Less than 24 hours after he convincingly clinched the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh mayor, city Councilman Bill Peduto laid out ambitious plans to reform city hall if he takes office, pledging to upend Grant Street by replacing most department heads and to make Pittsburgh's government a national model.
"I'd like to have a city government that other cities look at and say, 'why can't we be more like them?' " he said. "That would be the one thing ... I would be the most proud of."
Mr. Peduto will face a Republican challenger in the November general election but is widely considered the mayor-elect given the city's heavily Democratic electorate.
Peduto defeats Wagner in the mayoral primary
Bill Peduto, who is making his third bid for mayor, defeated Jack Wagner in the mayoral primary race. (Video by Michael Henninger; 5/21/2013)
Speaking from his East Liberty campaign headquarters, Mr. Peduto panned Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration. In a news conference and interview, Mr. Peduto said his approach to the office will differ from Mr. Ravenstahl in nearly every area of governance.
"A lot of what has occurred over the last several years [has] given whoever the next mayor is a mandate to clean up city hall, to make changes that people do expect and to not allow this type of behavior to continue within an administration," he said.
He spoke at length about bringing greater professionalism to Grant Street by conducting national searches for heads of city departments, many of which have been without permanent chiefs for months. He pledged to take politics out of hiring.
"The city needs a team of professionals that work within the mayor's office and head the departments that are hired not by their political connections, but hired by the merit of what they can do for the citizens of Pittsburgh," he said.
The embattled Bureau of Police is the city department that has made the most headlines of late, following the federal indictment of the former chief, Nate Harper, who was charged with funneling away city money through the bureau's Office of Personnel and Finance. Mr. Peduto said he will conduct a national search for the next head of that department, but won't hire anyone until he's satisfied he's received input from the community.
"Within the bureau," he said, "we have a lot of work to do."
Mr. Peduto, a veteran of city government who is now in his second term as city councilman, said he will use his institutional knowledge to right the city's financial ship. While Mr. Ravenstahl has worked to get the city out of Act 47, a designation that gives the state oversight of the city's budget, Mr. Peduto said the city hasn't made enough progress to be free of restrictions.
He also wants to spearhead several initiatives to join forces with Allegheny County, whose executive, Rich Fitzgerald, was one of his most prominent backers.
He said he'd like the county and city parks department to pool their Regional Asset District dollars and use it to leverage "private donations and foundation grants in order to really improve our city and county parks."
He also pitched fusing several city departments with county departments to one degree or another to save both parties money.
As for development, he wants to create "a strong planning department that goes out to these neighborhoods, determine what it is they want to see done, and then a strong [Urban Redevelopment Authority]" to see the community's vision through.
Within his own office, he wants to restructure the mayor's cabinet. Among his ideas, he'd like to hire a chief accounting officer who would audit departments to examine how effectively city funds are being spent.
But he pledged to continue one legacy of Mr. Ravenstahl's administration: the city's lawsuit against medical giant UPMC to strip it of its tax-exempt status. And he hinted at plans to go after other large nonprofits like Highmark, though he declined to say whether he would sue the health insurance company.
"[The lawsuit] is something that I will continue because it's the leverage the city has," he said. "I'm not going to lessen the city's ability to get what should be a fair share from the major nonprofits, especially UPMC and Highmark."
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published May 23, 2013 4:00 AM