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Police issues focus of forum with Democratic mayoral candidates

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 9:19 p.m.

Questions over hot-button police force issues triggered disagreements Sunday in the first Pittsburgh mayoral forum of the 2013 campaign.

The second question of the hourlong forum touched on a wide range of police issues, including police staffing, the handling of a 911 call that preceded the death of Ka'Sandra Wade and the federal grand jury investigation of Chief Nate Harper.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, City Councilman Bill Peduto and Controller Michael Lamb are seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor. The winner of the May 21 primary advances to the Nov. 5 general election.

Ravenstahl noted a drop in crime during his six years as mayor and defended Harper, under investigation into whether he was involved in a contract awarded to a shell company set up by one-time friend Art Bedway.

“I'm happy with what's happening in the police bureau,” said Ravenstahl, 32, of Summer Hill, who became mayor in 2006 upon the death of Mayor Bob O'Connor, was elected to fill out the rest of O'Connor's term in 2007 and was re-elected in 2009. “The issues that have come up recently, obviously, are issues that we will deal with. Many of them will be litigated, so it's difficult for me to go into specifics.

“But Chief Harper has been, in my mind, a great leader. I hope that what he has told me and is telling everybody else is true. I have no reason to believe otherwise, and, from my perspective, the chief has done a fine job leading this bureau.”

The forum in Wightman School Community Building attracted about 200 people. The three candidates sat shoulder to shoulder, giving minute-long answers on topics such as education, public safety and state budget oversight.

Peduto and Lamb spoke little of Harper, citing ongoing legal issues. But both blamed poor leadership for problems with the force. Peduto directly blamed the mayor and said the force has problems with promotions based on favoritism and a lack of diversity.

“It all starts at the top,” Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze said. “I don't care what organization you're in, you need good quality leadership in order to be able to affect the management on the ground.” The police chief answers to the mayor.

Lamb said citizens should look to the mayor's office to resolve the issues surrounding the Wade case. Police found Wade, 33, of Larimer dead of a gunshot wound in her Lowell Street home a day after she made a 911 call. Two officers responded to the call on Dec. 31 and left when Wade's boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, of Point Breeze, spoke to them through a window, refusing to let them in. The officers never spoke to Wade or confirmed whether she was inside and needed help.

“The fact is, that was a failure,” Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington said. “It was a failure on the part of the officers there, from everything that's been seen. That raises another question: In addition to training, what do you do about a failure based on competence? A mayor has to be ready to make those decisions and take those steps.”

Peduto criticized Ravenstahl for supporting tax breaks for PNC Financial Services Group and the Bakery Square development. Lamb said every city department he's audited has had missed opportunities to save money and better serve taxpayers.

Ravenstahl noted a “renaissance” of development, especially Downtown, during his six years as mayor.

The forum included three candidates competing to succeed Peduto on City Council: Peduto's Chief of Staff Dan Gilman, 30, of Shadyside; Jeanne Clark, 63, of Shadyside; and Sam Hens-Greco, 56, of Point Breeze. They talked about the expansion of evening parking fees and the cost of sewage upgrades, among other issues.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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