The following is a transcript of the Oct. 11 debate between Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Republican challenger Mark DeSantis. The debate was held at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center, and was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, Comcast, and Pittsburgh City Paper.
Click to links below to see how the candidates answered specific questions.What does Pittsburgh need most from a mayor?
What investments do the Hill District and North Side deserve, and how will you deliver them?
How will you work with nonprofits to solve the city's problems?
What's been your biggest career mistake, and what have you learned from it?
What's your position on city-county consolidation?
How will you keep young college graduates in Pittsburgh?
Question for DeSantis about work for White House
Statements by third-party candidates
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: On Sept. 1 of last year, Pittsburgh lost a true son, when Mayor Bob O'Connor passed away due to cancer. His loss was a shock to us all. He left us far too soon, and it fell to me to serve as this city's mayor. At that time I was serving as president of Pittsburgh's city council, having just been elected by my peers. Nothing could have prepared me for our city's loss. And while his loss was a shock to us all, we had to move on, and we had to look ahead. Over the course of the past year, I have not only embraced many of Mayor O'Connor's ideas and agendas, but I've also brought forward a very aggressive plan for Pittsburgh's renewal. Why? Because like you, when Pittsburghers are faced with a challenge, we rise to the occasion. It's what makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh. It's our people, our work ethic.
You know, it's often been said that the future belongs to our youth. And as a young public servant, it fell to me to take this city toward that future. After all, this city's future was the calling that led me to run for Pittsburgh's city council as a 23-year-old. This city's future is the calling that drives me today.
My agenda for Pittsburgh's future, our renewal, and our resurgence, resolves around 3 fundamental objectives. Number one, bringing back common-sense responsible financial management to Pittsburgh. We must continue our financial recovery. Two, pursuing an aggressive agenda that promotes the creation of 21st century jobs. Pittsburgh can no longer afford to chase jobs and economic development away. And three, a public safety action plan that makes our streets among the cleanest and safest in the country. We must pay attention to detail, we must take care of our residents, we must make Pittsburgh safe and clean.
I thank you all for being here this evening. I look forward to a spirited debate, and I look forward to discussing the issues that are of importance to this great city and this wonderful audience.
Mark DeSantis: A year ago, if you told me I'd be standing here, running for mayor, I'd have said you were crazy. Well, now some people are saying that I'm crazy. After all, the last Republican mayor of this city, his father fought in the civil war. After the unfortunate death of Bob O'Connor, I like many of you had high hopes for the city, and high hopes for the future. But I wouldn't be standing here today if I felt that they were going to be fulfilled. I love this city, I was born in Pittsburgh, born in Magee Hospital, when I was 4 years old, I moved to Sharpsville, a little town of 6,000 people in Mercer County. Coming here was a treat. Coming here was something special [with] my parents and seeing this magnificent city. And I feel in love with it then and I'm still in love with it now. Now of course, it's a very different city than what existed when I was a kid.
One thing I've learned in my travels out in the community is that people want change. Since becoming a candidate -- I've never run for office before -- I've spent a lot of time in coffee shops, in Crazy Mochas and Starbucks. In fact, I look out in the audience and I know I've met with probably two or three dozen of you in many of those venues. And I've been talking to people, asking them what they want. And what they want is change. And they want it now. And they don't want change at the margin, they don't want rhetoric, they don't want a press release that's talking about change. They don't want to study change. They want it right now.
Let's be clear: One of the toughest challenges we face in life ever, is the prospect of change. And I've faced a challenge similar to the one I face right now. A few years ago, I formed a group called Citizens for Democratic Reform, a volunteer organization whose mission was to reform the row offices. I knew that was going to be a daunting task, because the first group that formed to do that was formed in 1895, and there were five subsequent attempts and none of them were successful until our group was formed. Thanks to Dan Onorato -- and I give him credit for help making that possible -- we were able to achieve that reform. We face a similar challenge now, and I welcome the opportunity, and thank you for having us here in this debate.
Ravenstahl: I think the residents of the city of Pittsburgh need a mayor that's a leader. They need a mayor that is willing to make the tough decisions. They need a mayor that's willing to look at the financial situation in the city of Pittsburgh on the long term, and over the course of time. Something that I've done, we've submitted our second consecutive structurally balanced budget to the ICA a short time ago. It will allow us at the end of this fiscal year, to have $90 million in the bank. This city needs a mayor that's looking at issues -- not just looking at them today, but looking at them towards the future. We've done that on the financial side.
I believe the city needs a mayor that's looking at an economic-development agenda that's going to grow jobs for young people, many of which are in the crowd this evening. I firmly believe that the number-one issue, when we talk about young people in and around the city of Pittsburgh and keeping them here and retaining them here, is providing them a job opportunity. We've done a lot of good things in city government, to be more efficient, to streamline processes, to deal with small businesses to help them grow, to give them a professional review when they are in front of stakeholders and when they are in front of city government officials. And I think this city needs a mayor that's willing to roll up his sleeves and go out and communicate with them, which I've done. A mayor that's going to go out and talk about ripping down abandoned homes, and towing abandoned cars, a mayor that's going to go out on the streets and talk about fighting crime and putting more officers on the street. A mayor that's willing to go to neighborhood forums and listen like we're doing, to deal with the issues.
DeSantis: I think first and foremost, the mayor has to set an example. This is the most responsible job in local government. Everything the mayor does, says, beliefs, values, and spends his time doing and saying has an impact on our community. All the people in city government look to the mayor for that leadership, and specifically look to the mayor for that example. All of the people in the community similarly look to the mayor to lead by example. And that probably is the most important thing. But there are a bunch of other things that we need to do as well. And number one on that list is make sure that this city is fiscally sound.
Right now, the city is a fiscal basket case. We have more debt per capita than any city in the country. The data is there. It says effectively that it's going to be decades perhaps before we can pay this off. So we need to address that financial situation. It is serious enough that we are actually at risk of bankruptcy in the next perhaps two or three years. What we're living through right now is the calm before the storm, and that bankruptcy is looming on the horizon. In addition, we need to refocus our economy on building a thriving economy. You know, the Pittsburgh region in the last seven years has created zero net new private-sector jobs. You may say, "I know somebody that got a job at PNC Bank." That means another job left. That's how bad it is. We need to get back to the idea that we can actually have a thriving economy. We need to create fertile soil, incentives that are going to allow our community to grow, to grow the kind of businesses that I run on the South Side, a firm of six employees. We need more and more of those businesses. Two-thirds of all the businesses in the city with over 1,000 employees were started right here in this city. We need to abandon the idea that we're going to recruit large companies, write them big checks to move here. We need to grow businesses right here in our community.
We also need to rebuild the infrastructure of this city as well. We have an infrastructure that's decaying, and it's been decaying for many years. We need to make the necessary investments so that we have the city we need for the 21st century.
Caruso: Thank you. Mayor, do you have a rebuttal?
Ravenstahl: I do. I just want to clarify that this city will not go bankrupt in the next two or three years. This city's fund balance in fact will grow over the course of the next two or three years. Do we face challenges? Absolutely we do, but that's why we're working hard each and every day to achieve our goals. And I'll give you one example: This past year, in the 2007 budget submission, in the 2008 budget, my administration submitted a budget that was $50 million lower than what the original Act 47 plan called for. We're aware of these issues and we're dealing with them. These weren't issues that we created; these are issues that my administration inherited. They didn't develop yesterday, they're not going to be solved tomorrow. But we're putting a plan in place to deal with them long-term.
DeSantis: The sad fact is that we're facing the prospect of bankruptcy. The facts are there. We have over $900 million in bonded debt. One-quarter of the city budget simply goes to pay the interest on that debt. In addition to that, we have over $500 million in unfunded pension liabilities. You know, at one level you can say -- that my opponent has said that he's getting rid of the credit-card mentality. You know, when you have a structurally balanced deficit -- let's cut through the code words here. What that means is you're meeting your minimum credit-card payments. But imagine your meeting your minimum credit-card payments when you have 200,000 in credit-card debt. You're not really being very fiscally sound. What we need to do is reduce the cost of government and start paying down that debt. Our pension fund is funded to the tune of 40 percent. It is the worst-performing pension fund -- one of the worst -- in the state. There are 294 public pension funds in Allegheny County. If you take the city of Pittsburgh pension fund out of that, they are all funded to the tune of 97 percent. Our pension fund is funded to the tune of 40 percent. That's unconscionable.
Caruso: Residents of both the Hill District and the North Side have sought Community Benefits Agreements which would guarantee jobs, economic development, and other forms of community investment to be tied into building the new casino and the penguins arena. What kinds of investment do those communities deserve, and what will you do as mayor to see that they are made?
DeSantis: One of the things we do, we have one of the lowest rates of minority-owned small businesses in the country. We're at the bottom. What I want to do is create the opportunity of a micro-loan program for minority-owned enterprises. You know, the recent study that was done by the university of Pittsburgh looked at the African-American community in our great city, and that study concluded that by virtually every way you can measure a community's physical health, mental health, academic achievement, income, the African-American community is in really bad shape in our city, and it's isolate from the rest of the community. What we need to do is create opportunities for the African-American community to grow. And one of the ways to do that is to foster entrepreneurship. So my micro-loan program will provide loans from $500 to $5,000 to small businesses and the people who will choose the loan won't be a banker, it will be the peers of that individual trying to seek that loan. And they won't need collateral, they won't a credit check. This program has worked in Philadelphia, it has worked in other cities as well. It has worked in cities around the world, and it can work here. In fact, I'm so committed to this program that whether I win or lose, this program will be up and running next year.
Mellon Arena ... is a sad story. 50 years ago, it was a thriving neighborhood and we had to build the arena. Maybe we could remedy some of those injustices from 50 years ago and create green space where the Mellon Arena is right now. Maybe we could even put in a grocery store.
Ravenstahl: The Community Benefits Agreement process and the discussions that are ongoing in both the Hill District and the North Side are very healthy. The county executive and I, as you all know, created a gaming implementation task force to deal with the issues surrounding the casino on the north shore. That group meets regularly, and when you are forced as a local government to deal with all the ramifications of a gaming facility, it's going to take time, it's going to take effort, it's going to take cooperation, it's going to take discussion. And that's what we've had. We've had an active discussion. I don't blame anybody for coming forward and suggesting they want benefits for their community. In fact, I agree with them and that's why we've had so much outreach. I believe the casino is an opportunity for us to redevelop the North Shore. The reality of the situation is because of its footprint, it's going to be the landmark site along our riverfronts for the next 50 years. We have to make sure that that process is done correctly. We have put in place a policy to make sure that it is done correctly. In terms of the arena and the Hill District, once again, myself and the county executive meet regularly with organizations throughout the Hill District, whether it's the One Hill group that has formed, whether it's the reverends sand pastors and ministers. 30 years ago, we tore down a neighborhood to build an arena in the Hill District. We're going to now tear down an arena to rebuild a neighborhood. The Hill District deserves no less, and we're working very hard with them through the planning process so they're at the table.
DeSantis: We've done a lousy job of listening as a city government. The sad fact is, many of you are here today, your hopes for change consist of the idea that we can have city government be about the people it serves, and not exist for itself. The fact is there's groups on the North Side and other parts of the city who are angry, because they've been excluded from the process, a process that itself is flawed from the beginning. We need to think in terms of when we use public access, when we spend public dollars, we have to go that extra mile to make sure that everybody is heard along the way. Now everybody won't be completely satisfied with the solution, but when you have people who are persistently upset and angry and feel excluded, you have to pay attention, you have to listen.
Ravenstahl: We have listened and we are listening. In fact, I would look back on history in the city of Pittsburgh and I would be shocked if I ever saw more public participation in two processes than is occurring right now both in the Hill District and with the casino. Sure there are people frustrated. Sure these are big issues, but we're listening and we're at the table. We're having an active discussion, and it's my hope that that discussion will lead to best possible product, both in the Hill District and on the North Shore. Is everybody going to be happy? Absolutely not. But we're going to make sure that we listen. We have done that. We've gone above and beyond the call of duty to have meetings that didn't have to be scheduled. But we did so in an effort to make sure that those voices are heard. And I think if you talk to the residents of the Hill District, and if you talk to the residents of the North Side, minus one small fraction, they'd agree.
Caruso: Our next question involves the non-profit sector. As you know, non-profits in the region employ 81,180 people and spend about $12 billion annually on the well-being of the region. How would you propose to bring the business sector, the government sector, to the table with non-profits to solve some of our region's most pressing problems?
Ravenstahl: I think we've done that. And I think that's indicative through the recent agreement with the non-profit community to continue to contribute voluntarily to the city of Pittsburgh's financial situation. We were fortunate to have the non-profit community agree three years ago to a three-year voluntary payment that got the city of Pittsburgh roughly $14 million. The good news is, they continued to willingly participate. I've said it before, I'll say it again, I'm a firm believer that good communication will bring success. We are cooperative with the non-profit community, not confrontational. They certainly bring a tremendous amount of assets to the city of Pittsburgh, whether it's the little sisters of the poor and some of the smaller organizations up to our largest employer in this region, UPMC. They have to be active partners and they have been active partners with my administration and the community at large. And I believe that in order to continue to have that relationship, you have to be willing to talk with them. You can't throw stones. You can't throw stones. You have to be cooperative, and that's what we've done.
DeSantis: I'm one of those employees. I work part-time for Carnegie Mellon University and teach there. I believe the financial situation that we're facing right now is dire. I also believe that the foundations -- excuse me, the non-profits recognize that. I actually believe they'd be willing to give a lot more money than the $5 million that they've given every year over the last three years. And I believe they're reluctant to do that because they think the general fund, the financial budget of the city, is a financial shredder. And they're just very ambivalent about giving more money. Obviously, when you look at the numbers, they have the capacity to give a great deal more. The recent agreement doesn't specify amount. It's a voluntary contribution of some undetermined amount. Well, I think we can get a bigger commitment if they knew that the money was going to be dedicated for specific purposes. The money from the non-profit community would not go into the general fund, but actually would go specifically to key purposes, like for example funding the pension fund. I have a proposal that I've put forward previously where we would take at least the amounts that we've gotten in the last three years, $5 million a year -- ideally much more than that -- and that money would go directly into the pension fund.
Ravenstahl: I'm glad my opponent brought that up because he has mentioned his financial capabilities, and his proposal to fund pension, his proposal to deal with those issues is by taking the gaming money that we're going to receive -- roughly $17 million -- and the $5 million that he referenced from the non-profits. And I would simply ask him that if you're going to take that roughly $23 million from the city of Pittsburgh's operating budget, which if we look at right now, accounts for $23 million over the course of the next five years, what $23 million worth of services are you going to cut, or which $23 million in taxes are you going to raise?
DeSantis: All right. This is a tactic that I used to see in Washington DC a lot, which is the assumption that if you ask somebody in government to reduce their spending, their immediate response is, "well you're going to have to cut essential services." What that assumption assumes -- and nobody in this room believes it -- is the government that we have now is as efficient as it possibly can be. [The] Act 47 recovery team had unfettered access to the city government. They looked in every nook and cranny in city government. They studied it thoroughly. They came up with 200 recommendations where this city government can make do, can do more with less. We've implemented hardly any of those. And the savings are in the millions and millions of dollars. What Mr. Ravenstahl has done, incredibly, has proposed an increase of $50 million over the next five years. Keep this in mind, this is on a population base that is actually declining, that is actually declining. That's unconscionable.
Caruso: I like this question. I'm going to let two more rebuttals. Go ahead.
Ravenstahl: I didn't get my answer and I didn't expect to.
De Santis: I'm not sure what that response is. How many of the 200 Act 47 recommendations have you implemented?
Ravenstahl: How many of --
DeSantis: -- the 200 Act 47 cost-saving recommendations have you implemented? This is in a 250-page document that was produced by the Act 47 team. It's very specific, it's very precise. They had unfettered access to the government. How many of those have [you] implemented?
Ravenstahl: We've submitted our second consecutive structurally balanced budget --
DeSantis: Yeah, that's not an answer. That's not an answer.
Ravenstahl: We have cut more than $50 million more than we were originally suggested to do in Act 47, both in 2007 and in 2008. And I think that if we're going to make a proposal to the residents of the city of Pittsburgh, to take $23 million out of the city operating budget over the course of the next five years, that we should answer to them where that $23 million is going to come from.
Caruso: We're going to begin now with some questions from our audience. Number one is, what is the biggest mistake you've made in your career, and what did you learn from it?
DeSantis: Well, I've learned a lot over the years. I've learned a great deal. Probably the biggest mistake I made was when I -- probably I went to Washington as a young person, and was motivated by the bright lights and the power, and the prospect of getting power and being near it. Don't get me wrong, I worked hard, but that motivated me. And along the way, I had some pretty exciting opportunites, and among them I had the chance to work for Senator john Heinz. He was a great man. He taught me about public service, he taught me about life, generally. But when he died, my attitude changed, my motivation changed. I looked around and I realized there was a bunch of folks there who were inspired by the idea of public service. I'll admit it now: as a young man, it took me a long time to learn that, and the one regret I have is that perhaps if I had a different motivation when I went there, I'd have realized a lot more benefit from the experience that I had there. But I did learn. I did learn.
Ravenstahl: I think my greatest mistake, and I do this often, is I go too fast. I don't have the patience, and I want to get things done right away. And I think nothing illustrates that greater than the transition that I've had to go through in city government. If there was one thing that I could look back on and change, it would be to have an opportunity, as normal mayors do, to win an election, and go through a transition. The reality of the situation that I walked into was I woke up on September 1st of last year as the president of city council and I went to bad that evening as the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, and therefore was not afforded the opportunity or the ability to build my own team. And so over the past 13 months, not only have I had to govern and move this city forward through a difficult time, but I've also had to face the political dynamic of being a constant candidate running for the office in may before my opponent quit and dropped out of the race, and now here in the November election. So the dynamic of moving into the office unexpectedly, coupled with the constant political campaign, is something that made me move fast. And I think the greatest mistake that I had made was simply not having the opportunity to sit back, take a comprehensive look and make decisions looking at the big picture.
Caruso: Any response?
DeSantis: Rebut one another's mistakes? I'll pass on that.
Ravenstahl: Sure. My position on consolidation is simple, and it's a very dynamic question and as you know, the county executive and I have created a blue-ribbon panel to look at the city and county consolidation. Two things I consider when I look at consolidation. One, does it save our taxpayers money, and two, can we provide and offer better service after consolidation? I'll give you some examples of what we've achieved. The city of Pittsburgh and the Housing Authority recently merged their police departments. [It] saved our city taxpayers money [and] provided more efficient service because we have now one city of Pittsburgh police department covering the whole city, whether it's Housing Authority, whether it's the city property. We've also had some agreements since I've been the mayor with the county to consolidate and merge the city of Pittsburgh's purchasing department. We also now purchase telecommunications jointly. The Wilkinsburg refuse collection, I referenced this the other night at the debate, something that we're extremely proud of. It's really been a cutting-edge deal that nobody thought could happen. I walked into the mayor's office, everybody wanted to tell me why it couldn't happen: It wouldn't be legal, the union would be up in arms, the people of Wilkinsburg -- you can't compete against a private hauler. We cut through the red tape, we cut through all the issues associated there, we're now picking up garbage for Wilkinsburg, saving them $500,000-$600,000 a year. We're more efficient as a city government, it makes sense. If it passes that litmus test -- number one, it saves taxpayers dollars, and two provides better service -- you have a mayor that's willing to talk about anything.
DeSantis: I'm with Dan Onorato on this. I support a two-stage consolidation process. There are certain functions that the city and county perform that are basically the same thing: facilities management, IT management, legal departments -- these are very common across city and county, we can consolidate those into one department. Actually what I will do is take that out of the city and fuse that with the county, and in fact there are services that the county could perform for the city on a contract basis, all the while reducing the cost and the budget of city government. So I'd be in favor initially of a functional consolidation. But I wouldn't make that decision: You would. I'd put that in the form of a referendum as soon as possible, and it would be a clear, coherent plan. And then you all can decide if you think consolidation makes sense. I go back to the row-office issue. Do you know everybody predicted that this idea of row office, when it was actually on a referendum and a ballot would fail miserably. All the pundits were predicting that up until the very day of Election Day. They said, "The citizens want these row offices. They need them. Consolidation is just not going to happen, it doesn't make any sense." Well, 75 percent of the population of this county thought it was a good idea, and that issue was resolved. So step one would be the functional consolidation in the form of a referendum. After a year or so, we can show results from that consolidation, and then we would put forward full political consolidation, again in the form of a referendum, and again the citizens would choose. Not me, or not someone else: you the citizens would choose if you want to have both functional and political consolidation. I have ultimate faith in your wisdom above all to make the right decision in both instances. Thank you.
Ravenstahl: I'll take my minute to talk about the other opportunities that have now presented themselves as a result of our original agreement with Wilkinsburg. We've been approached by numerous municipalities that border the city of Pittsburgh. They have asked us, "Can you pick up our garbage, can you pave our streets, can you protect our residents with fire service?" And so I believe that the opportunity that my administration has presented by breaking down that barrier, by breaking down that border, the city of Pittsburgh borders Wilkinsburg, it makes sense. We border a lot of other municipalities. That's how we're ultimately going to deal with this issue, is by cutting through the red tape, by making deals that make sense, like we did in Wilkinsburg, and by continuing to have an open-door policy to look at the opportunities that are currently out there and deal with the low-hanging fruit that is there, because it really is.
DeSantis: I get back to what I said earlier: I want to create opportunities -- professional opportunities for people to stay here. In my company, most of the graduates are either from the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon. And the people that graduate from these and other universities, like this one here, have tremendous opportunities. They can go a lot of different places, and sadly they do. If we don't create a thriving economy, a truly thriving economy like this city hasn't seen in decades, we're going to have real problems recovering. We can't reduce our way to success, we can't cut our way to success. It starts and ends with a thriving economy, and government needs to get out of the way and get off the backs of people who are actually trying to start companies. I know, because that's what I've been doing for 10 years. It's hard. It's difficult enough to actually try to grow a company, to find investors, to hire people, to find a customer -- it's hard enough doing that, let along trying to deal with your local government and pay taxes. What we need to do for the graduates of these universities is give them a compelling reason to stay. And that compelling reason is personal and professional opportunity. Now we have a beautiful city, we have a naturally beautiful city, and that's great. But we can have the most beautiful city in the world, and if there's nowhere for people to work, there's not much you can do about that. So we need to create a thriving economy.
Ravenstahl: We need to partner with Carnegie Mellon University, we need to partner with the University of Pittsburgh, we need to partner with Duquesne. And we've done that. We've listened to them, and I'll give you an example of what we were able to achieve already as an administration. Shortly after I became the mayor, it was evident through discussions and outreach with the university community that the need for wetlab high-tech biotech space was here in the city of Pittsburgh. We had the Second Avenue Pittsburgh Technology Center that hadn't seen a building go up since 2001. We've neglected and abandoned that property. So what did we do? We talked to the state, and our partners in Harrisburg and we put together a plan. We put together a deal that's going to build 150,000 more square feet of wetlab, high-tech and biotech space, so that those ideas that are generated at Carnegie Mellon University in the lab, or at the University of Pittsburgh, have an opportunity to create a start-up company, have an opportunity to spin-off and create jobs. The reality is that we are providing opportunities to do that. The 150,000-square-foot of wetlab high-tech biotech space is just the start. Studies indicate that over the next 10 years we're going to need roughly 1 million square feet of that type of lab space in the city of Pittsburgh. That's the future of this economy, that's how you're going to keep CMU students, Duquesne students, University of Pittsburgh students, here.
DeSantis: Building office space doesn't get it done. We have a glut of office space. When I started my company, we went out to find space, we can find it anywhere. It's nice to have some high-tech wetlab space, but in the end it's not about entrepreneurs can't start businesses because they can't find a place to locate their office. It's a deeper issue. It's getting back to fundamentals. It's creating a truly fertile soil for companies to grow and to start. And as I said previously, one of the things we need to do is relieve the tax burden and fees and all those burdens that you have when a company is trying to get started. We need to encourage entrepreneurship in every aspect of the community. And as mayor, it's more than just trying to create these incentives. It's talking about entrepreneurship, it's bringing entrepreneurs in, it's talking about it in a way where somebody really understands it and has been there and done that. That's the challenge we face, and that's what's needed.
Ravenstahl: I think if you look around Pittsburgh, I think my opponent is painting this bleak picture of nothing is happening in Pittsburgh when that's not the case. We have $3 billion in investment happening right now in the city of Pittsburgh. That's from the north to the south, to the east to the west to Downtown. It's happening, the reality is that it is. When we talk about government and its role, we have to be an advocate for development, not an obstacle as we currently are. What we've done for the permitting process -- and I only have a minute so I'll summarize as quickly as I can -- what used to take two months, three months, six months, who knows how long, to obtain a building permit, my administration has implemented a plan for minor residential and commercial projects, that you can walk into city government Thursday morning at 9 a.m., and you can walk out of city government Thursday afternoon, and you'll have that building permit in hand. It's the beginning of our way to be more efficient as government, to look at and deal with these investors in a more professional way, and to provide the opportunities that currently are not being provided. Government has to do more beyond that, and we're going to continue to do that under my administration.
Caruso: One more question, and this last question is specifically for Mr. DeSantis, but we'll of course have the mayor jump in. And it comes from the audience and it says, "Mr. DeSantis, you worked in the first Bush White House and Department of Commerce during a time when the administration racked up a huge record national debt. What were your qualifications then, and how does that qualify you to solve the fiscal problems of the city?"
DeSantis: Well, when I sat down with the president and I told him we were spending too much money … I'm kidding. Look, I'm proud of my service, I'm proud of my service working in the White House. I'm very proud of my service working for Senator John Heinz. I know that some people, my opponent has been attacking me perhaps for being Republican. To be very blunt, I'm very proud of having worked for Senator John Heinz. And it was quite an honor to have worked for the President of the United States.
DeSantis: People say that Pittsburghers don't want change, that they're reluctant to change. Those people are wrong -- very, very wrong. When I go out in the community and I talk to people, they're ready to change. Pittsburghers may need a little bit more convincing than other folks, maybe, and they have a right to be a little cynical. Because after all their government over the last 30, 40, 50 years hasn't changed much. But the city that they government has. And what we need to do is give that possibility for change a chance. When I go around to people, our message resonates. People listen. They believe in our message. They agree with our message. What they're doubtful of is that anything is going to change. And I want to tell them, "You're absolutely wrong. Everything can change, if you believe and you're willing to make that commitment. " If you give me that opportunity, I'll deliver that change for you. Thank you very much.
Ravenstahl: As you can see form my remarks this evening, I am convinced that the future of this great city is bright. But I also understand, and I commit every day to working hard to achieve those goals. When the mantle of leadership was passed on to me, when Mayor O'Connor passed away, I took the duty head-on, hit the ground running, and led with energy, enthusiasm, and hope. In the last 13 months, I have accomplished many things. I've been able to build my team. I have refined and defined an agenda for Pittsburgh. But as I said before, much work remains to be done. Let me tell you about what I see in the future.
I see a city with a balanced budget. This month I presented our second consecutive structurally balanced budget. While some people keep on insisting that this city is broke, I have put $90 million into the bank to begin to address the huge debts that my administration has inherited. I see financial strength in this city's future.
The city of my future offers good, 21st century jobs. We are partnering with our universities to see that companies that start here are able to stay here. I am working diligently to streamline our processes in city government to encourage new companies, both large and small, to either locate here or have the opportunity to continue to grow here. Government, as I said earlier, must be an advocate for development, not an obstacle. I see a city that has the opportunity to grow 21st century jobs.
I see a diverse city. When I first became mayor, I traveled into many neighborhoods, and discovered first-hand just how diverse Pittsburgh really is. Strong, vital cities see diversity as the rich resource that it is. In order to chart the future of Pittsburgh as a strong and vibrant city, we must do a better job of diversifying the city's residents and its workforce. I see a city with safe streets and clean communities. In 2008, without increasing taxes or mortgaging our future, I found the dollars necessary to double the city of Pittsburgh's demolition budget. Just this week, the city's bulldozers knocked down a vacant house that was once known as a danger to the community with over 30 weapons seized over the course of its tenure.
The elimination of decayed structures will fight blight and increase public safety. I see a better neighborhood in this city's future. When I tie it all together, I see a city with bustling streets, new storefronts, and 21st century jobs. In other words, I see a city with an exceptional quality of life. I believe that together we can achieve these goals, and I humbly ask you to join me, and support me, in the November 6 election. Thank you very much.
Caruso: Thanks to both candidates. We certainly appreciate your being here tonight. But before we go tonight, we want to hear from two other people involved in this race. First let's bring up Socialist Worker Party [candidate] Ryan Scott.
Ryan Scott: Cool. Thank you, Tonia. My name is Ryan Scott, I'm the Socialist Workers candidate for mayor. My campaign represents the interests of the working class. Capitalism continues to deepen its crisis. Their drive for profit, unceasing competition, the credit market, the housing market, people see this on the horizon. And the exploiting class' answer is to grind away at the conditions that working people face at the cost of our lives and limb. That's the reality. Cuts in our wages, safety on the job, benefits, the pension question.
My campaign supports, and looks toward, organizing and supporting workers uses unions, the one tool that we have to defend ourselves on the job and strengthen the labor movement. And we call for people to take action, join in the struggles, go down to Jena, Louisiana to demand justice for the Jena 6. To go to antiwar actions, to stand up for a woman's right to choose here in the city. And the source of this crisis, the drive for profits, their markets extends to abroad. That's why I speak about it. And it's right now under the guise of a war on terror. But working people have no interest in supporting the war.
My campaign is different because it offers a working-class political program, and a working-class alternative to the twin parties of capitalism. We say it's not who you're against, it's what you're for. And my only promise is, not that if you vote for me I'll change everything, but we'll fight together. We'll be on the picket line, we'll be there in any different action in the interests of working people.
Just to finish up, it's a bipartisan attack. Just the last couple days, Onorato announced going after bus drivers' wages as a solution to the budget crisis. Candidate DeSantis talks about cutting in half workers comp, which means denying claims to thousands of workers that get injured on the job. It shows that there is no difference when it comes down to the class question. So, one last thing, my campaign raises the issues that label us as a distraction, we're not about Pittsburgh. But there's two Pittsburghs: There's one of working people, and one of the wealthy and the boss class. And that's why they work to try to largely exclude me [and] make my ideas seem irrelevant. But thousands of people supported in East Liberty, Bloomfield, Squirrel Hill [where] I've had discussions and I've campaigned every day. My name is Ryan, I work in a sewing-machine plant in the area here in the area. I was a coal miner in the last couple years, and if you're interested you can read the Militant newspaper. It's got coverage on world politics.
Caruso: Following Ryan, Tony Oliva from the Libertarian Party.
Tony Oliva: Good evening. I'd first like to thank the outpouring of support I got to actually be here tonight. I wasn't initially invited to this debate, nor any of the upcoming debates. It's going to be pretty interesting when I actually win this election. Some people might have some egg on their face, but that's quite all right.
Now, the way I see Pittsburgh right now -- or the way I see the two candidates to the left of me -- I see it as a choice between painting a bare room. And you have a choice right now of people who debated here tonight, between painting it eggshell-white or mother-of-pearl white. They even look like they have the same tailor. Now, maybe a splash of color is just what this city might need. I listened, I sat up there and listened to what they had to say, and I've heard things like this before. I've heard it all before. It's the same political rhetoric that Republicans and Democrats spew at each other. And I think it's time that we hear a different voice.
With me, I can safely say that the buck stops here. As mayor, if the city continues to stay in trouble, I wouldn't accept my full pay because any sane person who doesn't do the job shouldn't get 100 percent of their own benefits or a pay raise. And that would extent to city council and any appointed official. That's just a personal little quirk of mine.
Basically my idea for the city, put things back on track. Lower taxes for the working people, lower taxes for small businesses to increase the ability for small businesses to work here, or to start and have better jobs. Right now, even if you have a job in Pittsburgh, likely after coming out of college you're under-employed. You're not getting paid what you're worth, and what you paid $40,000 for that little piece of paper called the diploma for. Now, people say, "Tony, you talk about the young college graduates too often." And I do. But it's not only them that my ideas will benefit. It's also older Pennsylvanians, because if the younger people keep leaving, then the tax burden will pass on to older Pennsylvanians, people near retirement, people who are retired. People on a fixed income. And when you're on a fixed income and you're being taxed more, you have to get another job or leave the city. Now me, I'm 28 years old, and getting a second job -- no problem. I can take care of that. But when you've worked 40 years of your life, and you're enjoying the golden years and have your grandchildren you should be playing with, you shouldn't have to go be a greeter at Wal-Mart in order to cover up city government's mistakes and squandering of your money.
As a city, we need to be more inclusive, be more welcoming to new ideas, to all peoples. A big complaint I've heard about Pittsburgh is we're an old, white town. We need to offer more opportunities for more diversity in our city, and be welcoming to all peoples. Because right now, that will make us a better and stronger, and more welcoming place for everyone. We can start by including a Libertarian in the next mayoral debate. Thank you.
Caruso: Thank you. And thank you all for coming tonight.