In 2005, city councilor Bill Peduto proved he could be the mayor of Pittsburgh's East End. In that year's mayoral race, Peduto garnered strong support from the city's affluent eastern neighborhoods and finished second, behind Bob O'Connor. But at a Jan. 22 gathering -- being held as this issue went to press -- Peduto announced plans to run for mayor of the whole city. And that means a savvier campaign.
Peduto faces a different opponent this time around: 26-year-old interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who took office after O'Connor's death last summer. And as he revealed to City Paper before his campaign kick-off, Peduto will face his new opponent with a different approach.
In 2005, Peduto lashed out against the firefighters union and other "special interests." In 2007, he says, several union endorsements are "in play," and he touts his success at saving the jobs of several city employees from budget cuts. "It's not kissing the butt of the union president," Peduto says of his labor advocacy. "It's helping out people." Peduto also notes -- in an interview and a campaign video viewed by City Paper -- that both of his grandfathers worked in the region's mills.
"I've heard it said that, 'You're the East End representative, and you just represent the wealthy,'" Peduto acknowledges. "[But] my biggest support doesn't come from Shadyside, it comes from Bloomfield." And the largest development projects in his East End district "aren't in Squirrel Hill, they're in East Liberty."
Peduto is also reaching beyond the East End entirely. His campaign manager, Matt Merriman-Preston, worked on the successful 2006 campaign of state Rep. Chelsa Wagner. Wagner's family is a political powerhouse in the South Hills, where many expect the mayoral race to be decided.
Whether such alliances raise Peduto's vote count, they have already raised eyebrows. Peduto has been endorsed by Ben Woods, a former city councilor and Democratic Party fixture whose career was marred by a 1989 conviction on corruption charges. Ravenstahl supporters have used that support in a whispering campaign against Peduto, questioning his reform credentials.
Peduto calls such tactics "ironic": "These are the same people that had Ben Woods' support when Bob O'Connor ran, and they praised him for supporting Bob O'Connor."
Some in Ravenstahl's camp, meanwhile, suspect Peduto of engineering a scandal around Ravenstahl's October 2005 altercation with police at a Steelers game. That incident, in which Ravenstahl was handcuffed but not charged, made headlines after being posted on a blog authored by John McIntire (who also freelances a column for City Paper).
Peduto denies planting the story, which has been widely circulated among reporters and elected officials for months: "If it were something that I really wanted to manipulate," Peduto says, the story "would have dropped late in the game, not ... so early that people won't even remember it in two months."
Peduto notes that in 2005, the League of Women Voters lauded him for running a substantive campaign. And that, he promises, is one tactic that won't change: "My intention is the same as it was in the last campaign: to talk about how ... we can change critical elements of local government -- economic development, our city budget, community empowerment -- in order to build a city for the future."
He espouses "community-based redevelopment," for example, in which would-be developers must meet with neighbors before breaking ground on a project. And while you probably won't hear the phrase "outcome-based budgeting" -- one of the wonkier planks of his 2005 platform -- Peduto still has a penchant for technocratic reforms. On City Council, for example, he recently proposed a network of surveillance cameras to photograph drivers who run through red lights.
Peduto says success will depend on getting people to turn out in support of such ideas: "[I]f I ... make this campaign about Luke Ravenstahl, I'll lose."