Pittsburgh mayoral candidates courted African-American support Friday night in anticipation of a pioneering effort to poll black voters and unite that constituency behind their choice in the May 21 primary.
In a three-hour session at Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer, Bill Peduto, Jack Wagner and Jake Wheatley offered their visions for improving city government's responsiveness to the black community while fielding questions on issues ranging from education to enhanced opportunities for minority businesses.
Mr. Peduto repeated his proposal to steer federal funds for city development to fund early childhood education. He also noted that he favored a national search for a new chief of police. Responding to a question on why he had once opposed a Homewood project for a senior center, he said that he had been concerned that there had not been adequate consultation with community interests on the project. He emphasized that such community-based planning would be a foundation of his approach to development throughout the city, a principle he said that should be applied in particular to the need for the continuing rehabilitation of the Hill District.
In response to a challenge to name minority members who had been invited to his house, he laughed and said he had never had anyone to dinner in his home, because he does not cook, and his house is "a wreck."
Mr. Wagner opened with a reprise of his indictment of city government as dysfunctional and deaf to communication.
"There is not a team spirit right now in the city of Pittsburgh to get things done," he said, while reminding the audience that his record on council had included the enactment of an assault weapons ban.
Mr. Wheatley, whose state legislative district includes the Hill District, said that from the time he was elected, he had been a continuing advocate of increased opportunities for minority and female owned businesses.
Confronting the perception that the race for the Democratic nomination had developed into a de facto two-person race between Mr. Peduto and Mr. Wagner, he urged the crowd to defy that conventional wisdom.
Mr. Wheatley said he expected to win the unofficial endorsement of his fellow African-Americans, though he said his campaign would continue full-throttle whatever the result of the Saturday straw poll.
A.J. Richardson, another black candidate, said he was forced to skip the forum because of a prior commitment to appear in a community play in Munhall.
Joining the other Democrats was the Rev. C.L. Bryant, a conservative broadcaster was appeared as a surrogate for Josh Wander, who is unopposed for the Republican nomination for mayor. Mr. Wander, who is Jewish, could not attend because he observes the Sabbath. Rev. Bryant, a fiery conservative, challenged the rules of today's balloting, contending that the fact that it was to be limited to black voters was divisive and an affront to the spirit of inclusion that he said that community should be defending.
Today's voting was scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at five polling places across the city: Mount Ararat Baptist Church, 271 Paulson Ave.; Wesley Center AME Zion Church, 2701 Centre Ave., Hill District; St. Paul AME Church, 400 Orchard Place, Knoxville; Manchester School, 1612 Manhattan St.; and the Salvation Army, 1821 Broadhead Fording Road, Fairywood.
The Pittsburgh Black Political Convention said the votes would be tallied and announced later today at the Wesley Center Church. With the exception of Mr. Richardson, all of the Democratic candidates also submitted written responses to questions from the new group. Their written comments can be found on the group's web site, www.blackconvention.com.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562. First Published April 20, 2013 4:00 AM