By Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor
Many seats were left unfilled at what were scheduled to be the first two mayoral candidate debates on Monday and Tuesday.
“I don’t need the microphone,” Democratic candidate Bill Peduto said on Tuesday at The Car Barn, Hazelwood’s Senior Center. “There have been so few debates, I still have my voice unlike in the primary [election].”
The first event held at Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church on Monday was attended by 22 voters and only one candidate: Peduto.
The forum was attended by mostly members of the Lincoln Place Presbyterian Church who use the space to meet regularly.
The room was largely uninhabited, the refreshments table almost untouched and the long table in front of the speaker remained completely vacant.
Both the Republican candidate Joshua Wander and Independent candidate Les Ludwig were invited to the forum on Monday.
“I don’t think we’re going to be having any debates,” Peduto said to the nearly empty room.
Wander has yet to return to Pittsburgh to campaign. Wander is a security consultant and is currently working in Israel. He has yet to set a determinative return date.
Bill Hillen, a representative for Wander’s campaign, said that Wander “will be returning shortly, within a week.”
The second forum was slightly more attended. Peduto and Ludwig came to pitch their campaign, and Hillen was in attendance to represent Wander. Voters, 35 in total, came to the Hazelwood center to fill out their notecards with questions for the candidates.
Being the first time that all of the candidates have been represented in the same location, the speakers made the best of the small crowd.
“We’ve seen a lot of things go in this city. You don’t want to say that ‘I blame this person or that person.’ Because it’s not one person’s fault. It’s pretty much every one of these empty chair’s fault,” Hillen said in reference to the low attendance of the forum. “You people are here tonight because you are concerned… there is no important time in your life than a municipal election cycle.”
Wander’s empty chair forced Hillen to address concerns from the crowd about Wander’s absence.
“Josh isn’t a career politician. He works for a living. He has six kids and has to support his family. Sometimes his work takes him out of the country,” Hillen said. “I’ve tried to find out exactly what he’s doing, especially in Russia, but he won’t tell me … he does diplomatic security and stuff like that”
By and large, reform of local government was the message of the day.
“Right now, city government is a mess,” Peduto said. “This city is small enough that we can do things that it will happen and it’s big enough that people around the world will look and take notice.”
Ludwig, 80, said he is “looking at the city in a different way” and urged voters to give him a chance to address problems in city hall.
“Les wants to be in the chair, study the problem and pull it apart,” Ludwig said on Tuesday. “[Previous mayors] have had really good ideas, but how much of it was air? Les isn’t talking about air.”
However, Wander’s absence did not completely prevent Hillen from speaking about the campaign and Wander’s plans if elected. Hillen asked the crowd to “give us a chance.”
“We’re going have a proactive public works department instead of a reactive public works department,” Hillen said. “We’re going to have a proactive police department instead of reactive.”
The candidates are scheduled to meet one more time before the Nov. 5 election in a forum hosted by WTAE on Oct. 29.