New Pittsburgh government set to launch as Peduto has laid out some lofty goals
January 5, 2014 11:47 PM
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto talks to guests at a VIP reception in his honor Sunday night at the 20th Century Club in Oakland.
By Moriah Balingit / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On Saturday, incoming Mayor Bill Peduto began his move into the mayoral wing on the fifth floor of the City-County Building in advance of today's inauguration, when he will officially take the reins of city government.
The Rev. Terry O'Connor, son of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor and brother to Councilman Corey O'Connor, blessed the space with a sprinkling of holy water. The floors were mopped.
For a man who has pledged to "clean up city hall" and who gave his victory speech while clutching a broom, it was an apropos entrance.
Mr. Peduto has expounded on that theme for more than a year, calling the administration of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl corrupt and saying that the city needs to move away from the old-style politics if it wants to progress. And if he holds to his campaign pledges, he will represent a monumental shift in both style and substance in the mayor's office.
Mr. Peduto said the biggest challenge will be figuring out what to do first.
10 a.m.: Pittsburgh City Council conducts its first meeting of the year and will elect a new city council president, who will make committee appointments in the council chamber at the City-County Building. Councilman-elect Daniel Gilman will be sworn in for his first term. Two others, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, will be sworn in for new terms.
1 p.m.: The swearing-in ceremony for incoming Mayor Bill Peduto will begin at Heinz Hall. Seats are available by ticket only, and all tickets have been spoken for.
2:30 to 4:30 p.m.: The mayor-elect and Cabinet members will be at Wintergarten at PPG Place to greet residents in a receiving line. There will also be free ice skating and complimentary hot chocolate and coffee.
7 p.m.: An invitation-only Inaugural Celebration commences at the Heinz History Center.
"There's so much that can be done. Some of it's like flipping a switch and others are going to take a lot of work," he said. "It's really prioritizing, that's what's going to be the biggest challenge. We're going to want to do so much at one time and we can't do that."
But rhetoric bellowed from a podium is different from policy. And while he works to implement his vision, his colleagues in city government warned there will be challenges.
Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said one of his most difficult tasks will be "building consensus."
"I think his biggest challenge is not showing animosity towards people who keep coming after him ... and building trust," she said. "That's huge."
Modernization and transparency
In a recent interview, Mr. Peduto called "sunlight the best antiseptic."
In his quest to reform government, to purge it of the pay-to-play politics that he said has dominated city business, Mr. Peduto said he wants to bring greater transparency to city hall with the help of technology. Whereas Mr. Ravenstahl declined repeatedly to make his schedule public and bristled at questions of his whereabouts, Mr. Peduto said he will put his schedule online. He also wants to broadcast city meetings typically conducted behind closed doors, like those with department heads.
One of his first efforts to take politics out of hiring is well underway. Talent City, which is being run through the Pittsburgh Foundation, is an initiative that is employing human resources professionals and committees to cull the best candidates for several positions within the administration, including department heads. Mr. Peduto's administration, however, will have final say on the hires.
He also has created a new position within the mayor's Cabinet: chief performance and innovation officer. That job will go to Debra Lam, whose far-reaching responsibilities will include upgrading the city technologically so that it can better use data to help spread scarce resources efficiently and prudently.
Mr. Peduto wants to employ performance-based budgeting, for example, to ensure city departments are meeting certain performance benchmarks.
In his victory speech Nov. 5, Mr. Peduto walked the audience through the city's transformation, development anchored on stadiums, arenas and convention centers. Mr. Ravenstahl's grand vision for reform of the city was dubbed "Pittsburgh's Third Renaissance."
But Mr. Peduto has a different vision for the city, one that's focused in neighborhoods with heavy input from residents.
"Tonight, we end the era of renaissance. There is not going to be a Renaissance Four," he said that night. "It's about building within, rebuilding the neighborhoods."
To that end, his administration has expanded the city planning department to better engage with neighborhoods. And a whole division of his Cabinet will be dedicated to helping neighborhoods who have been left behind while the city forged ahead. Valerie McDonald-Roberts will serve as the Chief of Urban Affairs, stitching together efforts by the city, nonprofits and faith-based communities to bring housing and economic development to poor neighborhoods. He said he wants to put "special emphasis on underserved neighborhoods."
Renewed interest in education
Traditionally, a child's education has been the purview of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. And although the issues faced by both city government and the school district are intertwined, they've rarely worked in concert. Mr. Peduto wants to change that.
He's already proposed returning some revenues to city schools, which are wavering financially. A commission assembled by city council has been charged with studying the district's financial issues. And he's created another Cabinet position, a chief of education and neighborhood reinvestment, whose job it will be to serve as a liaison with the district.
Former member of council Patrick Dowd, now the executive director of Allies for Children, said this represents a radical departure from previous administrations, but a step in the right direction.
"He's already signaled ... that he really has the interest of children and youth in the city at the forefront," he said.
Mr. Peduto's agenda goes beyond education. He has also said he wants to figure out a way to ensure needy children in the city have health insurance, and received a $30,000 grant from the National League of Cities to study the issue. Mr. Dowd, who is part of the three-member commission charged with studying child health insurance, said Mr. Peduto expressed a keen interest in early childhood development, typically the purview of county and state services.
But Mr. Dowd said he could see some push back in his ambitious agenda. Mayors typically don't touch social service or early childhood education issues, since those are delivered through the county.
"I think that will come with its own set of challenges because it's new and people aren't necessarily familiar with that," he said.
Ms. Kail-Smith said, too, that he has a rocky relationship with some members of council, though six of the nine said they will back a Peduto ally for council president. Still, she believes that many of the wounds from past council battles can be healed. She backed Jack Wagner, Mr. Peduto's main opponent for the Democratic mayoral nomination, in the spring but said Mr. Peduto has not held it against her. To the contrary, he has taken special interest in her district, which covers the West End and Mount Washington.
"I think the reason why he and I are not at odds ... is because we're making a conscious effort to make a better relationship," she said.
And Mr. Peduto is also facing some harsh financial realities. His predecessor spent down most of an $80 million bond taken out in 2012 for capital projects, meaning this year's capital budget has shrunk considerably. And though Mr. Ravenstahl has portrayed the city as being financially stable, Mr. Peduto worries his financial team has used accounting tricks to make the city appear to be better off than it is.
Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle believes working within the city's financial constraints will be the biggest obstacle to Mr. Peduto implementing his vision.
"It's one thing to be visionary, [but] once you've sort of hit the ground you've got to govern," he said. "You've got to make the hard choices."
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