Two of the Democratic candidates for Pittsburgh mayor clashed Monday over the use of $18 million in tax increment financing seven years ago to help support a major Downtown development.
Former auditor general Jack Wagner criticized city Councilman Bill Peduto for voting against the financing package for the $169.5 million Three PNC Plaza project in 2006, describing it as a "bad vote." His criticism came during a mayoral forum sponsored by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership at the Harris Theater, Downtown.
Mr. Peduto was the only city councilman to vote against the financing tool, which diverted 60 percent of the tax revenue generated by the PNC Financial Services Group development to help pay for the infrastructure related to it.
"It was a bad vote because PNC was the catalyst to make things happen in Downtown Pittsburgh in recent years," Mr. Wagner said. "That project could have been in Cranberry or Cleveland, and we all know it."
The 23-story project included office space for PNC and the Reed Smith law firm and more than 20 condominiums. It also cleaned up a blighted section of Downtown "that was really desperate," Mr. Wagner said.
Mr. Peduto defended his vote, noting that PNC also had received a $30 million state grant to help with the project, a subsidy he supported.
"At some point, you've got to say you only get one cookie out of the cookie jar. We have neighborhoods like Homewood that desperately need that TIF money," he said.
He added that he supports using tax increment financing to help provide money without which an important project could not advance.
"To say that a bank doesn't have money? That's kind of a hard argument," he said. "That was not an easy vote and no one likes to take on a giant. But at the same time, you have to balance not only what the needs would be but also the priorities of what you view as important to get done."
Mr. Wagner said he supports the use of such financing tools "when you need to jump-start something," adding it was an appropriate use, in his view, for PNC, which is now building a new 33-story, $400 million headquarters on Wood Street without any public financial help.
Another Democratic candidate, state Rep. Jake Wheatley, said that as a legislator, he has been instrumental in bringing state aid to the city for projects such as Three PNC Plaza and the redevelopment of the Point Park University campus Downtown. He said he supports the use of grants and TIFs across the board to help with redevelopment Downtown.
"I've been known to joke in Harrisburg by saying that I like to see cranes in the sky because cranes in the sky tell me there are activities for employment and there's growth that's happening," said Mr. Wheatley, whose district includes Downtown.
With Downtown undergoing a resurgence, the three candidates found much common ground, while touting their own leadership styles as the best to help continue the momentum. A fourth Democratic candidate, A.J. Richardson, did not attend.
Of the challenges facing the city center, Mr. Wagner said the chief one was the need for better mass transit, including a light rail or rapid bus transit link between Downtown and Oakland. Mr. Wheatley said more parking and green space are needed as well as greater support for Downtown residents, including a much-coveted grocery store.
Mr. Peduto cited "accessibility and connectivity," including more effective means of delivering transit riders Downtown, more high-tech innovations like smartphone apps that allow motorists to find parking spaces, and efforts to better connect Downtown, the north and south shores and the Strip District so that the Golden Triangle becomes the "Golden Quadrant."
Meanwhile, Mr. Peduto put some distance between himself and Mr. Wagner, his chief rival, in the latest numbers from Keystone Analytics, the Harrisburg firm doing the only outside polling in the Pittsburgh mayor's race.
Mr. Peduto led Mr. Wagner, 39 percent to 32 percent, in the survey of 404 Democrats deemed likely to vote in the May 21 primary. Mr. Wheatley had 8 percent, and Mr. Richardson, the Sheraden community activist, had 1 percent. Twenty percent were either undecided or refused to answer in the poll conducted May 7 and 8.
Mr. Peduto had a smaller lead in the firm's last survey in late April. His previous two-point lead then was within the April survey's 4.9 percent margin of error.
In a release accompanying the May survey, the Harrisburg consultants noted that the negative advertising in the race clearly had an effect, bruising the favorability ratings of both of the leading candidates. Fifty-one percent of the voters said they held a favorable view of the councilman, and 49 percent were favorable toward Mr. Wagner. In the firm's last survey, those numbers had been 65 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
Mr. Peduto received favorable responses from 51 percent, compared to unfavorable responses from 27 percent. Mr. Wagner's favorable/unfavorable ratio was 49 percent to 26 percent.
The overall sample was 57 percent female and 43 percent male. Like the typical Pittsburgh primary voter, it skewed to the older end of the population, with 7 percent of respondents between ages 18 and 34; 17 percent between 35 and 49; 37 percent between 50 and 64; and 39 percent 65 or older.
The poll found a predictable geographic split, with Mr. Wagner, a Beechview resident, ahead by 10 percentage points or more in council Districts 2 and 4, the closest to his home. Similarly, Mr. Peduto's biggest lead was in District 8, his home district, where he was up, 66 percent to 23 percent over Mr. Wagner.
The new survey was released the same day that a campaign committee headed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl released a new ad targeting Mr. Peduto, his longtime political nemesis.mobilehome - neigh_city - electionsmunicipal