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Politics & Government

Peduto Opens Up Big Cash Lead In Mayoral Race, As Outside Spenders Wade In

Gene J. Puskar

Votes won’t be counted in Pittsburgh’s mayoral race for another month, but Mayor Bill Peduto has opened up a wide lead in the contest for campaign dollars. Campaign-finance reports posted by the city on Thursday show that in March, Peduto raised $355,827.67 — nearly quadruple the $80,295.22 raised by his closest competitor, state Rep. Ed Gainey.

Peduto spent over $233,000 in March, which also dwarfed the totals posted by his rivals. But the volume of support he drummed up left him with $422,593.64 — and an even larger cash advantage than he had at the beginning of the month.

Peduto’s real cash advantage came from contributions of over $250 from individual donors. For every dollar Gainey raised from those sources, Peduto raised $7.95.

But his donor list contains few new surprises, with residents and local business owners mixed with development interests and contractors. Among his contributors is a political committee tied to the law firm of Eckert Seamans; UPMC board chair Nicholas Beckwith III; developer Damian Zamias; and Robert McGann of the towing firm McGann and Chester.

As in previous reports, Gainey’s donors included a sizable number of local activists, including police-accountability advocate Brandi Fisher and Angel Gober of OnePA, which has been active in supporting his campaign. His largest contributor was a fellow state representative, Philadelphia's Donna Bullock, whose own campaign committee donated $5,000 to his bid.

Gainey started March with $106,016.93 on hand. After spending $78,888.39, he went into the last full month of the campaign with $113,423.76.

Among the few surprises in either candidate’s report was a $2,800 contribution to Gainey from Joseph Leonello, Jr., the president of Homestead-based Franjo Construction. The firm touts its status as a non-union contractor, and when a local Painters union endorsed Gainey last month, it lashed out at Peduto as a “mountebank” and “neoliberal hack,” faulting him for not doing more to prevent Franjo’s work on local development projects.

The Gainey campaign and the Painters union both declined comment on the company’s contribution to his campaign, roughly three weeks after the union statement.

A third mayoral candidate, Tony Moreno, reported $10,981.91 in campaign contributions, including $1,000 from a Boilermakers union local. Mike Thompson did not file a report.

Peduto’s cash advantage may well be insurmountable. The city’s campaign-finance law limits the amount a single person or committee can give to a candidate. That can make it challenging for a rival to catch up, and Gainey’s campaign only got underway in January, by which point Peduto had a head start of nearly $185,000.

But Gainey does have some powerful allies. An independent-expenditure group called Justice for All raised $150,000 from two union locals: the Operating Engineers gave $100,000 to the committee while SEIU Healthcare, a key supporter, donated $50,000.

So far, at least, that’s been enough to outgun a similar union committee created to support Peduto. Good Jobs Pittsburgh received $133,000 of support: Locals with the Laborers and the Electrical Workers gave Peduto $50,000 each, while a Steamfitters local contributed $30,000 and the city’s teachers union gave $3,000.

The Good Jobs committee reported no spending for March, though its mailers began landing in city mailboxes after the period covered by the report. Justice for All similarly reported only modest spending during the report period, though it launched an ad this month.

In any case, Good Jobs could see a dramatic spike in activity before the May 18 primary. The city’s campaign-contribution limits do not apply to such outside-money groups (though they must report their financial activities on the same timetable candidates use).

Other city races also reflected incumbent advantages. City Council District 2 representative Theresa Kail-Smith raised just over $13,000, mostly on the strength of contributions from unions representing the building trades and city first-responders. Her rival, Jacob Williamson, raised $2,565.

In the only other competitive race in city government, District 4 City Councilor Anthony Coghill reported just $6,350 in new contributions. But a huge early advantage leaves him with a daunting $91,694.34 in the bank. That dwarfs rival Bethani Cameron’s account, which started April with a balance of $8,692.63 after adding only $1,220 in March.

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