Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto recently quit an 18-and-older ice hockey league.
It's the only sign that Mr. Peduto, 48, who still plays in celebrity and 40-and-older leagues, has been worn down by the pushing and shoving that defines his pastime and his career.
For more than six years, Mr. Peduto has been the foil to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration, working to defeat his policy proposals and heaping criticism upon the mayor's missteps. Now, he warns that only a break with old-style politics will enable the city to reach new levels of economic vibrancy and livability.
"I believe this is the next great change for the city of Pittsburgh," said Mr. Peduto, of Point Breeze, one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 21 primary.
His opponents are Sheraden activist A.J. Richardson, state Rep. Jake Wheatley of the Hill District and Jack Wagner, the former city council president, state senator and state auditor general who entered the race after Mr. Ravenstahl announced March 1 that he was withdrawing.
Mr. Ravenstahl's withdrawal came about three weeks before the federal government indicted his former police chief, Nate Harper, for income-tax offenses and diverting police bureau revenue for personal use.
The campaign remains something of a referendum on Mr. Ravenstahl's performance, especially since many of the mayor's contributors and employees have gravitated to Mr. Wagner's camp. Mr. Peduto claims that a Wagner administration would bring little of the leadership and policy change needed to move the city forward.
Not since Mayor David Lawrence's day, Mr. Peduto contends, has the city been at so important a crossroads. While Lawrence launched a post-World War II building boom known as the Renaissance, Mr. Peduto envisions advances in government structure (more technology, greater responsiveness), new-age development (green jobs and infrastructure) and neighborhood revitalization (parking revenue for the Hill District, war on blight).
"This all fits like pieces of a puzzle into a new urban agenda for Pittsburgh," said Mr. Peduto, who's attempting the power play of his career. Mr. Peduto chose to run for mayor rather than seek a fourth term in his District 8 council seat. If he loses the mayor's race, he's out of a job come January,
From Scott to the city
Mr. Peduto, who is single, grew up in Scott and graduated from Chartiers Valley High School. He moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s to attend Carnegie Mellon University, but left the school without a degree. He completed a bachelor's in political science from Penn State many years later and more recently received a master's from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
He said his interest in politics dates to his elementary school days, when he was captivated by stories about Watergate and Vietnam. He entered city government in the 1990s as an aide to then-Councilman Dan Cohen and succeeded his boss in 2002.
Mr. Peduto, former chairman of council's finance and law committee, has been conservative on financial matters and a self-styled progressive on others. He's pushed through environmentally friendly streetlights, amenities for bicyclists and incentives for developers who use green technology.
He was an early supporter of the city's 2004 entry into Act 47 distressed status, a move that required unpopular belt-tightening but, former Councilman Doug Shields said, averted bankruptcy. Last year, Mr. Peduto was the only official to publicly declare that the city hadn't made enough progress to be released from Act 47, a step that Mr. Ravenstahl urgently desired.
In 2010 and 2011, Mr. Peduto was unofficial leader of a five-member council majority that opposed many of Mr. Ravenstahl's initiatives, including his plan to lease parking garages and meters to private investors for 50 years. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who inherited a parking lease in that city, has described it as a bad deal.
For years, Mr. Peduto has been "on the firing line," solving city problems, Mr. Shields said. "That's not true of Mr. Wagner," who has spent recent years in state jobs.
Mr. Peduto's critics say he doesn't work well with others. That assertion puzzles supporters, who note that Mr. Peduto has worked to raise the city's international profile -- he traveled to Gaziantep, Turkey, to ink a sister city relationship last year -- and has worked with municipal officials across Pennsylvania on issues of joint concern.
Perhaps, Mr. Shields said, Mr. Peduto's critics mean that he doesn't play ball with developers and fixers the way other politicians have done over the years.
"I don't like greedy people," Mr. Shields said. "I don't think Bill likes greedy people, either."
Television ads funded by a committee chaired by Mr. Ravenstahl claim that Mr. Peduto cares only about his mostly prosperous district and that he had voted against legislation that would have benefited low-income Pittsburghers. That claim was repudiated last week by dozens of union members, who said at a rally that Mr. Peduto's support for prevailing wage legislation showed his support for workers and a strong middle class across the city.
Mr. Peduto says his Italian, Catholic, working-class roots still define him. His maternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents were immigrants. Both grandfathers worked at steel mills. At least twice a week, he visits his 85-year-old mother, Eva, who still lives in Scott and can't vote for him.
While on a cultural mission to Turkey in 2008, Mr. Peduto visited the purported home of the Virgin Mary. Mr. Peduto said he was so excited that he called his mother by cell phone on the spot.
The unusual mayoral race has yielded a mix of endorsements for Mr. Peduto and Mr. Wagner, who are regarded as the leading candidates. Among those supporting the former are county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who supported Mr. Peduto even before Mr. Ravenstahl's withdrawal; state Rep. Ed Ganey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, whose district includes a large swath of the city's black community; city school board President Sharene Shealey; and city Councilman Patrick Dowd, a sometimes foe.
Mr. Dowd said the city has surged toward greatness in recent years, despite a mayor who's been "combative at best and destructive on some days." He said Mr. Peduto over many years has built a network of contacts in various levels of government, neighborhood groups and other organizations and can harness their cooperation to propel development and solve thorny problems.
Longtime desire to be mayor
As it was for Bob O'Connor, whose untimely death in 2006 propelled a 26-year-old Mr. Ravenstahl from council president to mayor, Mr. Peduto's most fervent wish is to be the city's chief executive. He said he feels as if he has been working toward the job for nearly 20 years and has no interest in state or national office.
In 2005, he finished second, behind Mr. O'Connor, in a three-person Democratic race for mayor. He won re-election to his council seat, however.
In a 2007 special election, he initially decided to challenge Mr. Ravenstahl, saying the city needed "independent leadership to dismantle the political machine." At the time, Mr. Ravenstahl was drawing flak because of accusations that a onetime department head had interfered in police matters.
Mr. Peduto dropped out of that race but continued to demand a government cleanup. He pushed through legislation that enhanced an ethics code, required lobbyists to register with the city and set campaign finance limits, though a judge in the latter law lifted spending restrictions in the current mayoral campaign.
While Mr. Ravenstahl refused to make his schedule public, Mr. Peduto has pledged to put his mayoral calendar online. He's also promised increased neighborhood input on development issues and a 311 system better geared to address complaints.
Mr. Peduto is a Twitter devotee, and his agenda seeks to better leverage technology and innovation for the city. He's proposed a "startup roundtable" to help fledgling companies, an "innovation incubator" to nurture high-tech enterprises and an "Office of New Urban Mechanics" to infuse technology into city government.
In all, Mr. Peduto plans to put out 100 policy proposals in as many days.
But he also can sum up his agenda in one word: "overhaul."
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548. First Published May 5, 2013 4:00 AM