Black voters organizing in Pittsburgh mayor race

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Former Pittsburgh City Councilman Sala Udin is heading a group that will hold the city’s first convention of black voters to endorse one of four Democrat candidates for mayor, support that could sway the election in a city where more than a quarter of residents are black.


Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has decided not to run for re-election. Democrats running in the May 21 primary are Councilman Bill Peduto and former state auditor general Jack Wagner, community activist Abdula Jamal Richardson and state Rep. Jake Wheatley.


“With a wide-open field, we have a great opportunity for applying leverage,” said Udin, who left office in 2006.


Peduto and Wagner, who are white, are considered the favorites, and Wheatley said neither he nor Richardson, who are both black, should expect the convention’s endorsement simply because of their race.


“Every vote should be earned in this race,” Wheatley said.


All black registered voters in the city are invited to the convention April 20 at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, and those who are not registered to vote are invited to do so at the convention.


Blacks compose 26.1 percent of the city’s population, a voting bloc that could be powerful if harnessed, Democratic strategist Mike Mikus said.


“There’s a very good chance that the African-American vote that breaks one way or another in large numbers can determine who the winner is,” Mikus said.


The convention’s endorsement will go to one of the Democrats running in the primary, which, in Pittsburgh, often amounts to the de facto general election. Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 and the city hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since the Great Depression.


Josh Wander, a consultant and state constable, is the only Republican candidate.


Peduto, Wagner, Wheatley, or their surrogates, said all three candidates welcome the chance to seek the endorsement. Richardson, however, said he might boycott the event.


A political novice who is considered the long-shot in the race, though he eschews that term, Richardson said, “I’m not in favor of terms like `black agenda.’ I don’t think there should be an agenda that is only geared toward one group of people.”


Candidates must temper their response to any one special interest or voting bloc, said Gerald Shuster, a University of Pittsburgh professor of political communication.


“They’re going to have to respect the black community and elements of the agenda, but they can’t focus on that exclusively, especially at the expense of the rest of the city,” Shuster said.


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