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Lavelle says Payne failed constituents on jobs at new arena

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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.

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