Tuesday, May 08, 2001
By James O'Toole, Politics Editor, Post-Gazette
The men who would be mayor traded views on schools, public safety and transportation issues last night in the final debate before next Tuesday's primary election.
For five of the candidates, it was the only chance to share a televised stage with Mayor Tom Murphy and City Council President Bob O'Connor, the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination that has for decades been tantamount to election in Pittsburgh.
"Thank God for public television. We finally have all the candidates together," Democrat Leroy L. Hodge remarked as the 90-minute session opened.
The incumbent was, as expected, the most frequent target of criticism, but the tone of the evening was more earnest than contentious.
O'Connor challenged Murphy's management of the police department, faulting the fact that the city entered into a federal consent decree governing police conduct. The councilman also criticized the fact that last year's police recruiting class had no minorities and only three females.
Murphy strongly defended his management and the department's performance while again criticizing O'Connor for his promise to fire Police Chief Robert McNeilly Jr.
"We've made big changes; we're batting 100 percent on the consent decree," Murphy said. "We've changed the culture."
James Carmine, a Republican candidate, saw a lack of leadership on Murphy's part over police officers refusing to testify before the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board.
Mark Rauterkus, the other GOP hopeful, said he would increase awareness on police issues by televising deliberations of the police review board.
Hodge said he would stress improved education and training for officers and do more to recruit city residents for the force.
In response to a question on the problems of trash and dumping in the city, Murphy said he was considering establishing a special environmental court to increase visibility and prosecution of environmental crimes.
O'Connor said the answer was not a new court but a larger budget for the city's Public Works Department.
"We don't have to reinvent the wheel all over again," O'Connor said.
Earl V. Jones Sr., another Democrat, said that the answer to the problem was personal example."I spent two years of my life cleaning up my neighborhood," said the Hazelwood retiree. "You have to show the people even if you have to do it yourself."
On transportation, O'Connor said that the completion of the city portion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway offered promise in easing congestion in city neighborhoods such as Squirrel Hill.
But Murphy sounded a distinctly skeptical note on the mammoth construction project, which is strongly supported by some of the same labor unions that support him in the coming primary.
"I have not embraced the Mon Valley Expressway yet," he said.
In elaborating after the debate, Murphy said, "The fact of the matter is if you're going to spend millions of dollars on highways, you're never going to have enough money to build a mass transit system like you see in other cites."
On another issue, Murphy said the city had "learned some hard lessons on Plan B," where what he termed "pass-though shenanigans" have allowed the circumvention of promises that a specified portion of the stadium construction work would go to minority and female-owned firms.
Democrat Joshua Pollock called the Murphy administration's record on minority contracting "one of the most disgusting things this city has done."