Tony Norman: Peduto's first picks signal positive change

Among major American cities, Pittsburgh always generates more positive hype than it deserves.

Sometimes accolades like "most livable city" are downright misleading and should, by law, require any number of asterisks and caveats lest people get the wrong idea.

To its credit, this city has never claimed to be particularly diverse in terms of workforce talent, because it would be an impossible boast to maintain with a straight face. Still, even under embattled Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, the kind of rampant nepotism that typified previous mayoral administrations was already on the wane.

Pittsburghers are embarrassed by now when they see a klatch of city managers that looks more like a family reunion or an outing at a country club than a gathering of professionals committed to moving the city forward.

In recent years, local corporations, nonprofits, arts agencies and foundations have made even more impressive strides toward diversifying their respective benches and have become stronger for it.

No one doubts that getting beyond hiring the usual suspects -- family, friends, acquaintances, people from the same ethnic background -- is the key to making Pittsburgh a first-rate city where competence is valued over cronyism.

When Pittsburgh mayor-elect Bill Peduto unveiled his cabinet Thursday, he passed his first test and proved he is interested in leading a more progressive and future-oriented Pittsburgh -- not a calcified, knuckle-dragging machine.

Mr. Peduto has assembled an exceptionally competent cabinet ( that also happens to be the most diverse in the city's history. It goes way beyond symbolism by demonstrating in a concrete way that competence and diversity are not mutually exclusive.

The incoming cabinet also shows that Mr. Peduto is comfortable around difference and isn't interested in continuing the way things have been done on Grant Street for decades.

Not all of the faces are fresh, but every one of them brings something to the table in terms of demonstrated competency and expertise. To underline the seriousness of his intentions to remake city government in his image, Mr. Peduto has asked the Ravenstahl administration to cease any last-minute hiring as it heads out the door and to leave pending contract decisions to his administration.

Mr. Peduto also has asked Mr. Ravenstahl's appointees to step down from municipal boards, commissions and authorities voluntarily. Because these board members -- many of them Ravenstahl apparatchiks -- have defined terms of service, they can defy the incoming mayor until the official last day of their prescribed term.

That would be a stupid and counterproductive strategy, of course. Mr. Peduto could make their lives miserable once he's the mayor.

There's no indication that Ravenstahl loyalists currently sitting on boards plan to be dead-enders. Everyone knows they fought hard to keep their boss's arch-nemesis out of office but lost big time.

Now they have to accept the fact that they're casualties of changing political fortunes and move on. Mr. Peduto deserves to have his own appointees enacting his priorities and shouldn't have to deal with folks with divided interests.

With the changing of the guard from Luke Ravenstahl to Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh is confronted with the most substantive change in political philosophy and governance in several generations. To Republicans, who see only the continuation of Democratic hegemony with Mr. Peduto's election, that sounds like pure malarkey. A Democrat is a Democrat is a Democrat as far as they're concerned -- and only a Republican can make a serious difference in city politics.

The inability to make a distinction between what Mr. Peduto has promised to do as the city's new mayor and the prevailing status quo is a symptom of our parochial, cynical politics.

Mr. Peduto's commitment to a diverse cabinet is an early indication of what he has in store for Pittsburgh. It is a sign of his political character and a challenge to his partners in governance to think bigger than they're used to thinking.

This is no hype. We're finally at the beginning of a new era for Pittsburgh. The only person I feel sorry for is my friend and colleague Rob Rogers, whose hilarious portrayal of Mr. Ravenstahl as a juice box-swigging brat in cartoons on the Post-Gazette's editorial page will have no obvious corollary in the coming Peduto years.

Tony Norman:, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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