Photo by Katie Blackley, courtesy of 90.5 WESA
To the left are moderators
Sara Anne Hughes of The Incline and Mark Nootbaar of 90.5 WESA. To the right is incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto, Councilwoman Darlene Harris, and Rev. John C. Welch.

By Victoria Stevans

On Tuesday, May 9,  the three mayoral hopefuls– incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto, Rev. John C. Welch, and Councilwoman Darlene Harris – came together in the Community Broadcast Center’s South Side studio for a forum on Pittsburgh’s top issues.

The event was held to help inform city residents for the primary election on Tuesday, May 16, in which voters will select a democratic candidate for the November general election.

With 90.5 WESA’s Mark Nootbaar and The Incline’s Sara Anne Hughes moderating, the three candidates unpacked questions concerning water safety, economic inequality, immigration, and more, during the one-hour live broadcast.

“I don’t want to bring in the next Pittsburgh, until we fix this Pittsburgh,” said Welch, a former chemical engineer with a doctorate in bioethics from Duquesne University, kicking off the forum.

Harris, who has represented a section of the Northside in City Council since 2006, highlighted city repairs, public safety, and water safety as her top concerns.

Peduto, having served as mayor since 2014, noted that if reelected he would focus on providing equal opportunities, while “keeping Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh,” amidst our city’s growth.

The safety of Pittsburgh’s drinking water proved to be one of the evening’s most fraught issues. Welch argued for the installment of point-of-entry units – water purifiers that can be attached to water meters – in people’s homes, which according to Welch, will eliminate the lead in drinking water instead of just reducing it like city-suggested water pitchers have.

Later in the forum, Mayor Peduto admitted that Welch’s point-of-entry unit approach “needed to be explored,” although he still argued that the city’s lead pipes should be replaced for a long-term solution.

Harris pegged the current administration’s firing of several Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority staff members as the root of current water safety problems.

On present economic inequality in Pittsburgh, all candidates agreed that an acute focus on our public education system is integral for closing the city’s wealth gap.

Both Welch and Harris expressed their concern for keeping workers and jobs in Pittsburgh, while Peduto highlighted the need for adaptability in Pittsburgh’s workforce going forward.

The candidates also voiced their opinions on immigration.

“Undocumented workers I have a real problem with,” Harris noted, “documented workers, that’s fine.” Harris also expressed concern for the “slave”-like working conditions of undocumented immigrants in Pittsburgh.

“Being undocumented is a civil crime like jaywalking,” Peduto noted on immigration policy. “We shouldn’t be locking people up for jaywalking or being undocumented.” He also stated his desire for Pittsburgh to remain a sanctuary city.

Harris expressed her hesitancy toward sanctuary city status for fear of a dip in Pittsburgh’s federal funding, whereas Welch noted his concerns surrounding the support and services for refugees already in Pittsburgh.

On public safety issues, Rev. Welch called for “honest conversations” between police and community members, and for continuous implicit bias training for officers.

Harris stated that police officers should “get to know the community,” moving beyond conversation alone.

“It’s a balance,” Peduto said on police body-cameras. This balance being between “providing enough information to the public” while also “protecting rights” of city workers.

Welch also noted the necessity of body-cameras for fair trials, and for the safety of both officers and individuals.

As for self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, like those used by Uber, Welch expressed his concern about the technology currently in place, calling for a more “responsible” and sophisticated technology like that used by the U.S. Department of Defense or the aerospace industry.

Harris also mentioned her apprehension towards Uber’s technological safety. Peduto, however, celebrated the fact that Uber, and five other ride-sharing companies, are currently testing autonomous cars in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh’s at the table for a national conversation,” he said.

For a full stream of the forum, click here.