PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Recent comments from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto have downtown business owners upset.
On Wednesday, Peduto told KDKA money editor Jon Delano this about panhandling downtown.
“You will see poor people,” Peduto said. “You will see minorities. You will see people asking for help downtown. If you don’t expect to see it, go to a shopping mall.”
That brought a sharp rebuke from business owners downtown.
“It was an insult,” said Richard Bufalini, co-owner of Olive or Twist. “It was an insult to all the people down here working hard, busting their hump to have a business, pay taxes, employ people.”
“That’s a real crazy statement,” added Rex Streno, who owns Ullrich’s Shoe Repair on Liberty Avenue. “Go to the suburbs? What are people going to take from that?”
Business owners reacted angrily to what seemed like a snub to those working downtown and a willingness by the mayor to just accept panhandling, which they say is hurting the Cultural District.
“You know you have a major problem, address it,” said Len Semplice, owner of Redbeard’s Sports Bar & Grill.
“We do have a problem here. And if we lose our businesses here, we’re going to have empty storerooms like you had ten years ago,” said Semplice.
In what seemed to some as a rebuke to those who support the arts in the Cultural District, the mayor also said, “This isn’t the playground for the rich.”
“It’s bizarre. I don’t know where that comes from,” said Streno. “What’s the message he’s sending? He doesn’t want people to come to town and spend money? That’s the message I’m getting. I guess that’s the message everyone is getting. That is a crazy statement.”
WATCH: KDKA’s Jon Delano talks to downtown business owners.
“People come down here to go see a show, come to dinner, they’re spending a few hundred dollars in the city, which taxes are paid on it,” added Bufalini. “Why is being wealthy or being rich a bad thing?”
Streno says he’s seen the panhandling problem up close.
“I’ve been downtown for like forty-some years,” Streno said. “And I’ve never seen it this bad with all the panhandlers down here, ever.”
Streno says the mayor, instead of pushing the malls, should focus on solving the problem.
Downtown business leaders insist many of the panhandlers are not homeless but small-time hustlers.
Streno says the mayor should tell people not to give cash to any panhandler downtown.
“There’s girls in designer jeans out there. They got cell phones. They’re on Facebook and everything else,” noted Streno. “I talk to police and he’s writing a ticket to this one girl. Do you know what she told him? ‘Three hundred dollar ticket? I’ll make that in an hour down here.’”
Business owners downtown, both on and off camera, tell KDKA the problem has never been so bad, and they just want a solution to it.
The mayor says he’s putting more police downtown.
In light of the reaction from the business owners, KDKA reached out to the mayor, his chief of staff, and councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents downtown.
So far, no response.