Group organizes black voters' endorsement convention in mayor's race
Some of Pittsburgh's black leaders are uniting to organize a popular endorsement of a mayoral candidate.
Headed by former City Councilman Sala Udin of the Hill District, a new group called the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention met on Thursday outside the City-County Building to announce it will hold a convention to decide the endorsement.
“This is something I've never seen before,” said Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist. “You've got to credit the people who are organizing this and taking an active step in encouraging the African-American community to pay attention and get involved.”
The convention is scheduled April 20 in Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer, where black voters will pick one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 21 primary. They will choose from City Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze; community organizer A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden; former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview; and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District. Wheatley and Richardson are black.
“I think people all over the city want to see a leader who is inclusive and has special plans for inclusiveness,” said Udin, who left office in 2006. “With a wide open field, we have great opportunity for applying leverage.”
Organizers encourage all black registered voters in the city to attend the convention. The day before, the group will hold a forum for candidates to respond to what organizers call a “black agenda,” a list of issues facing the community. Blacks make up 26.1 percent of the city's population.
Udin said blacks have a unique opportunity to influence the election. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl dropped out of the race on March 1.
“I think there's a very good chance that the African-American vote that breaks one way or another in large numbers can determine who the winner is,” Mikus said.
He said candidates could stage get-out-the-vote campaigns for the endorsement.
“Even if it's skewed, anytime people are encouraged to get involved in the process, that's always a good thing for politics,” he said.
The Peduto, Wagner and Wheatley campaigns said they welcome the chance to participate. Wheatley said he would not expect the black community to automatically consider him or Richardson for the endorsement.
“I think every vote should be earned in this race, regardless of whether you're black, white, Asian, brown, or whatever,” Wheatley said. “You should have something that speaks to the needs of the city.
“I do have a confidence that I can go into that convention and articulate a vision that should be enough to win not only their support but this election.”
Peduto campaign spokeswoman Sonya Toler said Peduto looks forward to discussing his platform with the black community.
“The best thing about this is it's an effort for a group of African-Americans to have their voice heard in what is going to be a critical election for the city,” Toler said.
Richardson said he would consider participating, but he was leaning toward a boycott.
“I'm not in favor of terms like ‘black agenda,'” said Richardson, who this week left a mayoral debate and said he had to “regroup” hours after city police charged him with driving under the influence. “I don't think there should be an agenda that is only geared toward one group of people.”
Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh, said candidates have to be careful in considering demands from one segment of the electorate.
“They're going to have to respect the black community and elements of the agenda, but they can't focus on that exclusively, especially at the expense of the rest of the city,” Shuster said.
Earlier Thursday, Wagner received endorsements from City Council President Darlene Harris and five unions: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5, the Greater Pittsburgh Council of Carpenters, Steamfitters Local 449, Plumbers Local 27, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 57.
They combine to represent thousands of workers. Harris was formerly a candidate for mayor and represents the majority of the North Side.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.