Author: Allison Albitz
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Rev. John C. Welch arrived at the Everyday Café in Homewood. Meeting at the African American owned establishment illustrated where his priorities lie: with the community.
The café, established in 2016, is Pittsburgh’s first cashless coffee shop. The Everyday Café was the brainchild of Bible Center Church, and the profits from the shop go directly to community programs, primarily focused on entrepreneurship, youth development and education.
After viewing numerous photos of Welch giving speeches and attending events in business suits, I expected the same level for formality. Welch entered the coffee shop in a sweatshirt and tennis shoes, looking comfortable. Though his general demeanor is casual, his passion for the city of Pittsburgh is anything but.
“I felt that too many people in Pittsburgh were being left out, their voices not being included in the decision-making,” Welch said, explaining his reason for running. “I like some of the development that’s taking place in the city, but it’s not really helping the Pittsburgh residents.”
Welch has four main points that comprise his campaign platform: creating a safe city; building fair, equitable and green communities; responsible economic development and investing in public education.
On the issue of creating a safe city, Welch spoke about two of his main concerns: gun violence and Pittsburgh’s environmental cleanliness. “I do want to put attention on gun violence, and I think we have gun violence in our cities because they’re aren’t many opportunities for many people that are culprits in this activity,” he said.
On environmental concerns, Welch cited carcinogens in the air and lead in the water as major issues he plans to address in cooperation with organizations like GASP (the Group Against Smog and Pollution). “The fact that Pittsburgh has lead levels as high as the levels in Flint[, Michigan], and has been allowed to increase over 16 years, I think is a failure of our elected officials not paying attention to those important issues,” he said.
On the issue of fair, equitable and green communities, Welch discussed the issue of affordable housing. “I definitely want to do more housing for low-income and medium-income families. Make sure that we have a better ratio mix of medium and low income as opposed to what seems to be the current mix of 30% low and 60% market, which leads to displacement of a lot of residents,” he said.
As far as the “green” component of this issue, Welch discussed ecological development. “I’m also looking at the creating green spaces, so much of the community development that we do should keep in mind how do we make this city more and more green. How do we deal with rainwater runoff, create bio swells in some areas where there may be heavy rainwater runoffs, which continue to flood our rivers.”
In terms of responsible economic development, Welch intends to address the high levels of poverty in the city. “So these 8, 9, 10 dollar, 11 dollar an hour jobs are not getting people out of poverty. So, concentrated poverty and racialized concentrated poverty are killing our system, our city. And so we have to provide jobs that give family-sustaining wages,” he said. He also plans to re-file a lawsuit against UPMC, demanding that the corporation pay property and payroll taxes. Former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl originally filed the suit, which current Mayor Bill Peduto inherited. The suit was ultimately dropped because the corporation was declared to be within the parameters of a nonprofit.
To invest in public education, Welch said that he hopes to build a better relationship between city government and the school district, especially in regards to creating community schools. He is also interested in what the city has to offer children outside of schools.
“We can also invest in some of the other accouterments within the city, so the neighborhood parks, the rec centers, the things that we used to have years ago, that gave activities for students to do, kids to do, outside of school. Rely on organizations like Girls and Boy Club, and the YMCA and YWCA, and how can we partner with those organizations to make sure that our communities have the assets that they need in order to have access to the things our kids need.”
In terms of long term plans for the city, Welch plans to create an inclusive city and a more livable city. He spoke of his priority of welcoming refugees and immigrants, as well as the emphasis he will place on the African American community. “Pittsburgh ranks number one in the country as far as African American children under the age of five living in poverty. We rank number one in the country as far as working age African American men between the ages of 16 and 64 living in poverty. Those aren’t statistics of a city that’s most livable.”
He also spoke about his emphasis on the next generation of Pittsburghers. “So one of the things that I sort of want to create a matrix of is student retention rate. So students in the Pittsburgh schools, when they graduate, what is the acceptance rates of our Pittsburgh students in our universities and colleges, and what is the percentage of our college graduates that get hired by our corporations and businesses in the city? So, for me, it’s Pittsburgh first,” he said.
Welch placed a large emphasis on the importance of student political involvement. “This campaign is a movement. It’s about getting people like you, you know, the millennials, those who are in college, those who are Gen X, really engaged in the political dynamics and civil discourse. To make Pittsburgh the place that they want it to be.”
On the reason he would be the best candidate for mayor, Welch cited his extensive constituency. He has strong ties to the African American and Latino communities. He serves as the head chaplain for the Pittsburgh police, previously served as the president of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, and is currently a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Business and Ethics. Additionally, he has 22 years experience in information systems and a PhD in health care ethics. “I have a really broad background and I have a broad reach, and one of my skillsets is bringing people together.”
Welch’s passion for the city stems from spending his whole life here. He specifically spoke about the city’s diversity. “There’s a lot of mixtures of cultures, ethnicities that’s been our heritage, and something we should be celebrating. We should celebrate the diversity, and not use tools to divide people or pit them against each other. So I think the city has a lot of potential, and I want to stay here and live to see it come to fruition.”
The primary election will be held on May 16, 2017 and the mayoral election will be held on November 7, 2017.