Councilman Bill Peduto marches to his own drumbeat

By Lindsay Carroll

‘ ‘ ‘ City Councilman Bill Peduto wanted to conduct a political experiment. ‘ ‘ ‘ After… ‘ ‘ ‘ City Councilman Bill Peduto wanted to conduct a political experiment. ‘ ‘ ‘ After working as chief of staff for his predecessor, former councilman Dan Cohen, he thought it might be his turn to run for office in 2001. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I ran under the promise to myself that I would do everything that I thought was right, even though it may be politically wrong,’ said Peduto. ‘I was just going to be me, I was going to vote the way that was right and let the chips fall where they may. And it was almost like a political experiment.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Peduto represents Pittsburgh’s eighth district, which includes North Oakland, parts of West Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield and Squirrel Hill. In 2004, Peduto made a plan for the future of Oakland, which included ideas to make the area pedestrian-friendly and expansive. ‘ ‘ ‘ He worked with Andrew Zins, owner of Cafe Sam on Baum Boulevard, to plan development for the Baum and Centre Avenue corridor in North Oakland. ‘ ‘ ‘ Zins, whose restaurant has been on Baum for 22 years, said that Peduto’s goal of diversifying the area considered everyone involved. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I think he’s guided by a sense of what’s right for the community, regardless of any political consequences,’ said Zins. ‘ ‘ ‘ Peduto went against some community members when he led an initiative to build Schenley Plaza. ‘There were people that were very upset about the loss of parking,’ said Peduto. ‘If you look at it now and say, ‘OK, we’re going to tear it down and build a surface parking lot,’ I think people would cause a revolution.’ Peduto said he wants to ‘green-up’ Oakland even further by putting trees on Forbes Avenue and making it as pedestrian friendly as Fifth Avenue. He said the neighborhood needs a new public transit route in order to grow ‘mdash; and plans with community input. He said students should have more say in City Council decisions, even though primary elections occur during Pitt’s summer break. ‘In Pittsburgh, elections are determined in the primary. And by the time second or third week of May comes around, the Towers are empty,’ said Peduto. ‘If students were to stay, or if they were to register and do a strong effort for absentee ballot, the voice of students would become not one of the small minority, but one of the strongest majority votes in the city.’ An unusual career path ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Although Peduto was always interested in politics, he didn’t finish his political science degree until about two years ago, he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ He left Penn State University with three courses remaining, even though he had about 150 credits. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I had five majors, so I just put off getting the remaining courses,’ he said. ‘It’s probably not the usual path.” ‘ ‘ ‘ After working as a campaign manager, Peduto decided to switch gears and work in local government, leading to his election to City Council. He ran for mayor twice in the democratic primaries ‘mdash; first, against former mayor Bob O’Connor, finishing second, and later in 2007 after O’Connor died in office. ‘ ‘ ‘ Peduto said his first campaign ‘was magic,’ even though he lost. Hiring fresh campaigners helped make the race unique, leading him to knock on doors and make midnight speeches in the South Side. ‘ ‘ ‘ But Peduto said that in his second race, after O’Connor’s death, the political climate changed. He realized that he could not beat Ravenstahl’s high numbers without a negative campaign, so he withdrew. ‘ ‘ ‘ After the short race, Peduto said he wanted to recharge his political batteries. Over the summer, he traveled to learn about green government in Norway and cultural interaction in Turkey. ‘ ‘ ‘ A Turkish flag sat next to bobble-head dolls and books on his office shelves. The critic ‘ ‘ ‘ Peduto, who has criticized Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s administration, said that campaign contributions are often used as leverage for favors in Pittsburgh politics. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I’ve been in politics for over 20 years, and I’ve been in city government for nearly 14,’ said Peduto. ‘I’ve never seen the culture of pay-to-play as prevalent as it is today.’ Fred Terling, Mayor Ravenstahl’s campaign manager, said that if pay-to-play were true, 3,800 campaign donors would be benefiting. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s easy to pull someone up on the list and say, ‘Aha! They got a contract,” said Terling. ‘We don’t do that with people, we hope that people raise money, and that’s basically how it goes.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Peduto said that running for mayor will be a future option. But currently, he plans to run for reelection in his district. ‘ ‘ ‘ He said when he leaves the City-County Building, he wants to feel that he did everything he wanted. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘There are no votes I would change. I never have to think twice, I never have to prepare a speech or an interview, because I don’t have to think about what I said the last time,’ he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘And it has caused me friction within the establishment of politics, but I don’t go out to hurt people,’ said Peduto. ‘It’s just that if somebody’s taking two cookies from the cookie jar, I’m going to point it out and say it’s not right.’