Bill is Due: Peduto's ascent to the mayor's office comes with great expectations from the citizenry and himself | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Bill is Due: Peduto's ascent to the mayor's office comes with great expectations from the citizenry and himself

"I have my work cut out for me."

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But Peduto's biggest challenge, says City Controller Michael Lamb, is "the infrastructure deficit." After years of austerity budgets under state-appointed financial overseers, he says, "The city is literally crumbling. Our facilities are just deplorable." And that, Lamb says, can frustrate politicians with broad visions: "It's a challenge of limited resources - but in a broader sense, how do you stay strategically focused on getting core things done?"

"Bill's a very big-picture guy," says the SEIU's Morgan. But the challenge, he says, is "how to carry out the vision he has while also cleaning up the mess" he is inheriting. "It's a challenge many progressives stumble on."

The city's legacy problems are "what keeps me up at night," agrees Kevin Acklin, Peduto's future chief of staff. "I hear rumors of trucks that have been in the shop for months."

Some of Peduto's earlier initiatives themselves are in need of attention: The mayoral primary itself revealed gaping holes in a campaign-finance reform ordinance that Peduto had championed on council. And many other reforms that Peduto and his allies shepherded through council, ranging from tow-truck regulations to diesel-emission limits, have languished during the Ravenstahl years.

Even so, it's hard to imagine a stronger start for a mayor-elect.

Last week, Peduto unveiled a leadership team that was diverse in every sense of the word. It included both members of the Democratic old guard — like onetime/longtime Public Works head Guy Costa and former City Councilor Valerie McDonald Roberts — and newcomers like Lourdes Sanchez Ridge, a Republican whom Peduto has tapped for solicitor. As Peduto told reporters Nov. 7, the roster includes both government newcomers and old hands "who have been down the path before."

And as if to prove he could reform government without running roughshod over it, Peduto also told reporters that he supported city council hiring its own attorney, instead of compelling it to rely on legal advice from the city solicitor, who reports to the mayor. Peduto's willingness to let council seek a second opinion might seem a small change, but it's a hopeful sign if you're worried the new boss will be the same as the old.

Especially because administrations don't always end the way they began. Back in 1993, another youthful (by Pittsburgh standards) politician won the mayor's office by promising good government, and making a pledge to listen to neighborhoods. "We're going to redefine government in Allegheny County," Tom Murphy told the Post-Gazette, while promising to hold community meetings in every city neighborhood. But when Murphy left office three terms later, much of his tenure was defined by controversial investments in sports facilities and Downtown retail, often pursued in defiance of the public will.

Peduto has taken pains to disavow such ambitions. On Election Night, he pledged, "There is not going to be a Renaissance IV," citing the "top-down" approach of the city's earlier redevelopment initiatives. There are reasons to wonder if Peduto can govern in the populist style he campaigned on. But if he does, it won't be the first time he's defied the cynics ... even if doing so took longer than he intended.

"You come in feeling like you're going to conquer the world," Tom Flaherty, then the head of the county's Democratic Committee, told me not long after Peduto first took office in 2002. "Usually, you can't even conquer a ward."

Usually. But not always.