JACK WAGNER MAKING HIS POINT (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner says his 27 years in politics makes him “hands down” the most qualified candidate in the race to become Pittsburgh’s next mayor.
That’s what he’s said at every candidate’s forum to date, and what he told the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board during an April 17 interview.
“Twenty-six percent of the population has twice the unemployment rate and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “It will take leadership to get there and I’m dramatically better, in terms of what I bring to the table.”
Wagner spent 10 years on Pittsburgh Council and followed that with a 10-year stint as state senator before serving another seven years as auditor general from 2005 to 2012.
Wagner said his experience running this last office, and doing more with less as budget cuts forced a reduction of personnel from 750 to 350 employees during his tenure, cannot be matched.
Another advantage he says is his years of building personal relationships with leaders in state and federal government. He can call US Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey because he knows them. The same holds for leaders in state government, including the governor.
“We haven’t had a mayor in recent years lobbying in Harrisburg, so they don’t get to know what our priorities are,” he said. “I need to be one of those cheerleaders because I’ve spent almost 20 years there.”
And what are his priorities? Employment has to be number one, he said. With scientific, medical, technical and energy firms creating the bulk of new careers in the region, he said more resources should be aimed at job training and education.
“I’m not happy about seeing license plates from Texas and Oklahoma on these Shale jobs,” he said.
“Black unemployment is twice the White rate. The city should be focusing on training young people for these jobs, even summer jobs. We have to get people acclimated to working. I would lobby our corporations to provide internships.”
He also said the Pittsburgh Promise should be tied more to employment with more internships for younger students so they have “a leg up” when they graduate.
On other issues, Wagner said medical marijuana should be legal and that the large number of non-violent drug offenders—many of them African-Americans—should not be in prisons but on monitored release, where they could have a chance to improve their lives at one-seventh the cost to the taxpayers.
As for the scandal-plagued Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Wagner said a national search should be done to hire a new chief, and that the city should be actively recruiting from the military to increase the number of Black and female applicants. He seemed unaware, however, that the ACLU is suing the bureau charging deliberate racial bias in its recruiting.
Wagner also said Pittsburgh should remain an independent municipality and not merge with Allegheny County.
“There is some ‘low-hanging fruit’ when it comes to shared services—like dog licensing, real estate taxes that the county could do,” he said. “But Pittsburgh is the capital of western Pennsylvania and needs to be separate from the county.”
(Send comments to cmorrow @newpittsburghcourier.com.)