Six Democrats voice their views during Pittsburgh mayoral debate

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PITTSBURGH - About 300 people packed an East Liberty school auditorium on Sunday to hear from six Democrats vying to become Pittsburgh's next mayor — an elected position the party has held since President Franklin D. Roosevelt occupied the White House.

The debate in the Barack Obama Academy for International Studies, sponsored by the school's Youth and Government chapter, focused on issues important to young people: education, crime and jobs as well as corruption, an age-old problem in politics and a current one in Pittsburgh.

The crowd applauded loudest for City Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze, who represents the East End's District 8, when he was introduced along with City Council President Darlene Harris, 60, of the North Side.

City Controller Michael Lamb, 50, of Mt. Washington; school bus monitor A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden; former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview; and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District, who arrived late, also participated in the debate.

Peduto touted more than $2 billion in economic development in his district, home to Google's local offices, and said, if elected, he would explore similar opportunities across the city. He also promised to repair the city's tattered image. The FBI is investigating the police department's use of money, prompting Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to ask for Chief Nate Harper's resignation. The mayor then abandoned his re-election bid, 11 days after announcing he would run.

“What we need is complete change,” Peduto said. “We don't need to redd up city neighborhoods. We need to redd up City Hall.”

Wagner touted his service as a city councilman and auditor general as well as his background as a Marine in Vietnam.

“I am running for mayor because I love Pittsburgh, and I believe I bring a resume stronger than anyone in this race.”

Wagner said he would get the city's nonprofit organizations to contribute more money for education and city services; encourage local companies to create a robust summer jobs program for young people; and work closely with Pittsburgh Public Schools to reduce dropout rate and crime.

“The mayor needs to be the strongest advocate of a strong education system,” Wagner said.

Harris told the crowd that she is all about community.

“I started out at the grassroots level and worked at the neighborhood level for years and years,” said Harris, a former community activist who served on local and state public safety boards before being elected to the school board and city council.

She promised to borrow from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and lobby Harrisburg for more help and to change the culture of Pittsburgh's public servants.

“If I get in as mayor, the people who work for the city will work for you.”

Lamb promised an open administration that would hold city workers to the highest ethical standards and require the city's largest employer, UPMC, and other nonprofits to pay workers better wages and contribute more money to the community.

“Obviously, we need more help out of our large nonprofits,” said Lamb, who said he would extend the city's payroll tax beyond for-profit employers.

He said he would look to make the city safer by adding police officers to the streets by having civilians perform desk-job duties.

Corruption problems plaguing the city's police department can be eliminated by fixing processes that allow corruption, Wheatley said.

“We need more transparency, more accountability,” he said.

But Pittsburgh today is doing a lot of things right, said Wheatley, citing population growth among young people, job growth and increasing property values.

“Pittsburgh has already turned the corner in keeping young people in this region,” Wheatley said. “Our goal, our vision will be a Pittsburgh that is a destination spot for people born here and who want to come here.”

Political newcomer Richardson pushed his “working man” theme, touching on the city's blue-collar background and advocating his desire to use community-building initiatives to fix problems in education and law enforcement.

“I'm a believer in an old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child,” Richardson said. “But to take it further, I believe it takes a village to protect one child.”

Republican challenger Josh Wander, 42, of Squirrel Hill watched the debate from a seat in the front of the auditorium. The primary election is May 21.

This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.