The challengers worked hard to differentiate themselves from Mayor Peduto.By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Some of the candidates for mayor of Pittsburgh debated in a forum hosted by Westinghouse High School students on Friday.

The candidates frequently agreed on the main issues, but the challengers worked hard to differentiate themselves from Mayor Bill Peduto.

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Four candidates were on the stage, though only three are on the ballot. One is not but hopes to get on the ballot as an independent this fall, while one candidate who is on the ballot told KDKA he was not invited to participate.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Still, it was an opportunity for students to ask a number of policy questions.

The debate was not open to the public but was live-streamed by the city school district. The debate featured incumbent Mayor Peduto, Pa. Rep. Ed Gainey and former Pittsburgh police officer Tony Moreno, all three running in the Democratic Primary on May 18.

Also on the stage was William Parker, who is collecting signatures to run as an independent in November.

The questions, submitted by students, ranged from the environment to crime to policing to education, and one student questioned how Pittsburgh could be a most livable city when one of the mayor’s own studies demonstrated how difficult it was for African Americans, especially Black women.

“How do we become the most livable city when you’re promoting systemic oppression? How do you do that? It doesn’t happen,” said Parker.

“Black women can’t get childcare. We told them that if you go to school and get a degree, you’re going to succeed in life. You’re going to move yourself out. Well, we just left them there,” noted Moreno.

“We should never have a report where we don’t have recommendations talking about how we’re going to empower Black women in the Black community. For so long, we have had the rhetoric of talking about it, talking about it, that we are known as a tale of two cities,” said Gainey.

“We do have recommendations, and those recommendations were put forward by the Gender Equity Commission themselves. And we are working through each of those recommendations in order to be able to show how to lessen disparity,” said Peduto.

The target for all the challengers was clearly Peduto.

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Gainey’s complaint against the mayor is consistent. If Peduto hasn’t delivered over the last eight years, he says, another four won’t make a difference.

“We can keep talking about the rhetoric, but let me tell you what we know for sure. If you haven’t planted the seed of growth in eight years, you will not do it in the next four,” Gainey said.

After the debate started, Moreno, a retired police officer, stopped it, insisting the Pledge of Allegiance be recited.

“I don’t know if you say the Pledge of Allegiance at these things. I am a United States Army combat veteran,” said Moreno, as he started reciting the pledge, with everyone else following.

After the pledge, Moreno, like the others, criticized the mayor for both population losses and gentrification.

“We are losing people at a rate that’s unheard of. In 2017, we lost 7,000 Black residents from this area, replaced by 4,000 white millennials,” said Moreno.

Peduto had no apologies for the growth and development in the city.

“We need a tax base to sustain it. We need to have a two-track method of affordable housing and market-rate housing, and we have to be more aggressive in both,” noted the mayor.

Although independent Parker, who is not yet on the ballot, was invited to debate, Democrat Michael Thompson, who is on the ballot, says he was not.

“I don’t know why. It’s bad,” Thompson told KDKA political editor Jon Delano. “I know our school system is bad, but you should count to four – one, two three, four. There are four candidates on the ballot for mayor. I’m one of them, and I should have been included.”

After the debate, the school organizer said he would have welcomed Thompson.

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“We weren’t aware of him being a candidate on the ballot,” said Anthony Hall, the Westinghouse counselor who organized the event with the students.