On May 18th, Bill Peduto will be running for a third term as Mayor of Pittsburgh. It will be his last run and will be happening amid a pandemic, in a city divided between those who believe Pittsburgh is one of the most livable cities in the U.S. and those who feel excluded from ‘that’ city.
Part of our series interviewing the candidates running to be Mayor of Pittsburgh. You can read our feature on State Representative Ed Gainey here.
It will also be the first time Peduto will be running without the endorsement of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats. They have endorsed State Representative Ed Gainey. Gainey is quickly becoming a household name heading into the primary and could prove to be one of Mr. Peduto’s strongest political rivals yet. Despite any disadvantages, Peduto is still confident he can continue to lead Pittsburgh for four more years.
Peduto’s administration has faced criticism for the police response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Peduto is no stranger to conflict between the communities and the police.
When he took office in 2014, Peduto said, “The Bureau was broken. And more than likely we would be facing another consent decree. So we had to start completely from scratch. We brought in a new chief for the first time ever in the city’s history from outside the Bureau.”
Cameron McLay of Madison, Wisc., was hired as Police Chief in September 2014. “He called himself The Wrecking Ball Chief, knowing the work he needed to do would not be popular and the time he needed to do it would have to be swift,” said Peduto. “But we began to make reforms within the police bureau and we worked with the Obama administration in creating the model for policing in the 21st century. We were awarded by the Obama administration and selected as one of six pilot cities for President Obama’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.” The program brought support for Pittsburgh in the form of police training in procedural justice and implicit bias; support for community building efforts; community and internal surveys; and assistance with work in racial reconciliation with the city’s communities of color.
“Over the past few years, we’ve changed to community-based policing and have created entirely new divisions within the police bureau,” Peduto said. One such division deals with critical communities such as the LGBTQ community, training officers in order to be able to understand individual needs and also cultural understanding.
“We have been able to create the office of community health services so that officers are now assisted by social workers when dealing with the homeless community, those who suffer with addiction, and those suffering with mental health issues, so that people who need help are getting help,” Peduto said. He disagrees with allegations of broken promises in regards to police-community relations.
“We have taken this department in a completely different direction. The number of complaints against police officers has gone down. The number of lawsuits against police officers has gone down. Violent crime has gone down,” he said.
Under the Peduto administration, the Gender Equity Commission (GEC) was created in recognition of disparities based upon gender. Peduto said the GEC put forward one of the most important reports since The Pittsburgh Survey in 1908. The GEC study looked at disparity based upon gender, then dove deeper and added race to the equation and found that in many cases the disparity in Pittsburgh for black women was greater than other cities. It then put together a list of recommendations in order to be able to lessen that disparity. “We’ve used that as our guide in order to be able to address it and take from it not only what the city can do but what our critical partners in the non-profit community, our institutions, our corporate community, our greater community can do as well,” Peduto said. He also notes that he’s working with City Council on creating a commission on race.
Mayor Peduto is also proud of the work he’s done with the LGBTQ+ Community over the years.
“My history of working with the LGBTQ community spans over the course of decades, he said.” He volunteered with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force in the early 1990s. He later put forward legislation that banned conversion therapy within the city.
“We’re one of few cities in the country that offers gender identity surgery as a benefit to all our employees. We’ve broken down barriers going back into the late 1990s and early 2000s. I marched in the Pride parades as the only elected official. When I began fighting for the community it wasn’t popular. It was in fact very unpopular. I was fortunate to have the council district that supported me for doing it. The other parts of the city weren’t quite as progressive at that time. It’s the history I have with this community, through the AIDS epidemic to today, that allows me to state unequivocally that the support I’ve given to the LGBTQ community is greater than any elected official in Pittsburgh,” he said.
In June 2020, Peduto forwarded legislation to City Council to make the city’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council a permanent commission within city code.
In response to criticism from opponents for lack of support from his administration for the GEC and other commissions, he said, “These are the institutions we created. It’s unfair to say that we haven’t done anything for something that didn’t exist until our administration took office.”
When asked what he was most proud of in his past two terms as mayor, he said it’s hard to pick one issue. “We’ve been able to make changes across the board, and I do believe the city is a different city than it was eight years ago. But if one specific program stands out, it is our Summer Learn & Earn. We created the program so that every kid in Pittsburgh between ages 14-21 that wants a summer job gets one. We employed over 2,000 people last year in companies like PNC, UPMC, and the University of Pittsburgh, giving them that experience they otherwise never would have had. And that opportunity is more than just to make money, it’s to break barriers, and it’s a model for what we try to do in our administration: create partnerships, and then utilize those partnerships to do more than what city government can do on its own,” he said.
If reelected, one of Peduto’s focuses will be the infrastructure of the city. “During the Trump Administration, the federal government walked away from investing in critical infrastructure. And although it may not be the most high profile of issues, it’s absolutely necessary that we not only fix our roads but that we build them for the 21st century. That we build water systems that ensure our children’s children will have pure drinking water in the future. To be able to do so with the Biden administration is a critical change that I believe we’ll be able to see,” he said.
“I see myself as a Pittsburgher. As somebody who has worked to unite, instead of divide. As someone who has sought a way to bring everyone to the table and not allow anyone to own the table. I see myself as somebody who has proven over the course of their entire career that I am a Mayor for everyone.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article improperly characterized a statement by Mayor Peduto.