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Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Wagner faults current administration, says council shares some of blame

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Jack Wagner, 66, of Beechview visited the Tribune-Review as a candidate for Pittsburgh mayor in April.

Pittsburgh needs a steady, experienced hand after seven years of mismanagement and absentee leadership, mayoral candidate Jack Wagner said on Tuesday.

Wagner, 65, of Beechview criticized Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for disappearing from view during the past few weeks, appointing incompetent managers to run city departments and, worse, sometimes failing to appoint any managers at all. Speaking to Tribune-Review editors and reporters, Wagner said City Council bears some of the blame for giving Ravenstahl a pass.

Wagner touted the lessons he's learned and relationships he's built in nearly 30 years in local and state elected office, including a 10-year stint on council, four as president. He finished his second term as state auditor general in January.

“The flaws of city government begin, first and foremost, with the mayor,” Wagner said, from the scandal that ended former police Chief Nate Harper's career to a Bureau of Building Inspection that's been leaderless for three years.

Ravenstahl's office did not respond for comment.

“It all circles back to a lack of leadership,” Wagner said.

His chief rival in the race, Councilman Bill Peduto, is part of a legislative body that has not provided “a check and balance” on Ravenstahl, Wagner said.

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze has tried to peg Wagner as Ravenstahl's political heir. He portrayed the election as a choice between old-guard Democrats and a new coalition for City Hall.

But Wagner noted that Peduto has served on City Council for 12 years and as an aide to Councilman Dan Cohen before that.

The other candidates for mayor are state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District and community activist A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden. The Democratic primary, on May 21, usually decides the race's winner because more than seven of 10 voters are Democrats. A Tribune-Review poll showed Wagner and Peduto far ahead with 40 percent and 33 percent of the vote, respectively.

Peduto “is so much a part of the problem it's impossible to separate him from it,” Wagner said. He said Peduto remained mum on issues such as Ravenstahl's failure to appoint a leader for the Bureau of Building Inspection.

“I'm beginning to question if Jack has forgotten how city government works,” Peduto campaign spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. “Council has no power to hire department directors. While Councilman Peduto is on record requesting that this position be filled, Mayor Ravenstahl has refused.”

Putting good managers in charge of city functions ranks among a mayor's top responsibilities, Wagner said.

“My experience and my ability to pick good people to run things is far superior to anyone in this race,” he said, citing his time running the Auditor General's Office, which had a $42.4 million budget and more than 500 employees when he left. That was down from more than $48 million and more than 700 employees when he took office in January 2005.

Wagner won endorsements from the police and firefighters unions, as well as the Teamsters Local 249, IBEW Local 5 and others. He said he made no promises in exchange for their support.

“I won't owe them anything except good government,” Wagner said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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