‘It’s about a new belief in Pittsburgh’: Pgh Mayor Peduto says, kicking off re-election bid

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto (Photo by Jared Wickerham for Pittsburgh City Paper).

By Ryan Deto

PITTSBURGH —  On Jan. 14, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto kicked off what could be the biggest race in the local 2021 election cycle, as he announced he is running for re-election and a third term.

During a panel with 14 community leaders, Peduto conveyed Pittsburgh in an optimistic light, signifying that the city had turned the corner from its past as an area that was mocked nationally. A video was shown before Peduto spoke with the 14 leaders, and it largely painted Pittsburgh positively. It acknowledged the city’s well-documented problems of racial equity. But speakers said that Peduto is addressing those issues, even if more needs to be done.

Peduto wrapped up this theme in a speech at the end of the virtual event.

“It’s not about the robots and all those other things,” said Peduto, hinting at the city’s growing robotics and tech sectors. “It’s about a new belief in Pittsburgh. People are building office towers, [residents] are building new kitchens. People are investing in the city and deciding to stay. “

This optimistic notion is unsurprising for Peduto. He has been mayor since 2014, and he is looking to showcase how his administration has improved the city. The city’s population has changed dramatically over the decade, with an influx of young people helping to stem any major population loss.

Siraji Hassan, a community leader among the city’s Somali-Bantu refugee population, praised Peduto’s commitment to immigrants and refugees in Pittsburgh.

The community leaders who spoke are allies of Peduto. In a video before the town hall event, many of them shared a similar optimism about how Pittsburgh is on the upswing and how Peduto is improving conditions for city residents.

Steve Kelley, of labor union Service Employees International Union 32 BJ, praised Peduto for his efforts in helping to create a paid sick leave law for everyone living and/or working in Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh is my home, and I love my city,” said Kelley.

But at the same time, the city still has significant equity issues, particularly concerning race. While population loss has slowed throughout the city, Pittsburgh has still lost several thousand Black residents. White population has stayed about the same, and the city’s Asian population has grown.

Some speakers acknowledged Pittsburgh’s problems with racial equity. But they also gave credit to the mayor for addressing the issue. Jennifer Cash Wade, of the Beltzhoover Consensus Group, talked about how the city benefits white residents more than Black ones. In 2019, a study from the city’s Gender Equity Committee detailed the glaring economic disparities between white and Black Pittsburghers, particularly among Black women.

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“I think Mayor Peduto has always been cognizant of how Pittsburgh is a tale of two cities,” said Wade.
Peduto addressed this too and said he took the Gender Equity Committee’s study very seriously.

“[Black women] are almost guaranteed a better life if you leave Pittsburgh. I take that as a personal responsibility,” said Peduto.

He touted how Pittsburgh was selected for a Universal Basic Income pilot program funded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Peduto said Pittsburgh’s effort is specifically targeted at providing Black women. According to WESA, 200 Pittsburgh residents will receive $500 a month, and 100 of those will be dedicated to households run by Black women.

Peduto also spoke about the city’s Avenues of Hope, which is meant to provide investment towards current and historic Black business districts in Pittsburgh.

“Avenues of Hope are not just to fix it up and make it look pretty, we are going to do that,” said Peduto of Black business districts. “Then we are going to get community entrepreneurs in there to see their dreams come true.”

But this theme runs in contrast with how many of Peduto’s critics view the city and Peduto’s role. Some of those critics, particularly on the left, have called out Peduto for not coming down hard enough against, and initially siding with, the Pittsburgh Police department after they used less-lethal projectiles and tear gas against Black Lives Matter protesters last summer. Protesters even held demonstrations outside of Peduto’s house in Point Breeze. The city is being sued for the police’s actions against protesters on June 1, 2020.

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The topic of police reform was brought up during the Peduto campaign event. Peduto praised “community policing” efforts and said that those need to become culturally accepted within the police force. He said his efforts in reforming the Pittsburgh Police Department can be from initiatives to get officers who are not within the department to respond to mental health calls or people struggling to find housing, and from promoting officers within the department who agree with his community policing vision.

“Not to look for the one bad guy, but for the 99 good guys,” said Peduto. “What I can do is promote them and advance them. There is a reward for doing policing the right way.”

In terms of environmental policy, a community leader thanked Peduto for committing to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Peduto talked about moving the city to renewable energy, and how direct energy can help Pittsburgh move away from fossil fuels. Direct energy is when energy generation is created onsite instead of at a power plant miles away, like at the “cloud factory” at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch in Oakland.

Not many Pittsburgh mayors have served for three terms, with Tom Murphy being the last. Murphy’s third election was the closest, as he only won his Democratic Primary election, where Pittsburgh mayoral elections are essentially decided, by 1 point over challenger Bob O’Connor in 2001.

Peduto seems to be hoping a positive campaign, fueled by optimism, can push him across the finish line.

“There has been a positive buzz about Pittsburgh,” said Peduto.

Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared