The four Democratic candidates for Mayor of Pittsburgh are incumbent Bill Peduto and his challengers State Representative Ed Gainey, retired police officer Tony Moreno, and community organizer Mike Thompson.
Their answers to our voter guide questions for the May 18, 2021 Primary Election are below. Mike Thompson did not specifically answer our three questions; his response can be found at the bottom of this page.
You can also watch the Facebook video of our April 8 nonpartisan Mayoral Forum with the four candidates answering our questions about economic justice, housing justice, and environmental justice as well as audience questions.
1) What causes hunger and food insecurity in our city/county, and what policies will you support or implement to address this beyond support for emergency or charitable food distribution?
Gainey: Food insecurity and hunger are products of the economic inequality affecting our region. Pennsylvania’s low minimum wage of $7.25/hr, and particularly the lower $2.83/hr minimum wage for tipped workers largely working in the food service industry, are poverty wages that place access to adequate and healthy nutrition out of reach for many families.
As a State Legislator I have fought to increase the PA minimum wage to a living wage of at least $15/hr, and if elected Mayor I’m committed to standing with workers at our region’s largest employers as they fight for higher wages and union rights in their workplaces, which has the potential to change the wage scale in our entire region and reduce the income inequality impacting our communities. I’m also committed to an aggressive affordable housing strategy that will reduce the financial burden of housing on Pittsburgh residents, leaving them with more income to meet other basic needs, like healthy food.
Moreno: Food insecurity is a financial problem and hunger is a derivative of that problem.
- City sponsored training for city employees in Identifying people suffering from mental illness, addiction or medical issues that prevent them from obtaining food or services related to obtaining food.
- Partnering with school and child care in identifying children that are in need and follow up with non criminal actions to provide services in an empathetic non judgmental persistent structure.
- Continual follow up and identification measures that allow for the humane and helpful reporting of those in need that would not otherwise ask for help.
- Automated cross referencing through city, county and state systems that allow for mental health and medical emergencies as well as other connected programs or systems.
- Create transparent and direct community programs by community members to serve their community members. Provide school volunteer credit and reward programs for participation.
Peduto: One in five Pittsburgh residents suffer from food insecurity – this is more than twice the national average. This is the result of low wages and lack of opportunities, especially in communities of color. The City of Pittsburgh can intervene through leadership and collaboration to ensure that
every resident has access to healthy food. In the short term, through Citiparks, we’ve distributed food to families with the After School Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program. These programs, in conjunction with the Grab N’ Go meal and snack distribution program alleviate some of these problems, but there needs to be a more long term solution. During this pandemic alone, we have distributed over a half a million meals to families and seniors in need.
Especially for our Black and Brown neighbors, the availability of food and the quality of those options is limited. Not every neighborhood, especially those in low income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, has a grocery store that is within walking distance with fresh food options. I started the Avenues of Hope initiative to revitalize commercial corridors in Black neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. A cornerstone of this plan is creating greater access to healthy foods in these neighborhoods. Everyone deserves to have access to fresh food, as a right and not a privilege. Through the investments in Black neighborhoods, and bringing back more fresh food options for all our neighbors, we can begin to make all our areas food oases.
Through our partnership with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, we are developing a program to empower residents to learn about local food systems and how to build equity measures to identify healthy food priority areas to build a more comprehensive city-wide response to health
disparities. Our Food Ambassador program, starting this Spring will build off of the programs and policies we’ve already built like our Adopt-a-Lot program and
There’s work to be done on the federal level as well. I have lobbied the federal government to get Pennsylvania to be allowed to accept SNAP benefits for online grocery shopping, and changed the policy to allow the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets.
2) What will you do to improve Pittsburgh/Allegheny County residents’ access to healthy, affordable food? Should the following assets play a role? If so, what should the city government do to strengthen them?
A. Public transportation
Gainey: Robust, accessible public transportation infrastructure is critical to providing adequate food access. The low income communities facing food insecurity and hunger are also the least likely to have access to a car, Making transit the most practical transportation option for grocery shopping for many. Strong transit connections between low-income communities and food access points is therefore essential. As a legislator, I have fought for adequate state funding for mass transit, and as Mayor I would continue to actively engage with the legislature to ensure that the Port Authority receives the resources it needs to provide Pittsburghers with safe, reliable transit options. I would also partner with the Port Authority Board and County government to ensure that transit service is equitable and responsive to the needs of low-income communities, people with disabilities, and others with acute needs.
- Utilize the community leaders and target underserved neighborhoods for improved bus access.
- Target stops for improvement of, or construction of, bus shelters.
- Repair city steps closest to bus stops first, then follow-up with all others city-wide.
- Increase smaller handicap accessible buses for seniors and special needs and have them routed to specifically to farmers markets on their chosen days.
- Work and encourage all public transportation to use clean burning natural gas until new proven technology is available.
Peduto: The key part of my 2070 Mobility Plan is making sure that every resident can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes travel of their home without a car. This means making our neighborhoods more multi-modal transit accessible.
Secondly, we need to eliminate transit deserts. I have partnered with the Port Authority to discuss how streets can be more accommodating to public transportation to ensure that everyone has access.
B. Corner stores in low-income neighborhoods
Gainey: In addition to making it easier for people to get to grocery stores and other existing food access points, we need to bring those access points closer to them. If elected Mayor I’m open to working with the Food Policy Council to explore the Food Action Plan recommendation on amending Pittsburgh’s zoning laws to allow more corner stores in residential neighborhoods as a way to bring healthy food into walking distance of more residents, and in working with Just Harvest and the Health Department to expand implementation of the Fresh Corners program within the city.
- Food supply and access in under served neighborhoods has been and still is a major problem.
- Acquiring abandoned buildings in targeted areas and preparing them for use by trained city employees. Finding partners to provide start up equipment, (coolers, shelving, registers, signage and creating ownership opportunity.
- Small business training, budget management, spreadsheets and computer skills. Bank accounts, business accounts, wholesale outlet memberships (restaurant depot), partnerships with local farms and community agriculture.
- Business mentorship, customer service, the difference between providing a service and giving away products to help.
Peduto: Just Harvest’s Fresh Corners program has been critical to having existing small groceries carry fresh produce items and encourage these owners to provide more options. We need to make sure that healthy food is available to people where they are. While there may not be a Giant
Eagle in every neighborhood, there are corner stores. These can be the places where we have more fresh fruits and vegetables. But it is imperative that we do the outreach necessary so that people know that these options are available in their own neighborhoods.
C. Farmers markets
Gainey: Our region’s network of farmer’s markets is a vital source of fresh food, but as the Food Action Plan points out, access could be improved by expanding into more neighborhoods, improving coordination between city-run and other markets to reduce competition over vendors, and adding more year-round options.
- Continued partnerships with local farmers.
- Incentives for local farmers to partner with local shop owners through waiver of permit fees or farmers market participation fees, parking permits etc.
- Work opportunities from local workforce through participating farms and shop owners.
- Target and create more frequent and accessible markets adjusting for our fluctuating weather while providing ride sharing or delivery service (not police officers)
Peduto: We have partnered with Just Harvest to create the Food Bucks program. We distribute $2 vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables for every $5 of SNAP purchases at retail locations throughout the city. Since 2018, this program has provided over $50,000 for shoppers to buy fresh produce in Pittsburgh.
D. Urban agriculture
Gainey: Like corner stores and farmers markets, urban farms are key to making healthy food available in underserved communities. If elected Mayor, I would work with Council and environmental advocates to enact a comprehensive lead safety ordinance to help address lead contamination in soil, and use the power of the Land Bank and strategies like Community Land Trusts to make more lots available to urban farmers, including ownership opportunities.
- Should be community driven and community maintained with city assistance with existing city properties that are not better served with other forms of commerce.
- Create partners and develop year-round growth opportunities through the use of self contained green structures that can provide produce in any conditions and be kept in the communities where grown.
Peduto: Under my administration, we have expanded the use of urban agriculture. I started the Adopt-a-lot program to make it easier for people to reuse vacant lots in their neighborhoods; and I created the first urban agriculture guidelines, which give step-by-step instructions on how to start your own community gardens. These farms can bring fresh vegetables to places that
cannot sustain grocery stores. We’ve partnered with the Hilltop Alliance to start the Hilltop Urban Farm in St. Clair, which will be the largest urban farm in the country. Our plan is to use this space to not only feed neighborhood hilltops, but also use it to teach.
3) What policies, if any, would you support or implement to ensure that low-income communities and communities of color are equitably served by the supermarket industry?
Gainey: One of the key drivers of food access inequality in Pittsburgh are development patterns that are concentrating grocery stores and other food access points in increasingly affluent areas, while food access declines in historically low-income neighborhoods where people of color are increasingly concentrated. I’m committed to using the city’s economic development tools and planning leverage to extract greater community benefits from development projects, which can include greater options for food access in low-income communities.
- Supermarkets should be just that in our underserved neighborhoods. Markets that provide not only fresh foods but basic household needs also.
- City support through basic business models of success meeting the challenges of the community payment method. Department of Agriculture payment for EBT payment runs three months slow and puts store owners in immediate trouble and prevents stores from operating in certain communities. Provide incentives to ease the financial burden of that lag so stores can continue to operate.
- Ensure security and shortage protection while identifying those offenders that are suffering from addiction, mental illness and lack of food availability. Follow up with wrap-around services that provide food.
Peduto: There are multiple parts of this question. It goes deeper than just offering incentives for supermarkets to open in these communities. The most important part of this conversation is pushing local and federally to raise wages to give low-income communities the economic power
they need to sustain these markets. Short of that, the Adopt-a-lot program I have championed can provide more short term relief. Residents can repurpose unused land, and grow food for their homes and communities. Even if there aren’t supermarkets in these communities, we can
work with small mom-and-pop businesses and corner stores to provide healthy food options. Finally, we need to explore new models of getting food to people, like mobile grocery stores. Brick and mortar stores are not the only answer to making sure we feed communities.
Low wages, insufficient good jobs, and a lack of affordable housing are the causes of much hunger and food insecurity of Pittsburgh. We need more affordable housing. I live in affordable housing. I am a public housing resident of 13 years.
My campaign is the only one that refuses to take corporation and developer money, meaning I am the only candidate that can overcome the hurdles that are put in the way of creating more affordable housing. The developers cannot bribe me as they have bribed my opponents, so they can expect no tax cuts or special favors from me. I want more affordable housing, all Bill Peduto builds is luxury housing. Which then he gets bribes for in his campaign bank account. These legal bribes are called campaign contributions from developers.
We need a mini food bank in every public housing project like the one I live in. We need extensive healthy vending machines in every public housing project like the one I live in. A year ago all vending machines were removed and Bill Peduto has failed to put back any vending machines or feed the public housing residents at all.
We used to have public housing tenant councils which have their own funding. We used that funding to have special get togethers at which free food was plentiful. When we at Finello Pavilion tried to set up a tenant council again, we were openly mocked and demeaned. Atrocious evil housing authority employees said there were already enough tenant councils and they didn’t like them. Those employees need to be fired. Get new housing authority employees in charge of tenant councils. Tenant councils help housing authority residents feed themselves but Bill Peduto’s administration is hostile to democracy and hostile to feeding the poor.
This Thanksgiving housing authority staff did such an awful job that I personally had to deliver all of the free Thanksgiving meals from the police to people in my building for the housing authority. They don’t feed us. They don’t help us. We are left on our own. Let’s change that.