The Morning File: Mayor-elect figures the more the merrier in city's transition

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There are 1,059 people signed up as a transition team to help Mayor-elect Bill Peduto plan for Pittsburgh's future.

That's a lot of helpers, considering he didn't even think to offer free pizza and beer to anyone showing up for the team's four-hour first meeting on Nov. 30. Never underestimate the potential appeal Pittsburghers might find in sitting around for hours talking about pothole patching and bus routing.

Ol' Davey Lawrence is probably rolling in his grave at this type of citizen participation in figuring out where Pittsburgh should go and how to get there. In the good old days, a few pols who knew best from learning at the knees of their fathers and uncles who knew best would simply chomp on cigars, check in on what friends and relatives needed jobs, and then go about the business of running the city for better or worse. Just pass the spittoon and get on with it.

Now every Tom, Dick and Mary with a notepad or iPad gets to be involved, as though their college degree in European studies or 12 years as captain of the neighborhood block watch qualifies them to determine a pension funding solution that will satisfy the state's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.

Evidently this kind of civic engagement doesn't sound quite as exciting as it did at first blush. Of the 1,059 who responded to Mr. Peduto's invitation for any Pittsburgher to help with the transition, only about half showed up for the first meeting at the University of Pittsburgh's David L. Lawrence Hall.

Our guess is it was because most of the no-shows are fugitives who suddenly became worried it was one of those scams like police are always pulling somewhere, where they notify you you've won free football tickets or some other prize if you show up at such-and-such place at such-and-such time.

And then you get there all excited at your good fortune, and -- click -- the handcuffs are slapped on once more and you remember how stupid you were to get caught committing a crime in the first place, when so many others seem to get away with it.

(In related police subterfuge that doesn't seem quite fair, don't ever try to hire a hit man -- hit men always turn out to be undercover state troopers. Whatever happened to all the good hit men anyway? Another honorable profession gone by the wayside, like chimney sweeps and VCR repairmen.)

Anyway, the transition team is now broken down into about 50 subcommittees that are supposed to come up by Dec. 28 with short-term fixes and long-term restructuring that will make Pittsburgh a better place. We haven't read a list of all the subcommittees, thank goodness, but we can only hope that somewhere in that voluminous mix is one focused on teaching Pittsburghers what a yield sign means.

All of this civic participation, while laudable, is hardly surprising considering a new study that came out called the Pittsburgh Civic Health Index.

It found out Pittsburghers are more likely to join groups, to contact their government officials and to trust their neighbors than is the case elsewhere.

When your average American gets home from work, he shuts the door and leaves the world behind, not daring to risk interaction with a casual acquaintance who might ask for help with something.

Not here in Pittsburgh. We'll be sure to give you a shout-out from the front porch, invite you to the church supper, ask if you need a hand moving that couch, call the councilman about the cars speeding past the playground and show up for the transition team's work (unless we're a fugitive from justice).

And because we're so neighborly, while moving that sofa we'll also express friendly curiosity about your daughter's boyfriend who looks like a potential drug dealer, volunteer our good counsel on how to clean up those unsightly weeds in your side yard and let you know that our out-of-work cousin is available to take care of your perennial damp basement problem.

After all that is done, we'll try to get you out for pizza and beer instead of letting you sit alone at home. New rankings list Pittsburgh as having more bars per capita than any large city in America, in addition to being No. 2 in per capita pizza shops.

Maybe that's why Bill Peduto didn't offer any pizza and beer to the transition team -- he knew that chances are, the team members had already had plenty of both. Either that, or it's a little pricey to order them for 1,059 people.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.

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