Pastor challenges incumbent mayor for democratic nomination

Written By Dannys Marrero

Rev. John C. Welch declared his candidacy for the office of Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh on Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Homewood.

Welch is the Chief Chaplain for the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Dean of Students at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and professor of Business Ethics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Born in the Hill District and raised in Homewood by a single parent, the Rev. John Welch graduated from Central Catholic High School and received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Economics at Carnegie Mellon University. He later went on to earn a Ph.D. in Healthcare Ethics from Duquesne University.

“In this moment, we are launching an unprecedented movement here in the city of Pittsburgh,” Welch said. “An unprecedented movement here in Pittsburgh which will begin to demand the restoration of our democracy. The one that is supposed to be for the people, of the people and by the people.”

Sympathizers and enthusiastic  supporters of all ages and ethnicities attended the event. Many supporters were live-streaming the event through various social media platforms, including 17-year-old Akil Keasley, a senior at the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, who attended the event with his family.

“He’s very motivated and, based on his words, I believe he can really do some change for the better of Pittsburgh,” Keasley said.

Currently, Welch is the only declared opponent that incumbent Bill Peduto faces for the Democratic ticket. According to the list of past mayors in Pittsburgh, a Republican hasn’t been elected into the office since 1933, making the democratic nomination crucial.

Although the City of Pittsburgh has historically re-elected sitting mayors and has never elected an African-American as mayor, Welch is stepping up to the challenge.

“I’m not scared or discouraged because of running against an incumbent,” Welch said.

Members of Welch’s campaign team are also optimistic about this election.

Jacqueline Barnett, political strategist to the Welch campaign, clarified Welch’s campaign efforts.

“I can say he knows young and older people want someone who’ll listen to them,” Barnett said. “He knows young adults want and very much need an affordable college education. He knows that the citizens of this city don’t want to be burdened with student debt and want a clear opportunity for a job once they finish their education.”

When asked about Welch’s chances against Mayor Peduto, Barnett remained optimistic about the candidate.

“I think we are in the time for upset, and no one should take their position for granted,” Barnett said. “We’ve seen that in a national level, and this is the time for disruption.”

Welch made it clear through a press release that the purpose of his mayoral candidacy was to “have the opportunity to make Pittsburgh the kind of city where everyone can flourish and find their place.”

His campaign also pledged to “improve safety, create fair and equitable community development, support a robust public education system, foster grass-roots economic development and support responsible philanthropy.”

During the event, Welch  expressed concerned for the troubles Pittsburgh citizens face.

“This city is in pain,” Welch said. “There’s the pain of homelessness, there’s the pain of relocation and dislocation. There’s the pain of addiction, unemployment and underemployment. We the people, can do something about it. Before we can become most livable, we must become most equitable.”

In an interview, Welch expressed his reasoning for running for mayor after the official announcement.

“I’m running for mayor because a lot of people are looking for change,” Welch said. “There is inequality in our justice and education systems. There are unspoken problems within our schools. People need the attention they deserve, the people of the City of Pittsburgh deserve better conditions in our schools and better living conditions across the city, no matter where they are or what their demographics are.”

In 2005, Welch was part of a national leadership team that organized a protest of more than 4,000 people from across the country in Washington D.C. The protest successfully urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote down a bill that would criminalize anyone who aided undocumented immigrants.

“I can bring Pittsburgh together,” Welch said. “This unprecedented campaign will force us to dismantle structural racism.”

Welch compared himself and his movement to the current President of the U.S.

“This is not like Trump’s movement,” Welch said. “I will not be the president of the divided states of America.”

Barnett said Welch is open to new ideas.

“Dr. Welch is not afraid of diversity of thought,” Barnett said. “He is not afraid of new experiences.”

During his closing statement, Welch received a standing ovation and many of the participants were seen signing up to volunteer and/or donate to the Welch campaign.

“This is the people’s movement and this will be a city for the people of Pittsburgh,” Welch said.