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Progressive Party

A hopeful era begins with a citywide celebration

If you wanted to know just how strong the momentum is behind newly installed Mayor Bill Peduto, you didn't need to just witness the crowds at his Jan. 6 Heinz Hall swearing-in ceremony. Nor could you get the full picture from that evening's celebration at the Heinz History Center, which featured gospel singers on one floor, yinzer-rock on another and alt-bluegrass performances on a third.

If you really wanted to see how broad Peduto's base of support has become, you also needed to look at who helped pay for the party.

There on the inaugural program's list of big-dollar sponsors was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #5 ... which during the May primary spent five-digit sums backing Peduto's chief rival, Jack Wagner. Other sponsors included PNC Bank, which has received tax subsidies Peduto denounced during his campaign, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also seek subsidies to add seating in Heinz Field — a giveaway Peduto also opposes.

In politics, the surest sign of victory is when even your foes anxiously claim your friendship. Ordinarily, in fact, this would be the point where I warn that history is filled with reformers who sought to change the system ... but were changed by it instead.

But there's reason to think that history may not repeat itself.

It's not just because Peduto aired campaign ads that specifically rejected future subsidies for sports teams, or because he's opened up his transition-team process to just about anyone who expressed an interest. The best reason to hope he'll rise to the moment, I think, is that he seems to know how easily he could blow it.

"My election doesn't complete the task of setting things right," he told the audience at Heinz Hall. "It only offers us the chance to begin."

As he takes office, in fact, one of his strengths has been how aware he seems of his own potential weakness.

Long derided as an effete East Ender, Peduto has spent much of his post-election victory lap shining the spotlight on the long-suffering neighborhood of Homewood. His Election Night victory party was held at its Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum; his inaugural was capped off by spoken-word performer Vanessa German, a Homewood resident who nearly brought down the house with a performance that trumpeted Pittsburgh as a "city of citizen champions," who could "be inspiring right where we are."

I'll admit that while sitting near the back of Heinz Hall, I found myself wondering whether Pittsburgh has been equal to German's soaring vision of it. If the "power of Pittsburgh" was that we always have each other's back, as she claimed, how have we tolerated the hardship going on in our own backyards? How have we for so long permitted the pockets of despair that is the subject of so much of German's other work?

But Peduto has a chance to make good on Pittsburgh's newfound optimism, and not just in those burgeoning neighborhoods that already have much to be optimistic about. It's a hopeful sign that when Peduto invited religious leaders to offer invocations on the Heinz Hall stage, he chose leaders who urged that he not be blinded by a glittery vision of Pittsburgh as "the next Portland." As East Liberty Presbyterian Church Senior Pastor Randy Bush put it, Pittsburgh "can only succeed if everyone has a foundation on which to build a life" within it.

Over the past few months, Peduto has perfectly straddled the old Pittsburgh and the new, celebrating the best of its old-school culture while pledging to reform its old-school politics. After not one but two renditions of "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" on the Heinz Hall stage, he told the audience, "We ought to remember our past, but never at the expense of forgetting our future."

We're about to find out whether he can lead us from old city to new, whether long-entrenched interests like the Steelers or more conservative unions will co-opt this opportunity, or help to expand it.

We can say this much for Peduto's legacy already: On his first day, he threw a great party, the kind where you could find someone to talk to no matter who you were.

Not a bad start.

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