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Pittsburgh mayoral candidates talk jobs, violence at WQED forum

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 11:53 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Bill Peduto, Jack Wagner and Jake Wheatley, candidates for Pittsburgh Mayor, sit on the set at WQED Studios on Thursday during a forum hosted by the Pittsburgh Foundation.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley's priority if elected Pittsburgh mayor would be the elimination of poverty.

Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner would recruit “good people” for city government.

City Councilman Bill Peduto would introduce early childhood programs for every child between ages 1 and 5.

The three candidates were responding to that question during a forum Thursday at WQED Multimedia studios in Shadyside before an audience of about 50 people. The event, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Foundation and moderated by WQED's Chris Moore and Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Grant Oliphant, was broadcast later in the evening.

Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District; Wagner, 65, of Beechview, and Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze are seeking the Democratic nomination in the May 21 primary. The fourth candidate, A.J. Richardson, 36, a community activist from Sheraden, did not attend.

Candidates offered their positions on everything from violence to creating jobs in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Wheatley described poverty as the root cause of problems. He said he would ensure that minorities get a fair shot at winning government jobs and contracts.

Wagner said the city must start with a more professional workforce, and he promised new hires would be reflective of the city's minority and female populations.

Peduto said early childhood education would be his priority, but he also would start neighborhood improvement plans based on what community members say are their greatest needs.

“When people feel they have a greater stake in government, when they feel they are being listened to, that is the start of team building,” he said.

All three candidates said they would support buying surveillance cameras and gunshot sensors in violent neighborhoods such as Homewood.

Peduto said he sponsored legislation several years ago that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen handguns. Wagner said as City Council president 20 years ago he wrote one of the first bans on assault rifles in the nation. However, state law, which supersedes city ordinances, prevents both pieces of legislation from being enforced today.

Wheatley said cultural changes must occur to reduce gun violence.

“Violence is a learned behavior,” he said. “I think you have to unlearn the behavior.”

Peduto would open a small-business arm of the Urban Redevelopment Authority to address minority home ownership. He said the office would offer educational programs to help minorities understand finances.

Wheatley said his administration would make home ownership a priority.

Wagner said minority ownership must be a part of all new public housing development.

“We need greater cooperation,” he said. “We need collaboration. That is not happening. The mayor has to set the stage to make things happen.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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