Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto still occupies a small, two-room office on the fifth floor of the City-County Building and has just two staff members under his official command.
And the election that will pick the city's next mayor isn't for another eight weeks.
But Mr. Peduto, who won the Democratic nomination for mayor in May and faces token opposition in November, has been keeping a schedule more akin to a mayor-elect than a mayor-elect-to-be. He has taken trips to meet with state officials in Harrisburg, inserted himself into high-profile economic development plans and even drafted a detailed operational budget for the coming year that he hopes the current administration will accept and propose.
"Just about everybody is working with him, knowing that come January, he's going to be the one making the decisions," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.
In Pittsburgh, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5-1, the May primary is often considered the real determinant of the city's next leader. That means the Democratic nominee begins laying the foundation for a presumptive term as soon as the primary victory is clinched. But given that he's the most senior member of council -- and possesses an institutional knowledge that's tough to match -- it's difficult to say whether his involvement in city business is a byproduct of his May victory or business as usual.
Josh Wander, who won the Republican nomination for mayor, said he also has been laying the groundwork for his potential administration. He has met with the governor, state legislators and department heads; scored a lunch meeting with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in June, and recently selected a proposed chief of staff. On Saturday night, he did a ride-a-long with a police officer in Homewood "to get an idea ... of the difficulties they have."
"We're going full [steam] ahead," he said.
Mr. Wander accused Mr. Peduto of "playing mayor" and said it made it difficult for him to get traction. Mr. Fitzgerald, he said, has not given him the same level of deference.
"It makes it incredibly difficult to negotiate with people, when a candidate is already posing as the default mayor!" he wrote in an email.
For his part, Mr. Peduto said he has been inundated with messages and requests for meetings from the minute his victory was announced May 21. He and his staff -- including chief of staff Dan Gilman, policy director Matt Barron and attorney Kevin Acklin, his proposed chief of staff -- have waded through about 500 requests for meetings and have split up duties for about 250 of them.
"Everybody," he said. "Corporations, nonprofits, community organizations, city employees, foundations, entrepreneurs ... from the CEO of PPG to ministers of small churches."
While much of the community at large treats him as the mayor-elect, he also has stepped up and performed tasks typically undertaken by the city's chief executive. In June, he met with legislators, the governor's chief of staff and Alan Walker, who heads the state's Department of Community and Economic Development. Mr. Walker will make the critical decision as to whether the city will remain under fiscal oversight under Act 47.
"I'm the Democratic nominee for mayor of Pittsburgh, which means I haven't won an election yet," he said in introducing himself to reporters that day.
In October, he'll travel to Slovenia to meet with executives from Grah, the largest LED light manufacturer in Europe, to talk with them about locating their North American headquarters in Pittsburgh.
He also put together a proposed 2014 budget. Working off an Excel spreadsheet, Mr. Peduto and his team pored over the budget at Mr. Acklin's law firm, often working late into the night over pizza. They also met with department heads and worked extensively with public safety director Mike Huss and operations director Duane Ashley, putting together an operational budget that proposes shifts in personnel.
"We have discussed the budget, and I'll continue to work with him because it's the right thing to do for the people of the city," Mr. Huss said.
Mr. Ravenstahl could not be reached for comment, but he met with Mr. Peduto briefly in June. Shortly before that meeting, he told reporters that he planned to back Mr. Peduto and help ease the transition despite their differences.
Mr. Peduto said he hoped his proposed budget will be the one that's submitted to the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, the oversight board that has to approve the city's budget before it becomes law. The budget also has to be passed by city council.
The administration's budget office could not be reached for comment on how it will handle the Peduto proposals.
In addition, Mr. Peduto has greased the wheels for tax-increment financing for a transit-oriented development project in East Liberty and has encouraged Millcraft, a developer working on a Downtown project, to shift its plans to include apartments as well as a parking garage. In July, he said he salvaged a bill that would have the city contribute about $12 million in capital funds to leverage a federal grant for a development in Larimer.
"Why I'm able to do this is partly because I'm the Democratic nominee," he said. "But I'm also a member of city council, and the only difference in it is that I'm working in some other member's district."
He also attributed his more active role to the fact that Mr. Ravenstahl is a lame-duck mayor -- and is acting like one. He said Mr. Ravenstahl should have taken leadership on the Larimer deal, which lacked support from council when it was introduced. When he didn't, Mr. Peduto said, he stepped in.
Asked to respond to Mr. Peduto's account, mayoral spokeswoman Stephani Sikora wrote in an email: "The Mayor appreciates Councilman Peduto, Reverend Burgess and all of Council's support for advancing our shared vision in Larimer and throughout the city."
Mr. Peduto also wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins, telling the organization he did not plan to offer any more public financing for its development at the site of the demolished Civic Arena if it won an $18 million federal grant.
The project lost out on the grant, but Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle, who represents the area, said he was frustrated both by Mr. Peduto's stance and that he was not consulted before Mr. Peduto sent the letter. He said Mr. Peduto was overstepping his bounds as a council member.
"The councilman does not at all dictate what happens in the Hill District," Mr. Lavelle said.
Mr. Peduto and Mr. Lavelle have been at odds with what should happen with the site, and Mr. Peduto accused Mr. Lavelle of not hearing out all stakeholders involved.
Other than Mr. Lavelle, Mr. Peduto's colleagues on council have not been put off by his new role.
"My belief is that Bill has always been mayoral," Councilman Bruce Kraus said.
If Mr. Peduto is playing a larger role in city business, it would not be unprecedented for a Democratic nominee for mayor. Dick Skrinjar served as the spokesman for the late Mayor Bob O'Connor, who also faced a Republican challenger after he won the nomination in May 2005. He said that civic and business leaders came calling as soon as Mr. O'Connor was the Democratic nominee.
And if Mr. Peduto is acting mayoral, Mr. Skrinjar hardly viewed that as a bad thing.
"That's why you win ... because people envision you in that role," he said.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published September 10, 2013 4:15 AM