Look out, Luke: Peduto puts in bid for mayor

Pittsburgh City Councilman William Peduto announced his run for mayor in front of a large crowd of supporters on January 22 at the Union Project in Highland Park. Peduto, a 42-year-old Point Breeze resident, is incumbent Luke Ravenstahl’s major competition in the Democratic primary in the upcoming special election on May 15.

A veteran of western Pennsylvania politics, Peduto is currently serving his second term on the city council. In 2005, he finished second to Mayor Bob O’Connor in the Democratic mayoral primary.
Peduto’s prior western Pennsylvania political experience includes serving as chief of staff to City Councilman Dan Cohen for seven years and operating a political consulting business covering 25 counties.

Peduto’s vision for Pittsburgh’s future includes a primary focus on the individual neighborhoods. His plans include refocusing the role of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) by reorienting the URA’s focus away from larger-scale projects and onto neighborhoods. Peduto also favors an equitable system of tax incentives for downtown residential development. Peduto cited Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, as examples of similar development approaches, and believes that this incentive method can work similarly for Pittsburgh.

Peduto has also been active in issues affecting college-age individuals. When he was first elected, Peduto created a research fellowship aimed at aiding Pittsburgh youth research on local issues. As a councilman, one of his first actions was to provide funding for the UV Loop bus route. In addition, Peduto also led a movement to reschedule the District Three special election to allow the return of local students from spring break activities.

In early mayoral campaign donation filings, Peduto lagged behind incumbent Ravenstahl in overall fundraising, particularly in donations larger than $1000. Peduto has trended toward garnering fewer large donations from traditional Pittsburgh political players. Yet, he still enjoys support throughout the greater Pittsburgh community.

The Tartan was able to secure Peduto’s time for a question and answer session.

The Tartan: How important do you think party politics are in local affairs? On the local level, should it matter what a candidate’s stances are on national affairs?

Peduto: Historically, movements surrounding issues that affect our nation often begin [on the] local level. I am proud of the resolutions I have sponsored bringing to light issues like the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and genocide in Darfur.

The Tartan: What attracts you to Pittsburgh politics? What is it about Pittsburgh that is unique?

Peduto: Pittsburgh’s 88 unique neighborhoods give this city a distinct flavor. Pittsburgh is a city with great opportunities; it is not a city in decline, but a city in transition. We have the unique opportunity to preserve the distinct characteristics of each neighborhood, while promoting the emerging new economy and growth sectors being advanced by the ed-med community.

The Tartan: In your opinion, what needs to be done concerning PAT to make it viable in the future and functional now?

Peduto: As a commissioner on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, I helped to craft a 20-year strategic plan for a world-class public transportation system in southwestern Pennsylvania. We must approach public transportation as a regional concern, not simply an Allegheny County concern. We should create new a regional, multi-modal transit authority that reinvests in our older communities and follows the model of a new economy — moving worker to workplace for economic growth.

The Tartan: Specifically, please describe what you meant when you said at your announcement rally that the city “needs independent leadership to dismantle the political machine.”

Peduto: We need independent leadership that will serve the masses and not cater to the powerful few. [The Democratic Party] was founded by and should be run by the people, not a small cabal. The Democratic Party, most elected officials, and the elected committee people that serve the party understand the principles that this is a party for all, not one driven by back-room politics and a pay-to-play system.

The Tartan: What are the real differences between you and Mayor Ravenstahl concerning politics, policy, and the future development of Pittsburgh?

Peduto: On social issues, I have supported a progressive agenda, and on fiscal issues, I have always remained responsible. I was the first elected official to call for Act 47. Additionally, I have promoted smart urban growth and community-based plans for neighborhood redevelopment. This has included legislation to promote green buildings, historic preservation, and providing a greater voice to the community on the issues that affect their respective neighborhoods.

The Tartan: In the Democratic primary in the last election, some say that your campaign marketed itself towards the young professional and college student crowd. If you share this view, why was this the campaign’s focus?

Peduto: I did not market myself towards college students. I ran an informative and clean campaign based on the issues — and this attracted young people to my campaign. Since I took office, I have been a leader that young people have turned to because I am the first elected official to invite them to the table and to give them a voice in local government.

The Tartan: No one would argue that Pittsburgh is affordable for a young professional. That said, how does Pittsburgh stop the brain drain of college-aged students leaving to work in other cities?

Peduto: It is important for the city to recognize the difference between real estate development and true economic development. We should not be investing public dollars into a Wal-Mart being built in Greenfield, but instead we should invest in new job clusters that provide economic growth. The mills never closed, they simply moved up the hill. Our new mills are the ed-med community of the East End. We need to further invest in these fields and related spin-offs to provide jobs to keep young people in Pittsburgh. Certain investment methods that other cities have found successful include investment into public transit and workforce development, providing incubator space and tax incentives to new economy jobs, and providing low-cost clean rooms and wet-lab space for start-ups to prosper.

The Tartan: How do you plan to collect information from local residents in a timely and efficient manner concerning problems and policy initiatives? If elected mayor, would you accept a plan to hold bi-monthly meetings of local youth leaders from business and academia?

Peduto: There should be a community-developed plan implemented for development in each of our 88 neighborhoods. Plans about the future of our neighborhoods should be made on Main Street, not Grant Street. I was instrumental in the creation of the Community Information System with Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and other groups. All the information that is disseminated by communities will be part of larger plan made available to everyone. This information will also be utilized in order to hold departments accountable for the work that should be done in our communities. I would not hold bi-monthly meetings with local youth leaders, because I do not believe the solution is to create a youth commission. I will put young people and women and minorities on all of the city’s boards, authorities, and commissions, not create new commissions for people. All people should have a voice at the main table.