Mayoral challengers criticize Ravenstahl on handling of crime, pension fund
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The two men vying to unseat Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl tussled for the spotlight yesterday as they unveiled proposals to stanch the city's crime rate and its hemorrhaging pension fund.
Independent mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin said he would restructure the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority as part of a plan to infuse funding into the city's long-struggling pension fund.
Franco Dok Harris, also an independent candidate, charged that Mr. Ravenstahl has largely ignored the city neighborhoods and communities long plagued with poverty, crime and violence.
"I propose today that we redefine the size and scope of the URA, refocus it toward neighborhood investments and community development, and divest a portion of those assets to be placed immediately into the city's pension fund," said Mr. Acklin at his South Side headquarters.
Describing the city's efforts to address its pension woes as a "crisis of leadership," Mr. Acklin said that Mr. Ravenstahl has never had a consistent plan to address the city's ailing pension fund, which covers obligations to city employees and retirees.
"Two years ago, when he was first running for re-election, Mr. Ravenstahl repeatedly claimed that we needed the state's help to solve our problem," he said. Yet by lobbying to exempt Pittsburgh from a state pension takeover, he said, Mr. Ravenstahl has simply delayed the inevitable because the pension is still faced with a funding shortfall.
The mayor's plan of privatizing the city's parking garages, he added, will not generate the $189 million the pension fund will need in the next two years to save it from a state takeover.
Mr. Acklin, a business lawyer by training, proposed that the city pare the URA's total assets -- some $417 million -- by about half and infuse the cash from such a liquidation into the city's pension fund.
The city and the URA, he charged, have long ignored the redevelopment of struggling communities like Beechview, Carrick, Brookline and others in favor of big box retail developments in East Liberty.
URA Executive Director Rob Stephany dismissed Mr. Acklin's contention as "stunningly uninformed."
"His accusations are three years too late. The mayor has long had a laser focus on small-scale community development projects. And we think the East Liberty big box retailer story could grow into a national story of how we have managed to integrate such developments into communities like East Liberty," said Mr. Stephany.
Mr. Acklin, he added, is "equally uninformed" about the URA's finances and how they apply to development. "There are a variety of restrictions on the accounts in which we have money," he said.
"It's a knee-jerk reaction that is not in the best interest of the city," said Mr. Harris, who also unveiled his public safety platform yesterday.
"Selling off assets is a quick fix that won't solve the problem with the city's pension," said Mr. Harris.
His public safety platform, he said, is based on issues related to substance abuse, structural poverty and a lack of economic opportunity.
"People in the neighborhoods are terrified of people with guns and they tell me that they don't see the mayor in their neighborhoods working on issues of crime," he said.
Officials from the mayor's office could not be reached for comment.
"I want people to know that my approach to public safety will include me having a presence in their communities. They are going to see me and hear from me, not just when something bad happens," Mr. Harris said.
First Published September 10, 2009 12:00 am