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Tensions rise during mayoral debate in Larimer

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Saturday, May 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Tension between candidates for Pittsburgh mayor boiled to the surface Saturday during a debate at the Kingsley Association in Larimer, with two candidates attacking Bill Peduto's ability to work with others and Peduto claiming entrenched politicians are “scared as hell” that he'll win.

Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze was asked about his contentious relationship with fellow City Council members Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess, both of whom are black. The forum was organized by the Alliance for Police Accountability and took place at the Kingsley Association in Homewood before a mostly black audience of about 30 people.

Peduto responded by accusing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, his allies, and campaign rival Jack Wagner of running a smear campaign against him. State Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, D-Hill District, and Wagner pounced on Peduto's rift with some on council, questioning whether he has the temperament to work with people who disagree with him.

“Mr. Burgess, Mr. Lavelle, they didn't support me before. They supported Luke. Is it any surprise that Luke's political backers would not like me? Is that shocking to anybody?” Peduto said. Peduto listed several of the Democratic politicians who endorsed him. “If I was such a divider who can't work with people, why are the majority of the Democrats supporting me, while a handful of Luke's supporters are holding on to that last hope that they can keep their hands on the video game and play for another four years?”

Peduto intimated that an ad that Ravenstahl's political committee aired attacking him aims to stir opposition to him among black voters.

“They say ... that I'm against the Hill and Homewood. Do you think that's discreet, what they're trying to do?” Peduto asked.

He has accused Wagner, 65, of Beechview of being complicit in the ad, which was created by the GOP firm that made the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth ads against Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign. Wagner, his voice rising, called the accusation of his involvement “an absolute lie and an insult.”

“I'm a Vietnam veteran. I put my life on the line, as did (Senator) Kerry,” Wagner said of the former Massachusetts senator who's now secretary of State.

Community organizer A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden also is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 21 primary.

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