Pittsburgh mayoral candidates take on issues during virtual forum

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Tom Davidson, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·5 min read
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Apr. 9—Three of the four Pittsburgh mayoral candidates talked about the need to make drastic changes in the way the city operates during a virtual forum Thursday evening.

The fourth, incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto, cited work his administration has done over the last seven years, but said he's seeking a third term to finish that work.

The candidates all agreed the city is facing issues with its police department, affordable housing, racial and gender equity and economic development.

All but Peduto were short on specifics about how they would tackle the problems, and he cited administration policies the other candidates said haven't done enough to help everyone in the city.

The 90-minute forum, sponsored by the activist group Pittsburgh United and more than a dozen other civic organizations, was moderated by Common Cause Pennsylvania Executive Director Khalif Ali.

It covered a range of issues in questions each candidate had one minute to answer.

The Democratic primary race pits Peduto, 56, of North Point Breeze, against three challengers in Peduto's bid what he says will be final term leading the city.

State Rep. Ed Gainey, 51, of Lincoln Lemington; retired Pittsburgh police officer Tony Moreno, 51, of Brighton Heights and Ivy League-educated math tutor/ride-share driver Michael Thompson, 38, of Oakland are vying to unseat Peduto.

No Republicans, third-party candidates or independents have announced a bid for mayor. That's not uncommon in heavily-Democratic Pittsburgh, where the last GOP mayor served in the 1930s.

Gainey, a five-term state representative, is endorsed by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. Moreno and Thompson are political newcomers.

Moreno has run a populist campaign touting his experience as a cop, while Thompson's candidacy wasn't public until he filed nominating petitions March 9.

Thompson, who earned a degree from Brown University, has previously said he's running a "grass roots" campaign calling for "fresh ideas" in city government.

Thompson called for the most drastic reform — "breaking the police union" to fix a department that isn't working so bad cops can be fired and good ones promoted.

The city needs to focus its energy and resources on public safety, public works and giving people the means to get jobs, Moreno said.

Gainey called for more community-oriented policing, "demilitarizing" the department and working to build trust between police and residents.

Peduto focused on initiatives he's already put in place regarding police. He said more needs to be done to address overall health and safety issues in the city, and creating more opportunities for affordable housing.

"We have to show up," Gainey said, saying city officials missed a chance to bring people together during the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the city became more divided as protests started in last May and continued through the summer to call for police reform. They were part of the national Black Lives Matter movement that was reinvigorated with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The trial for the cop accused of killing Floyd continues this week.

Gainey also tasked city officials with using the more than $107 million the city is set to receive under the American Rescue Act, the latest economic stimulus because of the pandemic, to help people in the city now and not be put in a reserve or so-called rainy-day fund.

"It's raining on people right now," Gainey said.

Thompson spoke in broader terms about the "need to heal the world."

Moreno called for the need to stand up for residents who right now feel "shut out and neglected."

Peduto's administration has worked to control the city budget, allow for public participation, and created equity, housing and development initiatives to make the city more inclusive, he said.

Tackling these issues take time and he needs another term to finish the job, he said.

Moreno and Gainey disagreed.

"We have failed miserably," Moreno said, noting the people who live in poverty in the city.

Gainey said it's time for less talk and more actions.

The city could learn from the best practices of other cities, Thompson said.

Thompson ended his pitch for why people should support him by pledging to lead in the spirit of Mr. Rogers and asked for everyone to "do our own part," to make the city a better place.

Moreno noted that both Peduto and Gainey have been active leaders in the region for more than a decade as the city's problems have persisted. He pledged to treat people with "dignity and respect" and work to hold officials accountable in the city.

Gainey said there have been too many "broken promises" in city government and said he wants to end Pittsburgh's "tale of two cities" — alluding to the racial disparities in the city's neighborhoods. He said he wanted to "make sure all the ships were sailing in the right direction."

Over the course of two terms as mayor, Peduto said he's had a chance to help correct the issues that plagued the city since the 1980s and said Pittsburgh remains a city "worth fighting for."

"Our work is not finished," Peduto said.

There were 268 people who participated in the forum, Ali said, and it's available on the Pittsburgh United Facebook page.

The primary election is May 18.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .