Wagner urges Pennsylvania to approve Highmark-WPAHS deal; Peduto says he did it first

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Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Jack Wagner called today for Pennsylvania to approve Highmark's proposed acquisition of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, while rival Bill Peduto's campaign accused him of following its lead on the issue.

At a press conference on Federal Street on the North Side, Mr. Wagner, the former state auditor general, released a letter to the commissioner of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department seeking approval of the Highmark/WPAHS merger by the end of the month.

The Beechview Democrat said the merger would protect some 12,000 jobs in the Pittsburgh area, boost health care competition and secure development near hospital facilities in the North Side and Bloomfield.

"A mayor has to take a position on important issues impacting our city and our region," he said.

Mr. Peduto issued a letter to the insurance department March 14, 2012 -- a year before Mr. Wagner joined the mayor's race -- also pushing for the deal's approval.

He called West Penn "a pillar" of Bloomfield and other communities and said its "collapse would be nothing short of a catastrophe."

After Mr. Wagner's announcement this morning the Peduto team noted that earlier letter and an audit Mr. Wagner's office released shortly before stepping down in January that was critical of plans to sell the former Schenley High School in Oakland.

"We are pleased to see Wagner jumping on Bill Peduto's bandwagon and following Bill's lead," Peduto spokeswoman Sonya Toler said.

"He has also followed us by issuing a letter, late once again, about the closing of Schenley High School," she said. "Councilman Peduto brought the community together back in 2008 and produced two community plans about the former Schenley High School building. Leadership has taken action. Where has Jack been?"

Mr. Wagner did not mention Mr. Peduto at his press event but his campaign later shot back at the Point Breeze Democrat.

"It is disappointing that Bill Peduto sees every issue as an opportunity to score political points," Wagner spokesman J.J. Abbott said. "Frankly, this is exactly what is wrong with city government."

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Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. First Published April 15, 2013 5:15 PM


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