Earlier this week, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced a change to its comment policy, now allowing only paid subscribers to leave comments on its online stories. While there are a number of possibly interesting reasons for the change — to elevate discourse, to encourage subscription, to ease the workload of a web editor — all I could immediately think of was "Bike Lane Billy."
For the past few years, I’ve made a habit of scanning all P-G stories related to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto for mentions of this nickname. One reason is that I think the prevalence and fervor of bike-lane antagonism is fascinating and kind of baffling. Another is that "Bike Lane Billy" is fun to say. And lastly, the nickname feels derogatory about something that really doesn’t call for derogating. It's like if I used aloe to treat a sunburn and people started calling me “Aloe Vera Alex.” OK, bad example. That’s hilarious.
A Facebook commenter discovers fire
Either way, P-G’s notice brought this nickname back to the forefront of my consciousness, where it should be, and got me thinking about all the nicknames that Mayor Peduto has accrued over his six years in office. Thanks to President Trump’s penchant for dickish shorthand, politicians have had to deal with silly nicknames relentlessly for the past four years, and Facebook commenters have embraced the practice. Elizabeth Warren is Goofy, Bernie is Crazy, Hillary is Crooked, Heartless and Lyin’, and perhaps most cutting, there’s Low-Energy Jeb. He never recovered. Please clap.
With P-G's comment policy change, it seems like a good time to revisit and unpack the nicknames Peduto's critics have given him over the years. Here is a brief survey of my favorite Peduto nicknames as found in Facebook comments on P-G stories, since I am not a paid subscriber.
To be fair, I haven’t seen this one much, but it’s so bad and lazy I have to tip my cap. I’m a huge fan of poop wordplay (turdplay? no, I can do better), as anyone who’s shared a Slack thread with me at work knows. But as a writer, I can’t help but feel that "Poopduto" is phoned in. Peduto has no known poop-related controversies, so there’s really no deeper context to sink your teeth into. It doesn't even rhyme with his name. It’s just saying, “I do not like the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, and I will express that antipathy by calling him poopy.” Next.
Pittsburgh City Paper
stories inevitably provoke a number of predictable insults posted to Facebook and our site. One of the most popular is that CP
is only good for lining a birdcage, which has led me to wonder if there’s a psychological correlation between disliking CP
and owning a bird. The most time-tested is “Shitty Paper,” which rhymes with "City Paper
," so that's good. But the most popular is some form of “commie rag,” which appears frequently in comments on stories that have nothing to do with our staff’s nefarious ties to the Soviet Union, so I usually brush it off. I mean, we're at a time when one of the most famous politicians in the country is a socialist running for president, so "Comrade Bill" just doesn't hit that hard. There’s not a lot of meat to those bones, hurt-feelings wise, not to mention that the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is a pretty frequent and vocal critic of the mayor. It doesn't add up.
This one came from Peduto’s Duck Dynasty
look when he appeared on Undercover Boss
. It’s a harmless, impersonal tag that someone could coin without knowing anything about you, like “Goatee Guy” or “Shirt Wearer.” Nevertheless, now that Peduto has a real beard, it’s a fitting, if unmemorable, nickname. Sidenote: a lot of commenters are very upset about the beard, though it is unclear why.
As an uncle who loves my nieces, and a nephew who likes my uncles, I think this one is affectionate, or at worst, neutral. Strategy-wise, going with “Billy” is a boilerplate Trump move to patronize and diminish the target, but I don't know, I think I'd be friends with an "Uncle Billy." I think "Uncle Billy" would help me move a couch. I don't think this is what they were going for.
Potatohead Peduto/Mayor Potato
Alliteration is a tried-and-true approach to a derogatory nickname that President Trump conspicuously rejects (he opted to call Pa. senator Bob Casey "Sleepin' Bob," when "Crazy Casey" was right there for the taking). So whoever coined “Potatohead Peduto” has a leg up on Trump, so that’s something. However, Potatohead isn’t particularly biting or salient. It’s possibly a dig at Peduto’s weight, head-shape, or facial hair, but I suspect not much thought went into it. As a somewhat plump guy with occasional facial hair and a more or less potato-shaped head (aren't they all?), I don’t think this one would keep me up at night. Fun fact: the “Gun Girl” (alliteration, see?) called the mayor “Potatohead” during her brief and historically idiotic appearance in Pittsburgh
It's right there in the name.
Bike Lane Billy/Billy Bike Lanes
I’d like to buy a beer for the P-G
’s social media manager just to get some inside info on how prevalent and ubiquitous this response is because it seems to be everywhere. Alliteration chips in a bit here, too, though the heavy lifting is in its actual substance.
While I don’t think most Peduto critics think he is a communist, a potato, a 19th-century mountain man, or a piece of poop, I do think they dislike bike lanes and his role in installing them in Pittsburgh. So this one deserves some love for at least representing a policy disagreement. Bonus points for commenters who seem to believe that Peduto installs bike lanes by hand for personal use.
You can't argue with its stats: "Billy Bike Lanes" is popular, alliterative, patronizing, and profoundly stupid. I don't know why these people hate bike lanes, but I'm pretty sure if they spent that energy on actually assessing the mayor, they'd find some much more interesting things to criticize him about. But that probably won't happen. In the meantime, I'll be scrolling P-G stories for mentions of Pittsburgh's mayor and riding those Billy Bike Lanes on a smooth ride to whatever nightmare this political culture has us headed towards. Sláinte!
Honorable mentions: Clown Mayor, Pedumbo, Grizzly Dipshit.