By Christian Morrow
If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. That remains state Rep. Jake Wheatley’s overarching theme in his race to become Pittsburgh’s next mayor.
His front-running opponents, city Councilman Bill Peduto and former Councilman, state Senator and Auditor General Jack Wagner, he will tell you have a record of maintaining the status quo. But, he will also tell you that enough voters appear disenchanted enough with business as usual to give him the support he needs to pull off the Primary Election upset on May 21.
“My campaign won’t be crippled by the old-style politics of telling segments of the public how to vote. I’m not running just to run, just to be a Black face. Win, lose or draw, all the people we talked to before getting in were ready for it,” he told the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board April 26. “And with polls saying 48 percent of the voters are still undecided, I think the city is ready for change.”
One of the changes he would like to employ here is an idea called social impact bonding. It could simultaneously address educational shortcoming and unemployment, especially in some Black communities where drop-out rates exceed 50 percent and unemployment is running three times the average.
“We’re the only campaign talking about this. Get engineers and business people from companies like Google in the classrooms. Teach the kids what they need to know to get a job,” he said. “Tell our business leaders that if they invest in improving job skills, we’ll pay you back based on the percentage of employment improved.”
Wheatley said the city can’t do everything, and can’t afford to. But that means it could provide opportunities for small businesses and community nonprofits to do so, and thereby further improve the employment climate.
“Open up government services and contract with small businesses and nonprofits,” he said. “The mayor shouldn’t be in the social service business. But he should support and be a cheerleader for those organizations that do it better.”
Wheatley wants to open up the police force too, not just to African-American applicants, but to the community. He said the bureau can help reduce tensions by being more involved with neighborhood youth.
“I’d like to see a police athletic league, working with kids,” he said. “It would give the community a better image of the police and vice versa, and it would help with recruiting.”
Wheatley agrees that the city needs to increase its efforts to recruit from the military so it can attract more minority and women candidates. He would also negotiate changes with the union that could improve actual minority hiring and retention.
Though he would keep the requirement that applicants have 60 hours of college credit, he would extend the time they have to complete the schooling.
“There has to be a cultural change in the bureau. Assignments and promotions can’t be based on popularity,” he said. “I told the (Fraternal Order of Police) I want negotiations on pensions and work rules. And I will insist on merit-based promotions. In exchange, I would waive residency requirements.”
Wheatley said his campaign is the only one that presents a vision and the best plan to include every city neighborhood. And he is not as big a long-shot some claim.
“I want your vote, I need your vote. But I’m not just a Black candidate. Like Speaker (K. Leroy) Irvis reminded me years ago, I represent all the people and I have a lot of White support,” he said. “So, if 20,000 African-Americans vote and I get 60 percent of that, that’s huge in a three-way race.”