Q&A With Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh

Bill_Peduto_headshot
Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh

Competitive primaries evince the best out of elected officials. It keeps us honest, and allows us to stay in touch with the communities we serve. I’m proud to have run in multiple tough races, because I think it’s made me a better elected official.

We are launching our election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.

To kick-off, I’m publishing my first Q&A Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh. He is running for his third and final four year term as Mayor.

I’ve known Mayor Peduto for a long time in political and blogging years, he’s the politician I’ve blogged about the most often by far truthfully because he’s been the most involved in LGBTQ affairs and had the longest political career. Mayor Peduto has two known challenges thus far promising an interesting primary season for local Democrats who are also wrestling with party endorsements, the fallout of the Trump-led domestic terror attacks on the US Capitol, serious racial justice questions, and the pandemic among other issues.

Name: William Peduto
Pronouns: He/Him
How do you describe your identity? Cis-straight male, and longtime ally of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA community.

What are your top three progressive accomplishments as Mayor? It is hard to point to any one accomplishment, since there are hundreds we can identify, but there are three that make me extremely proud: having a perfect score in the Human Right Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index four years in a row, passing COVID leave for all residents, and the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. These three progressive accomplishments make Pittsburgh a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient city.

What are your top three progressive goals for next term? Over the next four years, we want to focus on expanding investment from our outside partners into the work on equity being done by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Second, Pittsburgh has been a national leader on climate change, and we want to double down and advance the goals of our Climate Action Plan, which commits us to reducing our carbon output to 50% of 2003 levels by 2030. Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to leverage my bully pulpit to fight for state and national reforms that match our local successes, such as increasing the minimum wage and passing statewide non-discrimination laws.

As a member of City Council, you were considered one of the most progressive voices in the region. As Mayor, you are now often framed as an “Establishment” figure. How do you explain that shift? I have offered pragmatic progressive policies to make a tangible impact in this city. We created a $15/hr minimum wage for city employees, we’ve unionized security guards, and we’re reinvesting in communities of color that have been ignored for decades. We are supporting community projects, and we’ve established OCHS, which, when fully operational will make sure that a police response will not be warranted when dealing with someone who is going through a mental health crisis. I respect the work of community leaders holding our feet to the fire and making sure that we do all we can to make a better Pittsburgh for all.

Your work on municipal climate change efforts has been well-received. As a ‘cat lady’ and City resident, I am concerned about the lack of attention to urban wildlife and urban homeless animals. This includes everything from feral cats to the ACC budget to euthanize healthy wildlife to the geese and the deer living in our backyards and the impact of urban gardening on bees. Where do these concerns fit into your policies Neighborhood issues like these play a big part in our sustainability plan. Our big actions on climate change, like making the city a netzero carbon emitter, have served as a national model, but we have also focused on a lot of smaller issues that can have big impacts. For example, we banned the use of pesticides in city parks; we’ve increased animal care and control, and worked with Council to address everything from mistreatment of animals at the circus to the protection of pigeons in the City. We also have been fighting, and will continue to fight, illegal hunting in our city parks. The key to this, however, is helping expand pet adoption and getting pets into good homes, and that comes from partnerships with nonprofit providers and supporting the expansion of facilities within the city.

When local residents have a critique or criticism of Pittsburgh, there’s a tendency among most of us to deflect to a “most livable City’ crouch instead of taking on the issue directly. Why is it so hard for Pittsburghers to say “Yes, we need to do better on this particular issue” and do so without getting defensive?If you can’t admit that we have more work to do as a city, then you are in denial. We have accomplished a lot. It takes data to track your success and failures. That’s why I funded both the gender equity report and the equity indicators work. It starts with baselines and data if you are really going to impact people.  This is why we’re in a partnership  to provide a universal basic income of $500/mo a group of people in our city, but unlike other cities in this partnership, we’re giving it to black women in order to see how this stimulus will allow them to prosper.This is also why we’re launching the Avenues of Hope initiatives. We’re investing in these communities that haven’t seen investment in over 50 years. We’re not just going to make them beautiful, instead we’re going to make sure that small businesses and entrepreneurs can thrive here

You ran on a platform promising to hold UPMC accountable to all of us, to pay their fair share?  Your approach changed, but UPMC is still handling the pandemic questionably with regard to non-essential procedures, labor issues, and even how they distribute the vaccine to their own staff. What UPMC-reform specific priorities can we expect to see in your next term? We dropped a lawsuit that we did not believe would work out, and instead chose to work together. This led to UPMC committing to $15/hour minimum wage for all employees, commitments to union jobs on construction projects, investment in a new opioid clinic, and more. Maybe the most significant commitment is their partnership in creating a new state of the art homeless center downtown. We continue to work with them for even more investment in key priorities like affordable housing.


I respect the work of community leaders holding our feet to the fire and making sure that we do all we can to make a better Pittsburgh for all.


One criticism of your Administration is your coziness with corporations. The Penguins took a whopping multi-million loan through the federal government to prop up the Sports and Exhibition Authority while small businesses throughout Downtown and the inner neighborhoods are just collapsing. We know it was a legal decision by the Penguins to seek out the small business funds, but was it ethical? Should they return the money? COVID has taken a huge toll on many small businesses in Pittsburgh. It has been a huge impediment for making a more equitable city. I know that there has been a lot of criticism for how the Federal Government under the Trump administration handled the PPP rollout.  But to focus on our role as a City: We have put over $10 million into rental and mortgage assistance, support for food banks, small business loans, and a groundbreaking partnership between 412 Food Rescue and downtown restaurants to both support these businesses and to feed the food insecure. I am focused on the work I can control to support our residents and businesses.

There’s a theme of “not liking Bill Peduto” that’s partially grounded in genuine policy differences, but also seems tied to not liking any Mayor who stays in office too long. Along that line you once said  “If you can’t get it done in 12 years, I don’t know if you could.” So why not put formal term limits in place so we can focus on issues like transparency and accountability without the personal issues? As a member of city council, I knew by my tenth year that I did all I could do in that office. Having been mayor for almost eight years now, I don’t have that same feeling now. We raised the minimum wage for city workers to $15/hour, we made the city carbon neutral, and we brought the city out of Act 47 and ended with $120 million budget surplus that allowed us to be more resilient against the COVID economic crisis. I look forward to building on this progress with another term.

The #BLM protestors have valid, historically based points around police reform, among others. The power of the FOP seems unlimited. The will of the State Legislature to impose limits through legislation seems non-existent. So where’s the middle ground while the obstructionists are voted out of office and the laws changed? The key is reimagining 21st century policing. That is why we have implemented implicit bias and de-escalation training, mandatory body cameras for all police officers, increased training in the academy on issues such as homelessness, mental health, and addiction. We were a part of President Obama’s initial 21st Century Policing Initiative, tripled the number of Community Resource Officers, and created the Neighborhood Resource Officer program,  the Civil Affairs unit, and the Community Engagement Office. We are launching a pre-arrest diversion program and the new Office of Community Health and Safety. We are also implementing the recommendations of the Community Police Reform Task Force.

You’ve established a Social Service department to offer more direct support to residents. What will that look like? The Office of Community Health and Safety is central to re-imagining policing. We must not criminalize poverty, addiction, and mental health challenges. This office will work on programs like our partnership with AHN to respond to help those in need with social workers and outreach workers. We will work on victims assistance, improved training within the city, work with our veterans, and continue our national leadership on tackling the opioid crisis.

It seems to me that UPMC and AHN putting more resources into existing programs like RESOLVE connects the dots on checking their multi-million non-taxable status with a much needed infusion of mental health supports aka more teams on the streets. Why aren’t we trying that?  UPMC and AHN are key partners in our new office, the homeless shelter, and other programs. RESOLVE plays a very important role in our fabric of responses, but the work must go deeper than just a response model which is a critical part of OCHS’s work. We must be proactive as well. .

What percentage of City employees and applicants identify as LGBTQ? Obviously, some prefer not to disclose, but some do. What about the boards, commissions, and authorities? Have you created a report as per this legislation you sponsored in 2006? https://library.municode.com/pa/pittsburgh/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=COOR_TITONEAD_ARTIXBOCOAU_CH179BFAREAPBOAUCO_S179B.02PULIALREBOAUCO

We have not identified employment or appointments around gender identity or sexual orientation. We have focused on creating policies that attract, retain, and protect all employees from any form of discrimination or mistreatment. There are a significant number of senior leaders within this Administration that identify as LGBTQIA+.

How is “Bike Lane Bill” a legacy you can build on during a third term? We’re focused on Vision Zero. Our streets need to be for all citizens and DOMI has been focused and will continue to strive towards these goals.

No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on city streets
Every household in Pittsburgh can access fresh fruits and vegetables within 20 minutes of their home, without the requirement of a private vehicle.
All trips less than one mile are easy and enjoyable to walk, roll, or bike.
No household must spend more than 45% of household income on basic housing and essential transportation
The design, maintenance, and operation of city streets reflect the values of our communities.

You co-founded the Steel City Stonewall Democrats chapter circa 2000. Did you envision 21 years later an openly gay City Council President, four openly queer municipal council members, openly LGBTQ judges, and an openly bisexual woman serving in the General Assembly? What does that mean for you?

Mayor Peduto wedding
Mayor Peduto pronounces Sue and Laura legally wed in their backyard on 2 February 2021. Photo credit: Sarah Hartman

When I was on Pittsburgh City Council, the Pride Parade was nothing like it is today. It was neighborhood based, and took place in Shadyside. I was one of the first and only elected officials at that time who marched in the Parade, and I’m incredibly proud of that. Having openly LGBTQ judges and elected officials is a huge step in the right direction. For kids and teenagers struggling with belonging, this is life changing, because we are telling them that they belong and that their community here in Pittsburgh will welcome, accept them, and lift them up. This is a great start, but there is a ton of work left to be done.

To build on this more, I have worked to make our government more inclusive. For example, the City now covers Gender Confirmation Surgery for all employees, we have had a perfect score from HRC for four consecutive years, banned conversion therapy, and we’ve created a Commission to ensure that members of the LGBTQIA+ community have a seat at the table in our city.

How is your office responding to the loss of local print media? We’re utilizing social media to ensure that the City’s message is getting out there. We’ve also started the Monday Morning Post, which is a recap of the last week by the city, and quarterly newsletters. These tools make sure that I have my own voice direct to citizens. Freedom of Press is important. It keeps the government and myself honest and accountable to the people. It is the shield against fake news. That’s why everything going on at the Post Gazette is so troubling, and I stand with the Union and their demands of management. Enough is enough, come to the bargaining table.

How will you work to keep us safe from COVID-19 and MAGA in the coming weeks and months? First and foremost, we’re constantly reevaluating the situation to make sure we’re always making the most important steps for public health. We have partnered with the Allegheny County and State Department of Health in this endeavor. Since the beginning of the crisis, we have delivered almost a million free meals to kids and seniors to make sure that no one goes hungry because of this crisis. As part of this, we’ve funded a program to buy food from restaurants to feed the hungry, which allows us to keep people nourished and help some of our struggling businesses. We’ve also put over $10M in funding for small business and low income rental and mortgage assistance programs as well as supported our local food banks.

In terms of white nationalist violence, we’re working with the FBI on monitoring threats. We need to also focus on long term planning. This means creating more interfaith dialogues and making sure that there is more interaction and discussion between communities. It also means that we must grant support to any community that is marginalized or feels marginalized so that people know that an attack on one is an attack on all. More long term though, this type of hate thrives when there is a lack of hope, no matter the religion or background. That means that we must also focus on an aggressive economic development strategy to make sure that we deal with this.

The day after the Inauguration, you tweeted in the wee hours what’s been perceived as an incendiary comparison of #BLM protestors and far right white supremacists. What evidence do you have of the “Radical right and Radical left joining together” in this region? Why would you expect a comparison of present day Pittsburgh to Nazi Germany to go over well with anyone? I did not and would never compare Black Lives Matter protestors to white supremacists, and other right wing extremists, full stop. I have spoken on many occasions about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, and have supported it. I hear the frustrations in the community, and I have been working doggedly every day to improve the conditions in Pittsburgh so that we can live up to being an equitable city. This is why we are making so many changes in city government. The point I was trying to make was about 1930s Germany, and the battles within the left that created an opening for the far right. When the SPD lost control of the Reichstag, Germany was changed for the worse. We cannot allow reactionary forces to gain control in Pittsburgh.

How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of Pittsburgh? Competitive primaries evince the best out of elected officials. It keeps us honest, and allows us to stay in touch with the communities we serve. I’m proud to have run in multiple tough races, because I think it’s made me a better elected official. Running also allows you to do a better job of communicating with the public. People want results, and since I first inherited this city, I have worked towards backing this a more equitable, sustainable, and better city. We are investing in Black and brown businesses and neighborhoods, we’re making needed investments in green tech and making sure that our city can withstand shocks, and we have worked to make sure that the next generation of young leaders can take the reins of government and build an even better city.

Thank you, Mayor Peduto.

Disclosures – my partner works for the City of Pittsburgh and reports indirectly to the Mayor. The Mayor recently issued a proclamation to my blog in honor of our 15th anniversary. He appointed me to the LGBTQIA+ Commission. And he co-officiated our wedding on February 2, 2021 at the very last minute.

Peduto for Mayor

 


 

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