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Pittsburgh Voters Weigh Real-life Concerns in ’08 Nominating Choices

Voters in Pennsylvania took to the polls Tuesday to have their say in the tight Democratic primary contest. In a new Big Picture report, a panel of Pittsburgh voters discusses how their real-life concerns are impacting their vote choices.

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    We decided to take advantage of our visit to Pennsylvania this week to hold another in our series of Big Picture conversations with voters who are applying their real-time concerns to their presidential decisions.

    Last night, Jeffrey Brown gathered a group of them here at WQED in Pittsburgh.


    And we've gathered a group of local citizens to talk about their hopes and concerns for their city and what's at stake in the election.

    We have supporters of all three remaining major party candidates.

    Backing Barack Obama, Khari Mosley, national political director of the League of Young Voters, and chairman of Pittsburgh's 22nd ward; Abby Wilson, co-founder of Great Lakes Urban Exchange, a project dedicated to the revitalization of Rust Belt cities; and Dr. Alan Russell, director of the McGowan Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

    Supporting Hillary Clinton, Sylvia Wilson, an elementary school teacher currently working for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Union; Bill Donnelly, a retired steelworker, he worked for 32 years for the Continental Can Company; and Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation, which works on women's issues in local government and business.

    And backing John McCain, Justin Lokay, a city councilman for East McKeesport, a suburb of Pittsburgh, and chairman of the Allegheny County Young Republicans; Barbara Bower, an immigration lawyer; and Glen Meakem, a former U.S. Army Reserve captain who has founded several technology companies.

    And welcome to all of you.

    Abby Wilson, I'll start with you. You grew up here. You went away. You came back with a mission. What did you find when you came back? And what did you want to do?

  • ABBY WILSON, Great Lakes Urban Exchange:

    I was very pleased to discover when I returned to Pittsburgh that the city I left in 1998 had made a lot of very positive progress.

    I still think there's a lot of work to be done here and other cities like Pittsburgh across what we will hopefully no longer call the Rust Belt or the Great Lakes region.


    Bill Donnelly, you've probably seen more changes here than anybody on our panel.

  • BILL DONNELLY, Retired Steelworker:

    I think I have.


    And what have you seen?


    It's all going downhill. We used to be a manufacturing area. I'm not only talking about Pittsburgh. I'll go as far away as Uniontown. And it's just a trickle-down society.

    And once the steel mills and the manufacturing went out of Pittsburgh, then everything went out. And we have to get back into manufacturing.


    Glen Meakem, how would you assess the strengths and weaknesses of Pittsburgh today?

  • GLEN MEAKEM, Venture Capitalist:

    Well, Pittsburgh is a terrific community to raise a family. It's a very friendly place. It's a blend of eastern sophistication and Midwestern values and family.

    We have great universities and great strengths, but we don't grow. And the reason we don't grow is we have taxes that are just too high and government that's too big.


    Sylvia Wilson, you grew up here, stayed here. If I'm a candidate coming from outside to Pittsburgh, what should I know?

    SYLVIA WILSON, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers: We have a lot of caring people here, but we also have a very changing population because of a lot of needs that aren't currently being addressed as properly as they should be, in terms of housing, rebuilding neighborhoods, hospitalization, even though we have wonderful hospital and medical facilities here.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people who are citizens in Pittsburgh can't really afford it, don't have medical coverage. That's very key.


    And, Alan Russell, you're a transplant to this country and to this city and now working for the city's largest employer. What do you see, in terms of strengths and weaknesses?

    ALAN RUSSELL, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: Well, I think the vibrancy of the city is evident to anyone that visits. I think a strength is actually also a weakness, to some degree, and that is that we're living a few years ahead of the rest of the country.

    We have an aging population; so does the country. We're facing some very difficult times from the loss of manufacturing and how to replace that with a different kind of economy; so does the rest of the country.

    So many of the challenges that we have faced the country now faces. So I feel that that's a strength, of course, we're facing those challenges every day.

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