WPTS News on the Democratic Mayoral Primary
By Matt Singer, News Director
On the night of Pittsburgh’s Mayoral Primary, WPTS News aired live election commentary from a panel of Pitt students. With contributions from city reporters and campaign staff members, the panel followed the night’s events that showed that for Bill Peduto, who won the Democratic Primary, the third time was the charm.
The District 8 City Councilman, who had tried to win his party’s nod for the office twice before, received the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Pittsburgh after Tuesday’s polls indicated a comfortable margin of victory over his opponents.
“Tonight, we are a step closer to the new Pittsburgh, one step closer to realizing our potential, one step closer to making it the city we know it can be,” said Peduto, who ran on promises such as improvements to mass transit, neighborhood redevelopment, government reform and support for public education.
Trailing the nearest behind Peduto, who received roughly 52 percent of the vote, was former State Auditor General Jack Wagner, who had been the race’s front-runner until shortly before the election. While Wagner took home around 40 percent of the vote, State Rep. Jake Wheatley finished a distant third with approximately 8 percent. School bus monitor and community organizer A.J. Richardson’s share remained below 1 percent of the vote.
“Had we raised a million dollars like the other two candidates in this race, then it wouldn’t even be close,” said Wheatley prior to conceding.
The morning after the election, a statement was released to Wheatley’s website in which he said that although his campaign didn’t win the nomination, “we did bring to light some of the most pressing issues facing our city and we were never afraid to debate them,” referencing his campaign’s specific focus on poverty in Pittsburgh. “And that is something we can all be proud of.”
Speaking to the WPTS News panel, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Alex Zimmerman reported that Wheatley made no mention of further mayoral ambitions for this election cycle. But while Wheatley will continue to serve as a State Representative of District 19 for the duration of his term and likely seek reelection, Wagner’s political future is significantly more equivocal.
According to The Pitt News, Wagner’s campaign had been “so hyper-focused on every single vote” that no other plans were yet to be made for the former State Auditor General’s political future in the city. However, J.J. Abbott, Wagner’s communications director, stated that “Jack wants to keep contributing to the city.”
As discussed by the WPTS News panel, some attributed Wagner’s second-place finish to his disconnect with present-day Pittsburgh. Nearly 20 years removed from City Hall, Wagner saw a now out-dated version of the city’s demographics during his last mayoral bid in 1993 and throughout his time on City Council. Chris Potter, the editor of the Pittsburgh City Paper, observed that “Wagner, a conservative Democrat, never fully calibrated his pitch to the new electorate.”
Peduto now faces Republican candidate Josh Wander, who won his nomination unopposed, in the November 5 general election, though no candidate has won the office of Mayor of Pittsburgh without the Democratic Party’s nomination in almost 90 years. Currently, there are no independent candidates.
Although the path forward looks clear for him, if Peduto, the longest-serving member of City Council, does win the general election, he can expect to see stiff antimony from a coalition of other Council members — some of whom publicly endorsed Wagner — known for their stern opposition to Peduto during his time on Council and throughout his mayoral campaign.
“We would hope that we would be able to work with Councilwoman Darlene Harris and Councilman Ricky Burgess. We are very hopeful that the same will follow through with Councilman [Daniel] Lavell,” Peduto’s Director of Communications Sonya Toler said to the WPTS News panel. “Their neighborhoods are all part of this city and we understand that we all need to work together to make this city what it truly can be.”
Thursday marks Peduto’s return to his City Hall office, where he will carry out the rest of his term until his seat is filled by his chief of staff and winner of Tuesday’s election for District 8’s City Council member, Dan Gilman. However, even as early as the day after having received his party’s nomination, Peduto made it clear that he’s already actively planning and organizing for January of 2014, when he hopes to take the place of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whose administration came under intense scrutiny in recent months after its handling of police department scandals that culminated in Ravenstahl’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection.
“I think a lot of what has occurred over the last several years has given whoever the next mayor is a mandate to clean up city hall, to make changes that people do expect,” said Peduto in an interview with 90.5 WESA, “and to not allow this type of behavior to continue with the new administration.”