Peduto cruises to big win in Pittsburgh’s mayoral primary
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto cruised Tuesday to one of the most lopsided Democratic primary wins in decades, trouncing his biggest political adversary on City Council and a clergyman to earn his party’s nomination, unofficial tallies show.
With 100 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Peduto collected 68.9 percent of the votes cast, compared with 17.5 percent for the Rev. John C. Welch, 56, of Homewood and 13.2 for City Councilwoman Darlene Harris, 64, of Spring Hill.
In his victory speech to more than 100 supporters in Banksville, Peduto referred to the resounding win as a mandate to press forward with an agenda to “reform city government, rebuild the economy, invest in our neighborhoods and invest in our people.”
While Peduto’s administration pursued numerous initiatives related to those issues over the past three-plus years, he said, “It’s time to take on even bigger challenges.”
The win appears to be among the largest for a contested mayoral candidate in the city’s Democratic primary since at least 1993, when then-state Rep. Tom Murphy collected 71.9 percent of the votes cast to soundly defeat then-City Councilman Jack Wagner.
Wagner, who later became a state senator and Pennsylvania’s auditor general, also came up short in a mayoral bid four years ago. Peduto beat Wagner by 12 percentage points.
Tuesday’s win virtually assures a second term for Peduto, a former city councilman who has been active in politics since his 20s. No Republicans were on the primary ballot. Even if there were, Pittsburgh voters haven’t elected a Republican mayor since the Great Depression.
Peduto held his election party at the Boiler Room banquet facility in Banksville. It was a relatively low-key affair even as Peduto ran away with the race. Just before 10 p.m., more than 50 people gathered at tables in the main banquet hall waiting for Peduto to speak while dozens of others mingled in an adjacent room with a bar and on an outdoor patio.
Around the same time, Harris said she called Peduto to congratulate him.
“It’s just a race. It’s done,” Harris said. “Now we’re going to move on to a new chapter and continue working to make Pittsburgh a better city. I’m grateful for the support of my fellow real Pittsburghers.”
Welch said he felt he made a “respectable showing” for a first-time political candidate running against an incumbent.
“Pittsburgh has not heard the last of John C. Welch,” Welch said.
“I brought to light a number of issues during the campaign, and I’m going to continue to speak to these issues,” Welch said. “I think we can move in new directions without leaving people behind.”
— Tom Fontaine (@FontainePGH) May 17, 2017
Although an incumbent mayor seeking re-election hasn’t lost in the city’s modern political history, Peduto didn’t appear to take anything for granted in his bid for a second term.
Campaign finance reports filed this month showed that Peduto’s campaign spent more than $600,000 through the first four months of the year — more than 15 times as much money as Harris and Welch combined.
In debates and other public appearances, Peduto focused on detailing his accomplishments and plans for the future and avoided criticizing his opponents or questioning their proposals.
Harris, who has served on City Council since 2006 and previously sat on the Pittsburgh Public Schools board, did little but criticize Peduto’s performance during his first term as mayor, reserving particular disdain for his support of expanding the city’s network of bicycle lanes.
Welch, a city police chaplain who is dean of students for the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has been critical of the mayor’s handling of turmoil surrounding the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority and argued that more needs to be done to improve police-community relations.
Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847, email@example.com or via Twitter at @FontainePGH.