ShareThis Page

Lavelle says Payne failed constituents on jobs at new arena

| Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pittsburgh City Council candidate Robert Daniel Lavelle, who is trying to unseat incumbent Tonya Payne in District 6, on Wednesday accused the councilwoman of betraying her constituents by failing to guarantee jobs for them on the Penguins arena project.

Although he did not cite specifics, Lavelle, 31, of Schenley Heights said Payne traded away jobs that should be guaranteed to minorities and women in return for political endorsements and contributions.

"We need an elected official who is going to ensure that any relationship they have with another elected official or any union or corporations Downtown is beneficial to the community," Lavelle said in a news conference at the project site.

"That's not what we've seen," he said. "If our tax dollars can pay for a new arena, the new arena can pay the residents of this city and provide neighborhood residents a good living wage."

Lavelle is on the staff of state Rep. Jake Wheatley Jr., D-Hill District, and was an aide to former Councilman Sala Udin, whom Payne unseated.

"When you accuse someone of doing something, at least try to find something that's real," said Payne, 44, of Uptown, who was elected in 2005. "These accusations are ludicrous and show just how desperate the Lavelle campaign has become."

Payne said Lavelle instead should ask Wheatley why he didn't guarantee jobs for minorities and women when he voted to provide state money for the arena, now anticipated to cost $321 million.

"There could've been strings attached to that money," Payne said. "There was an amendment on the table that would have guaranteed jobs to women and minorities, but Jake withdrew it. ... Everyone who knows me understands that my entire career has been dedicated to helping the disadvantaged."

An agreement signed in August by One Hill Neighborhood Coalition, the Penguins and government agencies assured local residents would get $2 million for a grocery store and a say in development for the area.

The agreement, which Payne supported, promised to give Hill District residents first opportunity for jobs created around the arena. Sixty-four percent of those living in the Hill District, Polish Hill and parts of Downtown are black.

As of March 30, minority-owned businesses have performed 22 percent of work completed on the project, and women-owned businesses, 6 percent, according to reports filed by Oxford Development, a company representing the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority in a joint venture with Chester Engineering.

The Sports & Exhibition Authority will own the arena. Its Web site says its goal is to give minority businesses 25 percent of the arena contracts, and women-owned businesses 10 percent. The authority's executive director, Mary Conturo, could not be reached for comment to determine whether workers involved in the project live in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The project's percentage of minority workers is acceptable and even better than many projects going on throughout the state, said Sonya Toler, executive director of the Governor's Advisory Commission on African-American Affairs.

"I don't think it's time to single out the Penguins' arena," Toler said. "They've done a lot. The Penguins have set the tone we want to see."

In addition to Payne and Lavelle, Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley Sr., 52, of the North Side is on the May 19 Democratic primary ballot for the District 6 council seat.

Since no Republican is running, the election will decide who represents the district covering Downtown, Uptown, the Hill District, Strip District and parts of Oakland and the North Side.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.