Thursday, October 29, 2009

Third Mayoral Debate held

The three men who are running for the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office faced off Thursday afternoon in the third of three debates with none of the candidates delivering decisive blows. The debate hosted by WPXI TV will be aired on that station several times over the weekend with the general election to be held Tuesday. Incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and challengers Kevin Acklin and Franco Dok Harris touched on everything from who should have an advisory roll in the Mayor’s office to giving the mayor a grade for handling the G20 Pittsburgh Summit. Among the issues of more weight was a debate over shoring up the city’s faltering pension fund. The account is roughly 30% funded, which is well below levels deemed to be acceptable by bond rating houses and the state. Independent Kevin Acklin says he knows how important the pension funds are to Pittsburghers. His grandmother lives on the pension earned by his grandfather as a city firefighter. He says he would shore up the fund by getting more money from the state and from, “corporate nonprofits who make more than $100-million a year.” Independent Franco Dok Harris and Acklin both took shots at the mayor’s proposal to institute a head tax on college students and a bed tax on hospital stays. Harris says, like Acklin, he would turn to the state for help from gaming revenues but he would also hire a grant writer to look for help from other sources. He would also hire a “distressed fund specialist” to look for more savings and grow earnings. Democrat Luke Ravenstahl, who is also on the ballot as a Republican, says he has tried to get more money from big nonprofits and from Harrisburg but has so far been unsuccessful so he is, “doing the responsible thing, assuming that does not happen.” He rhetorically asked the other candidates what they would do to get the needed $15 million if their plans fail.
Using a backdrop of recent gun violence in the city and the ongoing fight between city council and Harrisburg over lost and stolen gun legislation each candidate was asked if they support the second amendment. All responded they did with Ravenstahl adding that rural areas and big cities need to be treated differently. He says no one wants to take guns away from hunters but he says the state needs to step up with new laws to get illegal guns off the streets. Harris says with the right to own a gun comes, “the responsibility and a duty to know where they are at all times. The notion that ‘I lost my gun’ or ‘it was stolen’ is ridiculous.” He says the state has enough laws on the books and they need to be better enforced. He says the illegal gun trade must also be put to an end. Acklin says he would put more officers on the streets to find those guns and stop the violence.
Acklin's promise to put 200 additional officers on the streets by the end of his first term was highlighted again when the candidates were asked what they would do to reduce crime. He also said he would personally be out in the neighborhoods plagued by violence. He says, “It is what I have enjoyed most about being a candidate. And I have learned so much. And I carry those stories.” He says people ask him where the mayor is and charge that he is never around unless there are cameras around. Mayor Ravenstahl responds that it is hard for him to move with out a camera showing up so that is a poor argument, and he says he and his staff attend “50 community meetings a month.” Ravenstahl also points out that the murder rate is down by 40% over last year and he says that is due in part to him listening to the concerns and suggestions of the residents and police officers. He also notes the creation of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime and the hire of an employee to oversee the program as steps in the right direction. Harris says he has nothing but praise for the Police officers but he is also being told by the voters as he goes door to door that what they want now it to see the mayor getting involved. He says the mayor needs to grieve with the mothers of the murdered and their communities.

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