Opponents spar at Chamber Candidates Forum before May 21 primary

MARK BRENTLEY SR., left, is challenging Bobby Wilson, right, for Pittsburgh City Council District 1. In the District 9 race, incumbent Rev. Ricky Burgess, second from left, is opposed by Kierran Young, second from right. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

by CHRISTIAN MORROW, Courier Staff Writer

Though many of the invited candidates on the ballot for city and county offices in the upcoming May 21 primary election declined to attend the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania’s May 9 Candidates Forum, opposing candidates in Pittsburgh’s District 1 and District 9 City Council races still managed to connect with a few jabs.

Chamber President and CEO Doris Carson Williams welcomed all and introduced New Pittsburgh Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss as the forum’s moderator. Doss kept the evening moving with his customary alacrity, first introducing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald—who is unopposed in the primary—and former Republican County Councilman Matt Drozd, who will challenge Fitzgerald in November.

Fitzgerald noted record unemployment, the improved county bond rating, new development and job opportunities and his administration’s record of hiring and promoting African Americans as qualifications for his re-election.

Drozd blamed the county’s small but steady population loss in recent years on taxes and said, as a small business owner, small and minority businesses have to “fight for scraps” when it comes to county government contracting.

Following their exchange, and with the absence of District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Doss then had “a conversation” with Zappala’s Democratic Primary opponent Turahn Jenkins, who said while the Antwon Rose II shooting put a spotlight on his challenge to Zappala, he had actually quit his job at the Public Defender’s office in preparation for the race.

“The timing was coincidental. Police shootings of unarmed Blacks—and hardly ever being charged—has been going on since before I was born,” Jenkins said during the forum. “This didn’t happen overnight.”

Jenkins said he would always ask a neutral outside agency to investigate police-involved shootings. Not only would it improve transparency and remove the appearance of bias—because the DA relies on a positive relationship with police officers to make cases—it would improve that relationship by eliminating possible animosity.

He said he would also work to eliminate cash bonds that disproportionally impose collateral damage on poor and minority defendants.

“While that is a judicial decision, everyone knows that the DA has great power in not recommending bond,” he said. “I’ve seen hundreds of people languish in the county jail because they didn’t have $100…May 21 can be a real change in the status quo.”

The two challengers to District 1 City Councilwoman Darlene Harris, Mark Brentley Sr. and Bobby Wilson, were forced to spar with each other as Harris did not attend. Brentley said Mayor Bill Peduto’s support for Wilson is an attempt to buy another “yes” vote on council.

Wilson said his campaign finances have been reported, unlike Brentley’s, and anyone can see he doesn’t have a lot of money and had to rely on the Service Employees International Union buses to attend a Harrisburg rally.

At the Chamber’s Candidates Forum four years ago, District 9 City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess didn’t attend, but four of his opponents did. This year, he has five opponents—and he decided to attend. And though only one opponent also showed up, that opponent was Kierran Young, and his shots at Burgess were the most lively of the evening.

“When I go through financial reports and I see payments to Councilman Burgess and the mayor from developers who get all the work, that’s pay-to-play,” the fiery Young said. “Keith Key from Cincinnati has a blank check for work in the district and uses illegal immigrants on the jobs.”

Reverend Burgess noted that Key grew up in the Hill and in Garfield and that Black contractors Omicelo and Ralph Falbo (Mike Polite) are working in the district.

“We’ve gotten more work into the district than ever before, hundreds of units of housing and residents are participating in that,” said Rev. Burgess. “I’m proud to bring development to the district.”


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