Inside a former church on the North Side campus of The Pittsburgh Project, volunteers and supporters of the Rev. John C. Welch — Mayor Bill Peduto’s only declared Democratic opponent — said “amen.”
One woman said it as Welch, the dean of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, called to make Pittsburgh “the most equitable city and the most livable for all.” Some cheered as he promised that the “politics of yesterday are over.” Many clapped when he spoke about his support for immigrant rights — “even when it was not popular within my own community.”
“So if anybody were to ask, ‘Who is John Welch?’ John Welch is social justice, and social justice is John Welch,” he told those assembled.
He was born in the Hill District to two deaf parents, he said Saturday, and lives in Homewood, where he was raised. Welch is also the former president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and has been visibly involved in a number of social justice causes. He was once arrested with other clergy members at a protest in support of UPMC employees’ efforts to form a union.
On Saturday, he criticized Peduto on a number of fronts, including the mayor’s relationship with Uber and the city’s self-driving car pilot.
“I am not owned by anybody,” he said to applause and chants of “John C. Welch!”
“I don’t need to have the number of a CEO on speed dial, unless I’m willing to tell him or her that technology is great but it will only advance the common good if it does not replace human workers,” Welch continued. “People need jobs, and quite frankly, I’d rather see a person behind the wheel of a car actually driving it, not sitting there making sure nothing happens.”
Welch also took aim at Peduto’s handling of revelations that Pittsburgh has levels of lead in the water “comparable to those reported in Flint,” as Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who helped expose dangerous levels of lead in D.C. and Flint’s water supplies, told WPXI.
“And yet there has been no sense of urgency from this administration,” Welch said.
He also cited The Guardian‘s reporting that, “Unlike in Flint, Michigan, where sudden changes in water chemistry caused a spike, lead levels in Pittsburgh’s tap water rose steadily for 12 years.”
“Or let me put it this way: three elected terms in office,” Welch said, referencing two of Peduto’s terms as a Pittsburgh City Council member (he served three) and one term as mayor.
“Do you know what insanity is? Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” he said. “We did the same thing for 4,380 days plus, and we got the same results. In my opinion, it would be insane to do it again for one more election cycle.”
Following a boil water advisory that affected thousands in the city, Peduto’s administration announced on Friday that it is seeking an outside advisory team to review and improve the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority. One of the priorities is finding a way to replace lead service lines at private homes.
Alice, a Welch volunteer who lives in the West End and didn’t provide her last name, said she’s been a resident of Pittsburgh for about 30 years and has been “disappointed in the way the city operates” from the start.
“In the midst of me thinking about leaving, I finally hear [that] someone else who’s totally committed and totally capable of running the city the way it should be is running for mayor,” she said.
Welch is Peduto’s only declared opponent in the May 16 primary and is seeking the Allegheny County Democratic Committee’s endorsement for mayor. So is vocal Peduto foe, Councilwoman Darlene Harris, as the Post-Gazette reported.
When asked by email if seeking the endorsement is a confirmation that she will run, Harris told The Incline, “We will see what happens at endorsement :-)”