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4 candidates vow not to raise taxes

| Monday, April 18, 2005, 12:00 p.m.

Four candidates for mayor said they won't hike taxes to lift Pittsburgh out of the red, but they differed on how far they would go to slash costs.

"We're not going to raise taxes. In fact, we're going to cut taxes," vowed Allegheny County Prothonotary Michael Lamb in the televised debate before 80 people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. The center, the United Jewish Federation and WPXI-TV sponsored the debate.

The sponsors invited Democrats Lamb, former City Council President Bob O'Connor and City Councilman Bill Peduto and Republican Joe Weinroth, an attorney who is unopposed in the May 17 primary. Other Democrats in the mayoral race are former County Councilman Louis "Hop" Kendrick, businessman Les Ludwig, management consultant Gary Henderson and Duquesne University graduate student Daniel Repovz.

Like Lamb, O'Connor said he would cut taxes, though not in the first year of his administration.

First on Lamb's target list for cuts, he said, would be the city's parking tax, which he said is driving businesses out of the city. He also believes savings can be reaped by combining some city and council services and departments.

O'Connor said he would get nonprofit agencies to underwrite the city's swimming pools and recreation centers so they could be reopened. The solution to the city's problems, he said, lies in building better relationships with county, regional and state government agencies.

"We need Harrisburg to help us and be partners," he said.

Peduto said the city should concentrate on making its neighborhoods clean and safe and let county and state officials handle economic development. The city also needs to write a spending plan from scratch instead of relying on a budget that essentially hasn't changed since the 1950s, he said.

"You can look back through it and see (former mayor) David Lawrence's fingerprints on it," he said.

He criticized the $4.3 billion, 70-mile Mon-Fayette Expressway as a project designed for a 1950s economy. Finishing the connector between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va., could block the city from getting badly needed federal money for more useful highway projects, he said.

Like Peduto, Weinroth favors scaling back the scope of city government. He believes the city should sell off all Urban Redevelopment Authority property, allowing private developers to take over and begin generating tax money. The city also should get out of such enterprises as operating parking lots and making business loans, he said.

"Enough is enough," Weinroth said.

Largely subdued during the hourlong televised portion, the debate got feisty once the cameras stopped rolling and the candidates fielded written questions from the audience, including one on transportation.

Peduto charged that O'Connor voted against a package that would have provided money for Pittsburgh's transit system while serving as Gov. Ed Rendell's representative on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a regional transportation planning agency. O'Connor said he voted against the plan because it also would have shifted money from improving Bigelow Boulevard to painting the Duquesne Bridge.

Lamb also jabbed at O'Connor over his knowledge of city streets.

O'Connor took the verbal shots as a good sign because "it shows you're pretty far out (in front) in the polls."

The debate aired live yesterday morning. WPXI also plans to air it at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel, and it is available through Comcast's On Demand service.

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