Mayoral candidates meet sans Ravenstahl

By Michael Macagnone

There was a mayoral debate last night, but the mayor wasn’t there.

The two Independent candidates for Pittsburgh’s mayor, Franco Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin, spoke to about a dozen Pitt students at the Student Government Board-sponsored event in David Lawrence Hall last night.

“Where’s Luke?” Acklin asked, referring to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. The mayor, who is both the Democratic and Republican parties’ candidate, canceled Sunday morning, SGB government relations chair Nick Trainer said.

Harris and Acklin both spoke for half an hour about the city’s budget crisis and other issues and then opened up to questions.

Harris proposed using “found money” through dialogue with state legislators from new taxes on table games, rather than taxing college students.

Acklin, who spoke second, said that he didn’t understand Ravenstahl’s proposal to tax students’ tuition, when the city needs to do everything that it can to keep young people here. He said that Ravenstahl did it because there was no way for students to hold him accountable.

“He doesn’t believe you guys have political power,” Acklin said.

Both candidates encouraged students to go out and vote, saying that this election is very important to their future as students.

Harris said that the long-term solution to the city’s budget problems would be to increase Pittsburgh’s population by luring college graduates with “transition jobs,” or entry-level jobs in their field. He said that once they get a job in Pittsburgh, they’re more likely to stay in the city.

Both said they want to move back toward community-oriented policing, where police walk their beats and build relationships with the community to help prevent crime rather than react to it.

Acklin said he would promote development that would benefit neighborhoods. He discussed money sources, such as arena revenue, that could help run community centers and pools for the neighborhoods that host them.

The candidates made few references to each other’s policies, but made several critiques of the Ravenstahl administration.

Harris called for more transparency in city government and government motivated “by vision, not politics.”

Acklin agreed with Harris and said that Ravenstahl listens to corporate interests more than the community.

Some students were disappointed by the low turnout and the mayor’s absence.

“He’s going up for election, and he won’t even talk to people,” Pitt Law student Arianne Gallagher said.

Trainer gave a brief biography of both candidates before they spoke.

Harris was born on the North Side, attended Princeton University and a joint JD/MBA program at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business.

Acklin grew up in South Oakland, attended Harvard University and then received his law degree from Georgetown University.

Ravenstahl’s campaign office and Joanna Doven, the spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, could not be reached for comment.