What Pittsburgh Mayoral Race Tells Us About Pols’ Views On Nonprofits

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April 3, 2013; Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

We don’t mean to make Pittsburgh too much of a focal point for the NPQ Newswire, but this story unites two different themes of several items. Pittsburgh has long been a problematic city regarding payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), particularly under outgoing mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who recently initiated legal action challenging the tax-exempt status of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). But Ravenstahl isn’t running for reelection, making the electoral prospects of several politicians to replace him in City Hall a bellwether mayoral contest about what a pro-nonprofit mayor looks and sounds like given the variety of competing pressures and constraints on municipal government leaders.

An NPQ Newswire about upcoming mayoral contests suggested that it is very tough to pick the candidate who’s most pro-nonprofit, but maybe less so in Pittsburgh. Four of the Democratic candidates to succeed Ravenstahl showed up for a debate at the University of Pittsburgh earlier this week, though one had to leave after apologizing for his arrest for drunken driving.

Both City Councilman Bill Peduto and Auditor General Jack Wagner announced their support of Ravenstahl’s litigation against UPMC. State Representative Jake Wheatley suggested a less adversarial approach, negotiating with UPMC rather than pursuing a court challenge that “can take many, many years to work through.”

However, the issue isn’t one of getting a fast deal cut with UPMC. Rather, it is looking at nonprofits, if they are open to the discussion, as partners with city government rather than courthouse defendants. Hopefully, Pittsburgh’s nonprofit sector will ask the four candidates, once candidate A.J. Richardson gets past his guilty plea for drunken driving, what they really mean by supporting litigation or pursuing negotiations. As the Illinois Donors’ Forum public policy director, Delia Coleman, told us on Twitter: the issue is what the candidates see as the “quality and sustainability of their partnerships” with the nonprofit sector.

There’s no nifty algorithm to use. Nonprofits will have to push and dig to reveal the candidates’ core values on nonprofits. There’s no gimmick to figuring out which candidates will be attentive and responsive to nonprofits once they cross the threshold of the office of mayor. –Rick Cohen