With the news cycle, the Trump administration is capturing most of the public’s attention, and Mayor Bill Peduto sees a path for cities to bring about change.
“We are living in interesting times right now,” he said Tuesday night. “Changes that are happening in this world will happen at the local level.”
The College Democrats hosted Mayor Bill Peduto for a discussion in the Cathedral of Learning about Pittsburgh politics and current affairs. Peduto spoke on a number of national issues related to Pittsburgh, both new and old, including the latest decision to rescind the federal DACA program, the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement and the future of the Democratic Party.
More than 80 students attended the event, which doubled as the club’s second general meeting — the first of which took place Aug. 29 — to listen and ask the mayor questions.
Dan Cho, a first-year studying studying Neuroscience, came to the meeting with the desire to learn more about local government.
“I’m not too familiar with the specific details of city government, more so in just federal government,” he said. “Which is why I wanted to come and possibly volunteer [in politics].”
Peduto opened the meeting with mention of the Paris Climate Agreement and his commitment to ensuring Pittsburgh follows the guidelines of the pact despite the federal government’s withdrawal.
“We agreed that we were going to create our own standards on the local level so we would be able reduce our carbon footprint,“ Peduto said.
With his own general mayoral election coming up against two independent candidates, Peduto spoke about the importance of voting in local elections — particularly for local judgeships.
“You will have the opportunity to steer electoral votes in four years with the presidency,” Peduto said. “More importantly, there will be active campaigns for supreme court, commonwealth courts, superior courts and common police courts.”
Halfway through the event, he opened the discussion up to questions from students — who challenged him on several topics. One student wanted to know how he will reduce carbon emissions throughout the city, while others pressed him on the issue of lead in Pittsburgh water and how to resolve gerrymandering in the state.
Peduto said his solutions will be long-term as far as raising rates and allowing the city to replace lead lines over the next 10 years. He also recognized, due to partisan gridlock, it may take until 2022 to vote for a democratic jury in the state supreme court that can redraw district lines.
Joseph Lehman, a first-year student studying political science, asked the mayor a question about raising the minimum wage in the city.
In response, Peduto pointed to his efforts on raising the minimum wage for city employees and incentivizing private businesses to raise their wages.
“I’ve had family who have had to provide for their kids on less than $10 an hour. I understand there’s not much he can do at this moment on the state level,” Lehman said. “But from what it sounds like he’s really been able to use private business and [is making] them pay their employees more.”
When prompted about the city’s police department interfering with peaceful protests, Peduto spoke candidly about mistakes in the past. He referred to an instance in June, when two separate Pride Week marches took place simultaneously — one sponsored by the energy company EQT and one called the People’s Pride March, which rejected corporate presence in the pride parade. Pittsburgh Police officers misinterpreted the latter as an anti-pride parade and met the marchers with opposition before realizing their mistake, Peduto said.
“During the pride parade, there were two minutes where they showed up in helmets. When we found out it was the counter parade, we immediately removed the officers and we de-escalated the situation,” Peduto said.
Charlotte Goldbach, the president of Pitt College Democrats and a senior political science and communications major, was pleased by his ability to directly respond to student concerns.
“He is really good at acknowledging room for improvement. Pittsburgh is an ever-changing city,” she said. “He has been really successful bringing a lot of industries to Pittsburgh to help advance it, and I think he addressed a lot of it.”
Despite student and public concern for the state of national politics, Peduto ended the meeting with an insistence on improvement starting here in Pittsburgh.
“You will see people wearing Nazi symbols. You will see people burning crosses. You will hear derogatory statements based on race, gender and sexual orientation,” Peduto said. “We have to do better. So why don’t we start in Pittsburgh?”