Tag Archives: Jake Wheatley

The Mayoral Election + Race + Hill District = Jack Wagner?

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.

Hill District Consensus Group’s August 29th Meeting on the Casino/Growth Fund

This meeting was actually held in August, but summing it up now will give some good background for later posts on the fund and the Hill District’s effort to get a grocery store. The Hill District Consensus Group (HDCG), my wife’s (Dr. Bonnie Young Laing) employer, sponsored the meeting and featured PA State Representative Jake Wheatley, my Omega Psi Phi Fraternity brother, providing information and answering questions about a fund called the Growth Fund, please click here for a Growth Fund Public Information Document provided to me by Rep. Wheatley’s office in advance of the meeting and here for information on the fund provided by HDCG.  For a more complete summary of the meeting, please click here for the Hill District Consensus Group’s meeting summary.

Active for about two years, the fund has made $400,000 in grants to the Hill District Community Development Corporation to support its operations and it will reportedly be ready to make grants to other community organizations by the end of 2012.

Rep. Wheatley shared the following about the fund:

  • Proposed projects must be tied to the Hill District Master Plan;
  • Developers must have a relationship to a Hill District non-profit organization to be eligible;
  • The fund is housed at the POISE foundation and is governed by 8 voting members with an extra 3 non-voting political representatives (see the above link for a list of the members);
  • The fund should be ready to make grants by the end of the year;

In addition to discussing general questions on the fund, a question promoted in advance of the meeting was whether the fund would give money to the grocery store. This issue did come up and important questions were raised, but not resolved. In response to a question that was asked about the status of the grocery store, Ms. Cheryl Hall-Russell, C.E.O. of the Hill House Association (HHA) and the Hill House Economic Development Corporation (the EDC), communicated that the EDC had indeed submitted a request to the Growth Fund for the Grocery Store. However, when the application was submitted the criteria had not been developed and she was unclear about how decisions on the fund were being made. Hall-Russell added that time was of the essence and so waiting until the end of the year was a problem. Rep Wheatley responded that the fund was not responsible for the deadlines facing the Hill House and shared that the Hill House’s request was for $800,000, with $400,000 coming as a grant request and $400,000 as a request for a loan. He further added that the request had provoked questions from the fund that needed to be resolved before a decision could be made and that the Growth Fund had sent these to the EDC.

During the meeting I asked Rep. Wheatley if he was at liberty to share the questions the Growth Fund sent to the EDC and he replied that he did not know the questions off the top of his head, but that he could get them to me. I have been in discussion with Rep. Wheatley’s office about these questions and they have been responsive, but they have said they would like to have the Hill House Association’s agreement that it is ok to share this information. This is understandable, so I will give an update on that issue in a later post. It may also turn out there are more important matters to focus on.

At one point in the meeting, I said to Rep. Wheatley that I thought the governing committee of the fund should rotate members because the membership seemed to me closely affiliated with the Representative’s campaign and the Hill CDC and that this fund was quasi-public because of the nature of the Representative’s position as a political representative. The Representative stated that the fund was not actually a public fund and that he had a number of ideas on how to use grants panels made up of community members so that the residents could have significant input on how decisions were made.  Ms. Marimba Milliones, Executive Director of the Hill District CDC, had the last comment of the meeting and said my comments were unfair, that this governing group had stood up in defense of the neighborhood and that Rep. Wheatley should be commended for going to get these resources for the benefit of the Hill (these comments are not reflected in the HDCG summary). I actually agree with Marimba’s comments with the exception of the one saying that my statement about the relationship of the governing committee to the Representative and the Hill CDC was unfair, but may deal with that in a later post.

The meeting closed with the moderator of the meeting, Dr. Emma Lucas Darby, thanking Rep. Wheatley and the public for coming out for the discussion and adding that it was clear that the community was not clear about the fund and that more information should be available in writing. The Representative seemed amenable to this idea and hopefully this blog and the Hill District Consensus Group’s meeting summary are steps in that direction. A special shout out to the Consensus Group for convening this discussion.