Three takeaways from WTAE’s Pittsburgh mayoral debate

Lead! Affordable housing! And yes, there was even a mention of bike lanes.

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WTAE screenshot
Sarah Anne Hughes

Mayor Bill Peduto debated his two opponents for the Democratic nomination — councilmember Darlene Harris and Rev. John Welch — live tonight on WTAE.

There were no major revelations or surprises during the one-hour debate — no name-calling, no yelling and only one mention of bike lanes.

If you missed tonight’s debate, you watch it online or on WTAE at 5 p.m. Saturday. There are also several other debates and forums scheduled between now and May 16, the primary. (Remember that date! And to vote!) Below are our three takeaways from tonight’s debate.

Lead and affordable housing are top topics

Two big topics tonight: Lead in water and affordable housing.

Peduto touted his administration’s efforts to restructure PWSA and provide filters, while Welch promoted his own plan centered on point-of-entry filters. Harris said she would bring back people Peduto’s admin “left go” who had institutional knowledge.

On affordable housing, the three candidates each had different ideas about how to find the $10 million a year needed for the still-unfunded housing trust fund.

Peduto said he still supports an increase in the realty transfer tax, “because that is what they use in other cities.” If that’s not possible, he said, “We need to be able to look at our Urban Redevelopment Authority portfolio and refinance.”

Welch said he’d looked at money from current sources like expired Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance districts. He said the city should also audit the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Housing Authority “to make sure that funds that were supposed to be appropriated for low-income housing” actually were.

Harris said she’d pay for it with Community Development Block Grants. When it was pointed out to Harris that President Donald Trump wants to cut CDBG money, Harris said she’d “go to Washington, D.C. and explain what our problems here in Pittsburgh are.”

John Welch: The anti-Uber candidate

Like he did at a February campaign event, Welch said he wouldn’t do business with Uber because of the way it treats employees including women. “This is a company behaving badly,” he said. Welch also expressed concern that autonomous vehicles will ultimately take jobs away from people, not add them. Peduto responded to that by saying it’s not a question of if autonomous vehicles will be developed, but where.

When asked if he would ask Uber to leave the city, Welch said he’d “have no problem asking them to leave.”

Harris also criticized Peduto’s relationship with Uber.

“You look at other states, and they’ve had accidents. I was actually cut off the road by an Uber car on South Side,” she said. “I would have a lot of conversations before I’d ever come driving up to the City County Building and saying, ‘I’m with Uber.'”

Darlene Harris is still Darlene Harris

Harris, known for her combative style on Pittsburgh City Council, continued to paint herself as the really anti-Peduto candidate. She distinguished herself from her two opponents by opposing sanctuary cities and saying Council shouldn’t legislate issues like campaign finance limits and marijuana decriminalization, as that’s a state responsibility.

It was also Harris who ensured the debate did not end without a mention of Everybody’s Favorite Topic. She began her closing statement by saying, “We did not talk about bike lanes at all this evening, and I wonder why?”