It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you…Interesting tweets a week ago Friday night as Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto was on a Hill District bar crawl going to the Flamingo and Ace’s Deuce’s. So, clearly it’s Hill District voters he’s courting, but it’s also a move for African American voters. One of the tweets reference my man, Rep. Ed Gainey , the African American state rep from the East End, and you can click here for Rep. Gainey’s comments on Peduto as the candidate for the African American community. The idea of a collective Pittsburgh African American interest is being heard clearly in this Democratic Party Mayoral Primary, which is striking when we think about the race narratives of the national election just 6 months ago where President Obama and the Democratic Party downplayed race, a strategy presumably supported by the local Democratic Party members involved in this election. Pittsburgh does need a serious conversation about racism and racial disparities, but it’s hard to see, without intervention from anti-racism folks, that this conversation continues within the Democratic Party once the race conversation has served its purpose i.e. mobilizing votes in the Mayoral election.
As Pittsburgh’s oldest predominantly African American neighborhood, the Hill District has been a major contributor to this election race’s narrative First, and primarily, there is the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention (PBPC), a group whose goal is “to unite the black vote behind the candidacy of a single candidate for mayor in the 2013 Primary Election” and led by the Hill District’s former City Councilman, Mr. Sala Udin, endorsing the Hill District’s State Representative Jake Wheatley. But there was also an editorial in the Pittsburgh Courier, printed in the City Paper as “the mayoral race: a black perspective“, by the minister of the Hill District’s Monumental Baptist Church, Rev. Thomas Smith, who was writing as a member of the Western PA Black Political Assembly (WPBPA). This letter shares an analysis that seems to point to Mayoral candidate Bill Peduto as the best of imperfect options, but talks about the difficult place for Black folks in this election. And there is Councilman Bill Robinson, the African American County Councilman from the Hill who is explicitly endorsing Bill Peduto and who one would imagine is a part of Peduto’s campaign to connect to Hill District and African American voters.
Clearly, African American voters are critical to this election, but if you needed further evidence of this you would only need look at last week’s big mayoral campaign story, the attack ad against Bill Peduto. This ad, paid for by The Committee for a Better Pittsburgh and chaired by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, positions Bill Peduto as not being supportive of a number of African American neighborhoods. This ad is apparently the first of many that will come from the mayor’s group in attempt to show “the real Bill Peduto“, but that its first choice is to focus on the African American vote is telling. So, the PBPC is supporting Rep. Wheatley and Councilman Peduto is working for support from African American voters, where is Jack Wagner’s campaign in relation to the race conversation?
Despite the fact that Jack Wagner received the fewest votes of Democratic Party candidates participating in the PBPC process, it may turn out that it helps get him elected. The PBPC endorsement process itself is worth looking at to see this possibility. Even though the Wheatley victory in the PBPC process produced the result most assumed it would, it’s useful to look at it as a microcosm of Black voter sentiment in this election. After Wheatley’s 112 votes, Bill Peduto won 72 votes compared Wagner’s 29. So, if we can assume Peduto is preferable to African American votes over Wagner then what happens if African American voters turn out in serious numbers for Wheatley? Well, African American voters cease to be in play between Wagner and Peduto and it becomes a “whites mainly” election (note: there are a variety of social, class, and geographic differences among whites that deserve attention as to their impact on this election) between these two candidates which favors Wagner. Why so? If we use the PBPC process as even a rough estimate of African American voter desire, Peduto clearly had more support from African American voters than Wagner. Thus every African American vote for Wheatley is essentially a vote that would more likely have gone to Peduto than Wagner, and thus votes for Wheatley are also a boon for Wagner. In effect, and I oversimplify a bit to make a point, this leaves Peduto with a two front war: Wheatley and African American voters on one side and Wagner and white voters on the other. Meanwhile, Wagner can focus principally on Peduto and white voters. Wheatley will likely also attract some liberal whites, which also comes out of Peduto’s end.
But the $64,000 question is does the Wheatley Campaign or Mr. Udin, as the convener of the PBPC, have their own Hill dog in the Peduto v. Wagner fight we are seeing play out everyday? I would think so. As anyone participating in or watching Hill District civic life knows, Wheatley and City Councilman Daniel Lavelle are allies. Both worked for former Councilman Udin, both serve on the Greater Hill District Development Growth Fund, and both are active supporters of the Hill District Community Development Corp of which Mr. Udin is a longstanding board member. Add to this that Peduto and Daniel Lavelle are known not to be supportive of one another or even on speaking terms and a Peduto win could well diminish Lavelle’s current authority and capacity to impact the Hill District through support of the Hill District CDC since, as Mayor, Peduto would be unlikely to keep Lavelle as Vice-Chair of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. This is turn would affect the plans for the Lower Hill’s 28 acres; a process being led by Lavelle and the Hill CDC. This potential creates its own separate set of political incentives.
So, could the candidacy of a Hill District based African American candidate and a process led by long-term Hill District political activist play an important role in helping to elect Jack Wagner, the man who received the fewest votes of the Democrats participating in the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention? Again, I think so. I will vote for Bill Peduto. I like the creativity and policy wonkishness he shows in his 100 position papers , one of which is about his support of the Dollar a Car Campaign, an effort being led by the Hill District Consensus Group of which my wife is co-director and I am also a member. However, of these 100 papers I do not see one with a focus on the general issue of racism, which has negatively impacted the Hill District for centuries. Rather there are couple focused on diversity initiatives, so I won’t delude myself about the kind of leadership Peduto will provide on the systemic issue of racism facing this city. Still, when I went to see a Mayoral debate a few weeks ago, Wagner seemed completely absent of ideas on African American neighborhoods, like the Hill, was clueless about the ban the box movement, and, his support from organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t suggest he will be first or second out the gate to be forthright on the issue of police brutality, still a serious Pittsburgh issue, particularly for African American men and boys. Interestingly, Wagner might be Ravenstahl all grown up, a more well spoken, professional version of a man who will do business as usual. Pittsburgh needs some shaking up, and that includes the Hill.