and is the chief executive of the city. They represent the city and provide leadership for all its residents.
According to Pittsburgh’s Code of Ordinances, the mayor is expected to:
"Make long and short range plans for the improvement of the economic, physical and social conditions of the City and its neighborhoods."
Who's running for mayor?
There are three candidates running for mayor this year, all of whom are Democrats. The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor in more than 80 years:
Where are they on the issues?
All three spoke to 90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar to discuss their campaigns, their positions on city issues and their priorities for Pittsburgh’s future:
Neighborhood of residence: Spring Hill
Represents Pittsburgh City Council District 1 (since 2006)
On affordable housing: Harris said she’s concerned that longtime Pittsburgh residents are being priced out of their homes and wants to make sure federal development grant money is allocated appropriately.
“I think if we’re geared into really wanting to make sure that we have houses that people that live here can actually afford, that’s where the money should be going,” Harris said. “You have to legally look at what’s out there and you have to have a plan.”
On transportation: Harris is a proponent of community input when it comes to transportation improvements. She said she does not favor public-private partnerships, calling it “outsourcing.”
“Any time that you build a building or you put a street in, you do a traffic study,” Harris said. “I mean, do you realize seconds count for paramedics or firefighters, police, to get to areas? You’re making it more difficult when you have not done traffic studies and talk to the people who are dealing in public safety.”
On police issues: Harris said as mayor, she’d hire more police and incentivize new recruits to stay in the city by paying them more. She said the bureau has low morale and has been frustrated with the Peduto administration’s relationship with the local FOP union.
“If I do become mayor, they will perk up quite a bit and feel that someone wants them to actually do the job that they’re trained to do for them," Harris said.
On water contamination issues: Harris said she was upset when PWSA hired Veolia and laid off 23 employees because “one was a chemist and we were known very well for conditions of our water.” She blames mismanagement at the agency.
“Fixing it would involve making new hires,” Harris said. “All they’re doing is paying consultants over consultants over consultants and the people that are paying for this are the rate payers.”
Democratic incumbent candidate, elected in 2014
Neighborhood of residence: Point Breeze
Served as representative for Pittsburgh City Council District 8 from 2002 to 2014
On affordable housing: Peduto said he’s proud of the new Affordable Housing Task Force and land bank created during his administration, but still weighing the best options for funding it, which could include a real estate transfer tax or contributions from nonprofits. Until then, he said he hopes to work with developers on finding a balance for new construction.
“You provide incentives to developers to include in their [project] 20 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent affordable [housing]," Peduto said. "If you want to receive public subsidies, we’re asking for 20 percent [affordable]. You want to do 40? We’re more interested. Now let’s start looking at the tax credits to see if we can help. Let’s combine that with programs through the housing authority and then, the big one is, how do you turn 17,000 vacant properties and abandoned buildings into homeownership? You can only do that through the Land Bank.”
On transportation: In his first term, Peduto brought increased bicycle infrastructure to Pittsburgh, created a Department of Mobility and Infrastructure and fostered a relationship with Uber and its autonomous vehicle researchers. He said going forward, he’ll continue to welcome innovative ideas, as long as they’re responsible partners with the city.
“There needs to be an understanding that when your factory is the public right of way, there is something that you have to give back to the public,” Peduto said. “But understand that time only goes one way and progress only happens by moving forward. You’re not going to reverse it and go backwards in time, but you certainly can make sure that it benefits as many people as possible.”
On police issues: Peduto said implicit bias training for police officers is necessary and is an advocate for community policing. He has had a sometimes contentious relationship with the Fraternal Order of Police, but said the role of mayor is one that brings together the rank and file and community.
“When we took office, the police chief was in jail, we had high-profile cases involving African American youth and Pittsburgh Police,” Peduto said. “[Now] we’re at a historic low in the number of complaints against the bureau. We have reduced it by 40 percent, but we still have a consistent basis on arrests. Our officers are now engaged in the community, in activities that are community events, that are not there as officers to watch to make people are safe. They are participating as a member of the community and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
On water contamination concerns: Peduto said there is a “vast need for an overhaul” within the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. He said he wants to create a long-term plan for Pittsburgh residents to replace outdated water lines in tandem with other utility projects to save the city money while still upgrading infrastructure.
“And we need to make sure that in the interim time period that we’re testing, constantly, the water quality, that we’re protecting people with free filters if they want a free filter system, and that we have a strong partnership with the Department of Environmental Protection, the EPA and the county health department, and working through those three organizations to make public health the first concern," Peduto said.
Neighborhood of residence: East Hills
Vice President for Student Services and Community Engagement, and Dean of Students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
On affordable housing: Welch said he’d like to incentivize developers to build more mixed-income housing, with at least 30 percent devoted to low-income residents. He’s also an advocate for a “streamlined process” to access vacant properties and creating a path for families on or near the poverty level to homeownership.
“I think one reason we have affordable housing issues is because we have a jobs problem—too many people are not making family-sustaining wages. So, we address that issue, and I think we can help with the housing issue, as well,” Welch said. “Education will help fuel the economy because you’re going to prepare a skilled workforce. But if we don’t do anything about it or do things to better the economy here in Pittsburgh, we’re going to end up with two Pittsburghs.”
On transportation: Welch wants Pittsburgh to have “affordable transportation,” and favors public-private partnerships in developing new infrastructure. He’s interested in new transit systems and expanding PAT bus routes, while lowering fares.
“The city doesn’t have a lot of money. We rely a whole lot on our tax base. But when 40 percent of our property taxes, our tax base, is in the hands of nonprofits, that creates a challenge for us revenue-wise. So we need to leverage the relationships with private investors of corporations or others of venture capitalists or whomever to invest in making sure we have a nice transportation infrastructure.”
On police issues: As the head chaplain for the Pittsburgh Police, Welch said he’s comfortable with the bureau and could work with them and the community to improve public safety. He said he’d make changes to the contract between the local FOP union and the city.
“Pittsburgh Police are heavily underpaid. We have an excellent training program for officers, yet they leave and go to municipalities where they can make more money. So we have a retention issue. We also have a diversity issue within the police department, so we need to make sure that we are creating an ethnically diverse department, as well as one that is trained in implicit bias and one that is paid for the work that they’re being asked to perform.”
On water contamination issues: Welch said he doesn’t find the city’s offering of water filters and quality tests to be “realistic.” He said lateral water lines need to be replaced by the PWSA and doesn’t believe their claim that it’s illegal under Pennsylvania law.
“Water filters that the city wants to get for free is a joke. It will not reduce lead. We need to make sure that we have zero lead,” Welch said. “We have to make sure that the situation is resolved in the city of Pittsburgh. It’s unfortunate that Pittsburgh lead levels are worse than Flint. It is unfortunate.”
Time to vote: the Pittsburgh mayoral primary is Tuesday, May 16.
To check your voting status, poll location and more visit the Pennsylvania Department of State website.
Find out who’s on the ballot on the Allegheny County website.
Read more about the candidates and their positions from the 90.5 WESA newsroom.