"Liar" was the word of the day in the Pittsburgh mayor's race, as Jack Wagner reprised his criticism of claims in Bill Peduto's ads, and the Peduto campaign enlisted clergy members to rebut attacks both from Mr. Wagner and a campaign committee controlled by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.
With just five days before Tuesday's balloting, the crossfire offered a sharper tone to familiar arguments among the leading Democrats.
Four members of the clergy held a Downtown news conference to defend councilman Bill Peduto from the advertising attacks, while Mr. Wagner, surrounded by officers outside the Banksville office of the Fraternal Order of Police, repeatedly called Mr. Peduto a liar over his television commercials.
Ads from both the Wagner campaign and an outside committee headed by the mayor have accused the Point Breeze councilman of voting against development projects in black neighborhoods. In a newer attack, the Ravenstahl committee accused his longtime coun cil critic of taking "exotic trips" on the city dime -- a charge the Peduto campaign has denied.
"Any time you have to lie to make your point there's something wrong," said the Rev. Maureen Cross Bolden, a community activist and associate pastor at St. James AME church in East Liberty. "I would rather that Mr. Wagner and the powers-that-be would say what they're going to do to upgrade and help instead of using their time and money and resources to beat somebody down, and particularly with falsehoods."
"There is no room in a civilized society for people to lie just because of their political aspirations," added another Peduto ally, Imam Abdusemih Tadese, former director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
Reacting to another statement from Rev. Bolden at the Peduto event, the campaign of state Rep. Jake Wheatley maintained that Mr. Peduto was engaged in "a campaign of mischaracterization." Daren Berringer, the legislator's press secretary, was responding to her assertion that a vote for Mr. Wheatley amounted to "a vote to Jack Wagner."
"[Mr. Wheatley is] the only candidate in this race to have never run a single negative advertisement against his opponents. If only Mr. Peduto could say the same," Mr. Berringer said. "Anyone who looks closely at the campaign understands that voting for Jake Wheatley is in fact a vote for economic fairness."
At a morning news conference, Mr. Wagner again criticized Mr. Peduto for a statement repeated in several ads, that he had cut his council pay to save police jobs.
"He has blatantly lied about the facts in virtually every ad he has made about the police bureau," Mr. Wagner said of Mr. Peduto, the candidate that polls suggest is his strongest rival in the four-person Democratic field.
The Peduto campaign has rejected similar accusations in the past. The exchange springs from mid-2003 when the city's fiscal straits prompted the layoffs of more than 100 police officers. Mr. Peduto supported a proposal for city employees to voluntarily reduce their paychecks by 2 percent with the revenue savings earmarked for the rehiring of police. The legislation wasn't enacted and the layoff wasn't reversed, but Mr. Peduto continued to forgo the 2 percent in his salary for the next several years.
The Wagner camp maintains that Peduto ads are inaccurate because no officers were rehired, but the councilman's campaign points out that he did in fact cut his pay with the intent of restoring the jobs.
"In a multitude of ways Mr. Peduto has misrepresented the facts blatantly," Mr. Wagner said. "The last thing this city needs is a mayor who continually lies."
The salary issue gave the Peduto camp another chance to criticize Mr. Wagner for having voted to increase his pay while a member of the Legislature in 1995.
"Our challenge to Mr. Wagner remains: Give it back, Jack," Mr. Peduto's spokeswoman, Sonya Toler, said in her rebuttal.
The Peduto campaign has claimed for weeks that there are direct ties between Mr. Ravenstahl and the Wagner campaign, charges that Mr. Wagner has denied. As evidence for his suspicions, the councilman pointed to a government email from city Department of Public Works director Rob Kaczorowski, a Wagner supporter.
The director sent an email May 6 to Public Works officials and West End community leaders praising city workers for their work on the Pittsburgh Marathon the previous day. At the close he wrote: "Makes you wonder about all the political rhetoric some candidates are making about cleaning house and getting rid of everybody! Change for the better or will it be change for the worse???"
Mr. Peduto told WTAE-TV, which first reported on the email, that it was another example of a "corrupted" city government. He has also long said city government needs a top-to-bottom overhaul, which is what Mr. Kaczorowski said he was responding to.
"It was to boost morale for the guys," he said in an interview. "In this election they're beating up everybody in the city [workforce], saying everybody's got to go and they're going to change everything. ... I was saying 'you're doing excellent jobs and you should be proud of what you do.' "
Mr. Wagner said he learned of the email only from news reports.
"I don't think any official in city government should be putting out any email that references anything political in this race or any time," Mr. Wagner said.
"I guess it was inappropriate, but I didn't think it was a political message being sent," Mr. Kaczorowski conceded Thursday.
Mr. Kaczorowski -- a former Democratic ward leader from Crafton Heights -- and Mr. Peduto have long had public quarrels over street-paving and other matters. The director said he appeared at a midday news conference April 11 with others from the city's western neighborhoods to endorse Mr. Wagner after being asked to attend by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith of Westwood.
Politics editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562. Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at earlyreturns.sites.post-gazette.com or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns.