PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Mayor Bill Peduto has a suggestion for those who don’t like all the panhandling in downtown Pittsburgh.
“Go to a shopping mall,” Peduto said.
Peduto, who wants more people to live and work downtown, was reacting to growing concern from those who already do about crime and panhandling, which the mayor says is not unique to Pittsburgh.
“What you’re seeing is an increase in homelessness, addiction, and a rapid increase in panhandling happening in every city around this nation because we lack any domestic policy to address those issues,” the mayor told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
While the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust wants patrons to take advantage of the shows and great restaurants downtown, Peduto says streets are open to all, including the poor.
“Why you see so many people downtown is because this is where the services are provided,” Peduto said. “This isn’t the playground for the rich.”
Last week, the mayor did acknowledge that crime was up.
“We have seen an uptick in 2019 of violent crime downtown,” Peduto said on August 29.
So he’s deploying more police, even on horseback, which downtown business leaders say is welcomed and hopefully not just a short-term plan.
Delano: “How do you measure success in dealing with crime downtown?”
Peduto: “You do it by facts, not by innuendo. You do it by looking at statistics. You do it by looking at businesses to see if they’re succeeding. And you do it by looking at crime trends, and you realize there will be cycles.”
As Peduto noted, those trends — at least for violent crime — are up, for the moment.
But he defends the constitutional right of anyone to ask someone on downtown streets for money.
“You will see poor people, you will see minorities, you will see people asking for help downtown,” Peduto said. “If you don’t expect to see it, go to a shopping mall.”
The mayor is right that non-aggressive panhandling on public streets is protected free speech, whereas a shopping mall is private property and can prohibit that conduct.
Of course, restaurateurs, shop owners, and the cultural venues downtown want you to come to them — not the malls — which are usually in the suburbs.
So reducing crime and panhandling is in the best interest of the city.
As the mayor says, keep an eye on the crime statistics in the months ahead.