Deputy mayor walks Oakland, talks O'Connor line

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Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Deputy Mayor Yarone Zober talks with University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

In more ways than one, Yarone Zober was on familiar turf.

As a student at the University of Pittsburgh, Mr. Zober lived on Atwood Street in Oakland in 1996 and 1997. And as policy director under Mayor Bob O'Connor, he helped put together the "Redd Up" campaign that has become an administration mantra.

So perhaps it was only natural that in Mr. Zober's first public appearance as deputy mayor filling in for his ill leader, the location would be Oakland and the issue would be off-campus student housing.

Joined by Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, Mr. Zober, backed by an entourage of city officials, spent about an hour yesterday morning walking a part of Oakland near campus, including Atwood Street, looking for blighted conditions and eyesores like overflowing trash bins and graffiti.

In one big way, Mr. Zober, 31, appeared to be as much the story as the conditions he and Mr. Nordenberg found.

It was the first time since Aug. 6, when he was handed the reins of government as Mr. O'Connor underwent surgery for a fluid buildup in his brain, that Mr. Zober had appeared in public filling in for the cancer-stricken mayor.

And while the boyish Mr. Zober may have lacked the mayor's distinctive white hair and his natural exuberance, he flashed the same let's-get-it-done attitude, telling public works and building inspection officials to cite property owners or landlords where he found overflowing garbage, broken sidewalks or other code violations.

"That's half of it, hitting them in the pocketbook where it hurts the most," he said at one point.

Where he saw graffiti, he ordered it removed. Where he saw weeds, he asked that they be cleared. If he was nervous in his first public event, it didn't show; he was even shooting the breeze with three Pitt students while waiting for the chancellor to arrive.

Looking over a vacant lot overrun by weeds, he called to Kevin Quigley, point man for the mayor's "Redd Up" campaign: "Hey, Kevin, can we get that redd up?"

As he walked with Mr. Nordenberg, Mr. Zober, who received his law degree from Pitt, discussed the mayor's idea of using law school students to help with cases against landlords cited for code violations or to educate undergraduates on their rights.

Through it all, Mr. Zober kept Mr. O'Connor first and foremost on his agenda, noting that the mayor had wanted to take a tour of Oakland before students moved in for the fall. And he made it clear that whatever moves he made were part of the mayor's desire to improve conditions.

"We're going to start today by getting a lot of these properties cited. Then we're going to start cleaning it up and picking garbage up and getting lawns cleaned and getting graffiti removed," he said.

"This is one of the gateways to Pittsburgh. So what [people] see here, Mayor O'Connor knows, is what they believe Pittsburgh to be. So let's get it clean, let's get it redded up. That's the Mayor O'Connor way."

Jeff Maurin, board president of Oakland Planning and Development Corp., said he was impressed with Mr. Zober's grasp of the issues.

"Even when I've seen him out and about in other parts of the city, it's pretty clear that he knows his stuff, that he's on board with the mayor's agenda," he said. "It's really good to see someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, who is a young person in Pittsburgh, have that position of responsibility."


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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