Candidates detail plans for reviving steel town
The three candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination for McKeesport mayor in the May 20 primary include two political rivals and a newcomer.
Incumbent Wayne Kucich, who is seeking a second term, is being challenged by council President James Brewster. The two have often publicly butted heads.
Candidate Keith Murphy, a newcomer to politics, said he hopes to change some longstanding City Hall practices.
No Republican filed candidacy papers for the primary.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review asked the candidates a series of questions about plans for the once-thriving steel town that is trying to reinvent itself:
What should be done about the blighted areas of the city?
Brewster: What has been a well-kept secret here in McKeesport is a demolition program in place since 1985. We continue to demolish 50 to 100 properties a year, depending on funding. I would like to add a strategic plan that identifies (the properties) for demolition that are the most dangerous to the public and have a plan in place to replace the building, not leaving the site to be taken over by weeds, which is what occurs today.
Kucich: All the dilapidated buildings are being removed and any building that can be (rehabilitated) is being rehabilitated. If you don't remove the blighted structures, what happens is it spreads just like a cancer and also causes health and safety problems as well as vagrancy and other dangerous situations. When we removed abandoned homes it reduced the city fire calls by 80 percent. I'm working with the governor's office to get funding to remove the blight and put the final nail in the coffin to complete the project.
Murphy: We need to remedy that, but it (shouldn't) be a process of (only) tearing down. A plan has to be made available that will replace structures that will be torn down or find creative ways to repair and use those existing structures for the benefit of the community.
What should be done to attract new business to McKeesport?
Brewster: The diverse business development plan addresses development throughout the city not only on the mill site, although the mill site is the primary location. I am in discussion with two developers for potential shopping centers in other areas of the city and there is some interest in the East End. The plan is to continue to offer the incentives that would cause developers to come here and not elsewhere. We are in negotiations with six businesses up to and including maglev. As mayor I'm going to market our city and convince them this is the best place.
Kucich: It all refers back to livability. People will want to move to our city and bring their businesses here if they have a safe, clean place to live. There is now a clean appearance about the city, and the road conditions have been improved. People are starting to look at the possibilities. We have lowered the wage tax to be more competitive. Our police department has a good record in solving crimes. We've done everything we had to do.
Murphy: First we must engage in building a better and positive image of the city. After that, we will be better able to show all the benefits that McKeesport can offer the technology companies, the other businesses and corporate structures and even educational institutions.
How would you handle the city budget deficit?
Brewster: It's our opinion and it's been agreed upon by the Kucich administration and will soon be confirmed by the auditor that we have a deficit that could be approximately $1 million. I will use my 27 years in the banking business to get control of the budget and explain to the public exactly what funds are available and prioritize projects. Eliminate this smoke-filled room financial policy. We want to be open and forthright with people's money.
Kucich: When we started the year 2003, there wasn't a budget deficit, we were even in the black. We started with $29,000 in the bank. We have all the problems that every other city and municipality throughout the country has, but we didn't have to borrow money. We've done 20 percent to 25 percent more streets than any other administration. We've lowered taxes every year since I have been elected mayor, just as I promised.
Murphy: The budget issue we have to address from a very serious evaluation process. While we continue to spend we have fallen short in generating dollars from outside to support our daily operations. We will have to address the budget from a collective responsibility of the mayor and City Council working as a team.
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