These days, Pittsburghers can’t open a newspaper, or visit a national news site, without being bombarded by accolades for our city.
“The story of Pittsburgh is resonating,” Mayor Bill Peduto told City Paper in a recent interview. “It is, to the urbanist, the story of resiliency before resiliency became the cool thing. It is, to the environmentalist, the story of how a city can solve its problems and that we don’t have to look to nations to be able to do it. To the economist it’s a story of transition, and soon it will be a story of inclusion to those around the world that are facing the same issues.
“Pittsburgh is an urban lab to so many urban thinkers and writers, and I’m just its salesman and I put together a pretty good sales pitch.”
But perhaps the mayor, who recently passed the half-way mark on his first term in office, is being a little modest. Supporters say much of the story people are buying can be attributed to Peduto himself, who spent two decades in city government building a coalition of like-minded progressive politicians who share his vision for the city.
Today, members of that coalition hold the majority on Pittsburgh City Council. They also hold seats in other elected offices at the county and state level.
And this coalition, separate from the traditional Democratic machine that has long ruled Pittsburgh, is a key reason Peduto’s first two years in office have gone so smoothly. His appointments to key positions like police chief have been praised. Measures to reform government and improve workers’ rights have passed through council almost unanimously. And Pittsburgh’s even been selected for some high-profile national initiatives.
“He’s doing things that are giving Pittsburgh a really good reputation around the country,” says Gabriel McMorland, a community organizer. “I don’t want to pretend that we don’t still have problems as a city, but I think it’s good that the things to me that look like big problems are things he’s acknowledging and saying he wants to address.”
What little criticism Peduto has faced has come from those who worry that city council isn’t serving as a check and balance on the mayor’s administration, and others who do not support all of his reform initiatives.
But can it last? Peduto’s consensus could face opposition if members of his coalition are defeated in upcoming elections. And it might be too soon to tell whether Pittsburgh’s standing on the international stage will resonate with voters when Peduto runs for re-election in 2017.
“Peduto himself made it clear that he had ideas ready to go for years. He has been ready for this moment for a long time,” says McMorland. “Things were pretty underwhelming under the previous administration. So when he stepped in, we saw a lot of big changes, a lot of positive activity, and it’s almost not surprising that he did a lot of stuff that I feel really good about and I’m impressed by. But now that we take a look back it’s like, ‘What’s he going to do next?’”