Next in a series of interviews with members of the Pittsburgh Political Community.
He has an office that can best be described as situated somewhere more or less exactly between “neat” and “cluttered.” It's the working office of a very busy guy but not of someone who's let the trappings of his office get out of control either. Amid all the stuff stacked on top of his desk, it is still possible to see the top of his desk. This, I should think, is a good sign.
Elected to City Council in 2001, Bill Peduto has made a name for himself in local Pittsburgh politics. He garnered about a quarter of the vote in the recent Democratic primary for Mayor while winning his own district seat handily with about 61% of the vote.
His defiantly Feng Shui-free office looks out on the empty lot bounded by Ross Street and 3rd and 4th Avenues. Inside the office, he still has the poster of the Chinese dissident challenging that Chinese tank in 1989 on one side of his office and Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom of Speech" on the other.
We had a very nice chat recently about the local political scene and his place in it. In doing so we also discussed the agenda he wishes to implement while on City Council and the meaning of the phrase “New Democrat.” Oh, yea - we also discussed the USAPatriot.
I should state upfront that we didn’t begin on time – the council meeting Peduto was attending ran late 20 minutes or so. One of Peduto’s staffers let me sit in on the meeting for a few minutes and I soon discovered that although everyone was indeed speaking in English, the subject matter nonetheless made it almost completely incomprehensible to me. Probably didn’t help that I was only catching the last few minutes of it - my loss, I guess.
We got down to business a few minutes later beneath the benevolent gaze of a non-bobbing Willie Stargell Bobblehead. Peduto in a suit and tie and me in the blogger's defacto uniform - sneakers, jeans and a clean shirt.
On his campaign website, Peduto is described as a “reform democrat” and elsewhere as a “new democrat.” The Democratic Leadership Council named him among the “100 Rising New Democrats Stars” and in September 2003, the DLC named him “Democrat of the Week.”
So I asked him, what a “new democrat?” is and how does that fit into what is probably an “old democrat” sort of town like Pittsburgh?
Peduto summed things up this way: It begins with a recognition that “change is inevitable, but progress is not” and revolves around challenging the “old” notion of what a Democrat is. It’s a mixture of separate parts of the current polarized political camps and means being socially conscious while being fiscally responsible. In any case and with what ever definition, he says he finds himself out on the fringe with any group he sits with. He didn’t support the Iraq war, where the DLC was more accepting of it and in Pittsburgh, he says that there’s “not a lot of elected leaders’ support for being fiscally conservative within the local Democratic Party.” Socially conscious and fiscally conservative - in Pittsburgh, that's the fringe.
He said that he's not really a big fan of such political labels. And I would have to agree. Local politics are so dependent on local conditions, that what's "new" in one venue is probably unworkable in another.
Being one member of the city council brings with it greater challenges for Peduto to try to implement his agenda. For instance, he’s looking to further community based development, implement greater diversity on local boards and push for larger scale WiFi networks across Pittsburgh. We even discussed his plans on pushing for enticements on creating “Green” buildings. He admits it’ll be a challenge to try to get the incoming administration to change.
We moved on to some more national topics. Well, one topic - the USAPatriot Act.
As both houses of Congress have voted to make permanent some sections of the Act, I asked Peduto the status of the resolution he drafted in City Council a year ago.
He said that he’s planning on heading to DC to talk to Senator Specter about it as he continues to be concerned over a number of it's provisions. The so-called “sneak and peek” sections are at odds with the 4th Amendment, for instance. The Government’s ability to seize library records is particularly chilling (in the spirit of full disclosure, I sit writing this in the Carnegie Public Library, by the way). Finally, the Government’s power to inter someone with no notification is also troublesome.
“The war to preserve freedom should not come at the cost of freedom itself,” He told me.
Even if there were nothing else said, that says alot. That Chinese Dissident would probably not disagree.
My previous interviews: