Peduto visits campus, talks about the future of Pittsburgh

Mayor Bill Peduto spoke about revitalizing Pittsburgh on Tuesday at Carnegie Mellon. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor) Mayor Bill Peduto spoke about revitalizing Pittsburgh on Tuesday at Carnegie Mellon. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor) Members of the Pittsburgh Student Government Council were the audience of Peduto’s talk. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor) Members of the Pittsburgh Student Government Council were the audience of Peduto’s talk. (credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor)

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto planned to visit campus twice last week, but only made it once.

Peduto spoke at the monthly Pittsburgh Student Government Council (PSGC) on Tuesday, and while he intended to address the Undergraduate Student Senate on Thursday, he ultimately canceled.

Addressing the Pittsburgh Student Government Council in the Rachel Mellon Walton Room in Posner Hall, Peduto focused on how students can engage with the further growth and development of the city.

“I can remember vividly in the 1980s stepping onto this campus.... Pittsburgh was drastically different,” the mayor recalled, saying that the city had been through “an economic collapse. Not a recession, a collapse.”

“We had to reinvent ourselves,” he continued, mentioning past Carnegie Mellon President Richard Cyert, who “put out a different call” than those just wanting to reopen the city’s steel mills.

“He talked about what could be, rather than what was,” Peduto explained, recalling that Cyert’s ideas of reinventing Pittsburgh through technology and education were not well received.

Peduto spoke of continuing these goals into the future to improve the city.

“We have the ability to become a model of what a 21st century city should be,” he said.

According to the PSGC’s website, the organization was founded in 2009 after then-mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposed a tax on university tuition that would be paid by students in the city. After a series of gatherings and the creation of a petition signed by over 10,000 people, the tax was withdrawn by the end of the year.

PSGC Public Relations Chair Sarah Jugovic further described the PSGC in an email as “a distinctive council comprised of student leaders representing Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, La Roche College, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, and University of Pittsburgh.”

Peduto was at the founding meeting of PSGC as a city councilman with seven university presidents. Peduto recalled that the tuition tax “went against everything we were promoting ourselves to be.”

“We would be the only city in the world that penalized not sin, but productivity. There are sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, but there is no city that taxes education,” he said.
Peduto began his talk by asking PSGC members in the room to introduce themselves, after saying, “when you ask what my vision of Pittsburgh is, it’s to keep you guys here.”

The mayor spent most of his speech drawing together the idea of retaining young students in the city and boosting the city’s population and development, but also connecting those goals’ benefits to those Pittsburgh residents who are less fortunate.

“For fifty years of my life I only saw one thing: People leave this city. My entire life I saw this city lose population. I was told the best I would ever be able to do is manage decline,” Peduto said. “We’re done with that model. We’re done with that expectation. We’re going to become a city that’s growing.”

The mayor spoke of the need to build a tax base to help fund development efforts, and hopes to do this through contributions and partnerships with non-profit companies and businesses.

“Forty percent of our tax base is non-taxable,” he explained, saying that if Pittsburgh is to grow there is a need for revenue sharing and public-private partnerships.

“We look to our universities and hospitals as engines of economic development,” the mayor said, mentioning that the recent deal between Uber and Carnegie Mellon “could be huge” for the city.

Peduto spoke glowingly of School of Computer Science Dean Andrew Moore, who he said played a large role in Google deciding to set up an office in Pittsburgh. Peduto recalled a meeting with Moore where he asked him what the city could do for him and Moore simply replied, “clean your air; clean your water.”

The mayor connected this comment to the environmental reforms pushed by past Pittsburgh mayor David Lawrence, more than twenty years before any clean air and water regulations were being considered by Congress.

The environmental improvements that Peduto talked of served to connect all the goals related to economic development back to improving the well-being of Pittsburgh residents. “There’s a bigger challenge,” he said, “thirty percent of this city lives in poverty. Thirty percent of this city has no ladder of opportunity.”

When asked by Graduate Student Assembly Vice President of External Affairs and engineering and public policy Ph.D. student Will Frankenstein about public transportation funding in the city, particularly the development of light rail, the mayor spoke plainly about the need for improvement.

“We need to invest in our public transportation,” he said, painting a picture of a connected city representing opportunities for its residents.

Peduto then outlined plans for community meetings and a website where people could contribute their ideas for improving Pittsburgh’s transit system. He said that online “you can play almost a Sim City-like game of building your own system.... We have to be able to connect it all.”

Peduto did not shy away from talking about costs either, adding that funding transportation improvements would have to be publicly discussed, and suggested the possibility of spreading out the tax burden between different sources such as sales taxes and sin taxes.

“I’m very cynical of politics,” Peduto remarked, noting the irony of his statement. “I spent my 20s and early 30s running political campaigns and became so sick by it. I enjoy the government side much more.”

Peduto said that he saw the economic future of Pittsburgh being tied to three things: improving public transit, fixing the city’s sewer overflow problem, and the development of Pittsburgh International Airport.

“These are the three key areas we’re missing,” he said.

Peduto spoke of Pittsburgh’s unique set of opportunities for growth, and how the current size of the city allows for many projects and efforts to be feasible which may not be in larger cities. “I talk about Pittsburgh being an urban lab,” he said, describing in particular his vision of a system of child care which follows “a model of pre-K that goes all the way to prenatal,” and the development of after school programs and youth employment programs to adolescents “out of trouble and give them opportunities.”

“I want to make the steel city into the education city,” Peduto said.

Julia Eddy, junior social and decision sciences major and Senate and PSGC member, was happy to have the mayor speaking on campus: “PSGC has been difficult to keep established, so it’s nice to have him soliciting our opinion.”

She added that she was “really excited to have him at Senate.”

Thursday morning, however, Mayor Peduto canceled his appearance at the Senate meeting due to “unexpected events,” according to the official Facebook post for the event.

Instead, Kevin Acklin, the mayor’s chief of staff and chief development officer was initially scheduled to fill in, but then also canceled due to what the page called “unforeseeable circumstances and a miscommunication within the Mayor’s office.”

Junior information systems major and Senate chair Evan Wineland said that he would be reaching out to the mayor’s office to try and reschedule the visit. This visit would have been the mayor’s first time speaking to Senate.

Wineland said that the mayor would have spoken about “connections between CMU and the greater Pittsburgh community,” and trying to “bridge a gap between the two.”