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Pittsburgh voters will elect the first Black mayor in city history, or first Republican in decades

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Sarah Schneider
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90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Government and accountability editor Chris Potter previews the races that will be decided in Tuesday’s election; reporters from the Post-Gazette describe the findings of an investigation into the rising number of drug-exposed babies born in rural communities, and how neighboring West Virginia’s approach differs from Pennsylvania’s; and we hear a profile of a local artist who immigrated from Guyana as a child and now incorporates Black culture and leaders in his mixed-media work.

Tuesday’s election will decide city mayor, council, school board, and judges
(0:00 - 7:06)

Tuesday, Pittsburgh voters will go to the polls. One of the most anticipated races is whether voters will elect the city’s first Black mayor, or the first Republican in nine decades.

Democrat state Rep. Ed Gainey beat incumbent Bill Peduto in the primary, and is facing off with Tony Moreno, who is running as a Republican after he failed to win the primary as a Democrat.

Chris Potter, WESA’s government and accountability editor, says the Republican party is coalescing behind Moreno.

“Tony Moreno has received about $18,000 in in-kind support from the Republican Committee of Allegheny County,” says Potter. “By the standards of Republican candidates running for mayor, this is one of the more spirited challenges I’ve seen.”

Voters are electing four members of city council, but only the race for District 4 has been competitive. Incumbent Anthony Coghill is being challenged by Green Party candidate Connor Mulvaney.

At the County Council level, there are three races taking place, two involving open seats and a challenge to incumbent Anita Pincio.

“The dynamic in these races is all pretty much the same: you have Republicans saying that this council ... has gotten away from doing things like the financial oversight roles that’s really laid out in the County Home Rule Charter and they’re doing sort of more socially progressive things that these Republicans don’t think they should be doing,” says Potter.

The election takes place Tuesday, Nov. 2 and polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day.

Post-Gazette investigation finds drug-exposed babies are an increasing problem in rural communities
(7:09 - 17:28)

The number of pregnant people using drugs and giving birth to drug-exposed infants, especially in rural areas, has soared in recent years. However, Pennsylvania data on the issue is not as complete as data from West Virginia.

“The Department of Health looks at the number of infants who only had the most severe effects of drug exposure during pregnancy,” says reporter Kris Mamula, who investigated this issue for the Post-Gazette. “The state only looks at opioids right now too, they don’t look at methamphetamine for example, which is becoming increasingly popular.”

Mamula says there are no nationwide standards for tracking the births of drug-exposed babies, but he says there are approximately 400,000 children born a year who are exposed to drugs.

“In West Virginia they test for eight drugs, currently, they look at substance use, … and also they measure what Pennsylvania measures, the most severe effects of mom’s drug use,” says Mamula. Clinics in the bordering state often treat Pennsylvania residents who live in rural Fayette and Greene counties.

“Based on the data that we collected, we saw a 60% increase in these births in three years between 2017 and 2020, and the state Health Department does not have that data,” says Mamula. “They don’t have real time data, they’re looking back at what happened two years ago.”

For the investigation, photojournalist Stephanie Strasburg filmed and photographed the visible signs of this issue.

“Something between 16 and 18 percent of these NICU babies go into foster care, mostly because of illegal drug use,” says Strasburg. “I didn’t need to drive more than five minutes [in Fayette] to find signs dotted along the back country roads advertising for foster parents for children there.”

State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Northampton) has said she’ll introduce a bill soon to require drug-exposed babies be tracked more diligently. Boscola introduced a similar bill in 2018, and Mamula says the senator has told him she feels there’s more urgency for addressing the issue today.

Mixed-media artist Gavin Benjamin is blending history and culture in his work\
(17:31 - 22:30)

Artist Gavin Benjamin was born in Guyana, but has spent much of his career in Pittsburgh. However, 90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll’s profile shows how Benjamin’s explorations of Black cultural legacy have also made him a growing presence on the global art scene.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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