In less than a week, Democrats in Pittsburgh will make their choice for mayor.
Incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto has been challenged by Councilwoman Darlene Harris, a frequent foe, and Rev. John Welch, a former supporter of the mayor. Those three candidates will appear on the May 16 ballot, alongside candidates for various judgeships, sheriff, school board and county and city council.
Have you been paying attention to the mayoral race? Really close attention? Maybe not? (It’s OK, you can tell us.) You can start by listening to The Incline and WESA 90.5’s hour-long mayoral forum, which took place Tuesday.
Clips from the forum are also included in The Incline’s guide to Pittsburgh’s mayoral candidates, as are additional reading selections. Jump to the topics that are most important to you:
Council member Darlene Harris at The Incline and WESA's mayoral forum.Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Who? Darlene Harris is a Pittsburgh City Council member representing District 1. She previously served on the Pittsburgh school board.
- The Incline’s archives and profile on her as a council member
- Post-Gazette profile
- PublicSource interview
- Harris’ campaign website
Mayor Bill Peduto at The Incline and WESA's mayoral forum.Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Who? Bill Peduto was first elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 2013 after serving three terms as a Pittsburgh City Council member.
- Allegheny County Democrats
- Allegheny County Labor Council
- Clean Water Action
- Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
- Planned Parenthood
- SEIU Local 32BJ
- SEIU Local 668
- SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania
- Steel City Stonewall Democrats
Rev. John Welch at The Incline and WESA's mayoral forum.Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
Who? John Welch is dean of students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has a Ph.D. in healthcare ethics from Duquesne University, per his campaign website, and worked in the computer technology and information systems field for more than two decades.
Harris has criticized Peduto’s relationship with Uber, saying at the WTAE debate, “You look at other states, and they’ve had accidents. I was actually cut off the road by an Uber car on South Side. … 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.’”
She repeated that story Tuesday during The Incline and WESA forum, and added, “Uber scares me.” Harris is a vocal critic of bike lanes. On Tuesday, she said the studies that were done didn’t involve enough members of the community. “We need to talk to more people,” she said. As mayor, Harris said she would work with the county to try to get more state and federal funds for public transit, especially buses.
Peduto welcomed Uber and its self-driving cars into the city, but his relationship with the company cooled in early 2017 after a number of high-profile incidents. The future is “shared, autonomous and electric,” he said during the Tuesday forum, and Pittsburgh has a seat at the table to help define the self-driving car industry, including its social responsibilities.
He is a supporter of bike infrastructure, although his administration recently canceled plans for lanes on Fort Pitt Boulevard following complaints from local business owners about parking. At Tuesday’s forum, Peduto stressed he supports a “complete street design” that allows everyone using the street — drivers, cyclists, bus riders and pedestrians — to have a right-of-way and to safely use the road.
Welch has taken a strong stance against Uber’s corporate policies and actions, saying at a North Side campaign event, “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.” At the WTAE debate, Welch said he would “have no problem asking [Uber] to leave.” On Tuesday, Welch said that he’s concerned about the self-driving car technology.
He’s not opposed to bike lanes, but accused Peduto of “misplaced priorities” by “putting bike lanes over the health of city residents.” On Tuesday, Welch also advocated for more street lighting so pedestrians feel safer walking and for transportation to be re-prioritized, with more funds and more discussions with stakeholders.
Hear from the candidates:
Harris has painted herself as the pro-police candidate. “Strong Support of Public Safety” is one of five items listed on her campaign website under “Plans.” She was a critic of Chief Cameron McLay and some of his policies. At the WTAE debate, she said, “We have to trust our police, we have to trust our law enforcement,” regarding the release of body camera footage.
But when it comes to information about city employees, there is only so much that can be released publicly, Harris said at the Tuesday forum. She added that all unions are there to protect workers, including the police union. And she said neighborhood safety councils need to work with police to understand each other.
Peduto hired Cameron McLay to serve as police chief and bring a community policing model to Pittsburgh. Despite being embraced by groups like the Alliance for Police Accountability, McLay resigned after two years of high-profile clashes with the police union. But concerns from the FOP don’t always reflect the rank and file, Peduto said Tuesday. The police force is the largest it’s been in 15 years, according to Peduto, who recently implemented a new community policing program with Chief Scott Schubert.
There’s a balance between respecting the rights of city workers and being transparent with the community, he said Tuesday, adding that the most important thing is for city public safety officials to be consistent.
Welch’s campaign site lists several actions he would take to make Pittsburgh “a safe city for all,” including “provid[ing] sufficient funding and support for the work of the Citizen Police Review Board” and “develop[ing] respectable levels of ethnic diversity within police, fire and EMS through recruitment and promotions.” Neighborhood leaders and law enforcement need to have “open and honest conversations,” as well as implicit bias training for officers and training for the community to understand the jobs of police, Welch said at the Tuesday forum.
At the WTAE debate, Welch said body camera footage should “absolutely be made available to the public.” He added Tuesday that body cameras are for the safety of officers and the community.
Hear from the candidates:
Harris has called for a federal investigation into the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and the city’s lead levels. When asked how to fix PWSA during a press conference she held, Harris said, “I have absolutely no idea. All I have is questions.” On Tuesday, Harris said politics have ruined Pittsburgh’s water because of turnover in PWSA staff. Although she didn’t point to solutions, Harris added, “It’s a shame it’s gotten this far and all we can hand anybody is a pitcher.”
An advisory panel selected by Peduto’s administration recently picked Infrastructure Management Group to oversee the restructuring of PWSA. “After decades of disinvestment and neglect, the PWSA is in need of billions of dollars of long-term infrastructure improvements. It can’t borrow its way out of the problem, or implement giant rate increases by residents,” Peduto said in a statement.
To deal with concerns about lead levels in the city’s water, the mayor’s office is distributing free water filter pitchers to residents. “Lead in the water is a concern, but it’s not different than 5,000 other systems,” Peduto said at The Incline and WESA‘s forum. “We have an opportunity to fix our water system, but it’s going to take time and money.”
Welch has made high lead levels in Pittsburgh’s water a key part of his campaign. “Unlike Flint’s crisis, which spiked after the city switched from Detroit water to the notoriously polluted Flint River as a cost-saving measure, Pittsburgh’s problems have been quietly bubbling up for years,” Welch wrote in an op-ed. He’s framed the 12-year period during which lead levels rose in Pittsburgh’s water as “three elected terms in office” — referencing two of Peduto’s terms as a Pittsburgh City Council member and one term as mayor. “There has been no sense of urgency from this administration,” Welch said at a campaign event.
He has countered Peduto’s free water filter program with an idea to install point-of-entry filters onto residential service lines. The pitchers are “a smoke screen” and point-of-entry filters would be less expensive and more effective, Welch said Tuesday.
Hear from the candidates:
Harris told the Steel City Stonewall Democrats that she doesn’t discriminate and, as a school board member, stuck up for a teacher who participated in a pride parade. She also said she supports transgender people using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Peduto has advocated for LGBTQ rights and was the only candidate to fill out a questionnaire from the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, of which he is a founding member. Peduto listed examples of his support for the LGBTQ community such as bringing back the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council and banning “conversion therapy” for Pittsburgh youth. He’s also in support of allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
Welch compared the LBGTQ community to the African-American community at the Steel City Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement event, saying both are “a community that I think has been marginalized for far too long,” the Post-Gazette reported. He also said at that event that he supports allowing transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. While he didn’t directly respond to criticism that he doesn’t publicly support LGBTQ causes, Welch told the PG he believes everyone should be respected. City Paper reported that at a recent forum, Welch said he is “very much for LGBTQIA rights.”
- Post-Gazette coverage of Steel City Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement
- Peduto questionnaire answers to Steel City Stonewall Democrats
Harris doesn’t want Pittsburghers to leave their neighborhoods because of rising housing and rent prices, and she said the city’s land bank isn’t working. But she thinks the Housing Opportunity Fund could work. Don’t expect her to use a tax increase to fund it, though. Harris is against tax increases, just as she’s against deals with developers for market-rate housing. Instead, she said she wants to pay for the fund with Community Development Block Grants. And if President Donald Trump cuts CDBG money? Harris said she’d “go to Washington, D.C., and explain what our problems here in Pittsburgh are.” Whatever money the city has for housing should be used for mixed-income housing in every neighborhood, Harris said Tuesday.
Peduto praised the affordable housing trust fund and the city’s land bank, which will help the city turn over properties: “That will clear the liens, clear the titles, allow us to be able to sell properties for a dollar and be able to allow nonprofits and other community development corporations, and others, to be able to purchase those and turn them back into homes for people to live in,” Peduto told WESA. The mayor said he’d support a realty transfer tax increase to pay for the trust fund, but said there are other possible answers, too. One is asking the city’s four, big nonprofits to help. He suggested making public subsidies proportional to the amount of affordable housing being built. Peduto said Tuesday that new solutions will help develop neighborhoods that haven’t yet seen change.
Welch is in favor of “mandatory inclusionary zoning” which would require an amount of new construction to be affordable housing. And he’d like to see that amount grow to a larger percentage of new developments. Welch would support a realty transfer tax increase, as well as asking the city’s four big nonprofits for help. He suggested money from the expired Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance districts could be used for the housing trust fund. Regardless, Welch said Tuesday that the city needs to make sure the market doesn’t take off and dictate prices.
Hear from the candidates: