What Fresh Hell Is This?

August 2, 2005

My Interview with Bill Peduto

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:

John McIntire
Tony Norman
Jon Delano


Philip Shropshire said...

He didn't disavow being a member of the DLC? Well, that's a sore point...

I wish you had asked him why the City of Pittsburgh isn't surrounded by Costcos...they pay well, they give monies to dems...I know he's on record as criticizing the wage slavery of Walmart...let's bring a Costco downtown...

Philip Shropshire

Shawn said...

A sore point? Last time I checked, the last Democrat to occupy the White House was a member of the DLC.

Philip Shropshire said...

There are those of us, and they include the Daily Kos, who believe that the DLC is the Enemy Within. Yes, we were able to attain the White House, but we lost majorities in both the House and the US Senate.

The Clintons left the Democratic Party in a terrible state. Don't get me wrong I would much prefer a Clinton presidency right about now but the measure of his greatness is also how strong did you leave your party? By the measure, Bill Clinton has failed.

Here's another thing: whenever we lose its almost always the fault of the DLC pro biz centrists. They not only give the Republicans their margin of victory, but now they seem to refuse to use the fillibuster on behalf of the party. In fact, we're getting the worst of both worlds in that if you get rid of the fillibuster you can at least work for up and down passage of some very attractive bills (see Nathan Newsman's perspective on this). With the help of DLC centrists, we simply don't get to use the fillibuster, all the while letting the Republicans use it, even if they ever are returned to minority status....As spineless as the Dems have become, they could win majorities in both houses, win the presidency and the GOP would still run Washington with 40 senators who simply hold firm....

Philip Shropshire said...

By the way, the guy who's on this beat the most is David Sirota. Here's an excerpt:


Let's just look at the cold, hard facts about the DLC and its record. The DLC has pushed, among other things, the war in Iraq and "free" trade policies, using bags of corporate money to buy enough Democratic votes to help Republicans make those policies a reality. They have chastised anyone who has opposed those policies as either unpatriotic or anti-business -- even as a majority of Americans now oppose the war in Iraq, oppose the DLC's business-written trade deals, and are sick of watching America's economy sold out to the highest corporate bidder. Additionally, in brazenly Orwellian fashion, the DLC has also called its extremist agenda "centrist," even though polls show the American public opposes most of their agenda, and supports much of the progressive agenda.

Now, you could make a credible argument that the DLC's corporatization/Republicanization of the Democratic Party was justified, had it led to electoral success for Democrats. Few would argue that today's split-the-difference Democratic Party hasn't followed the DLC's policy direction over the last 10 years. That means the last 10 years of elections really have been a referendum on whether the DLC's model -- regardless of any moral judgements about it -- actually wins at the polls.

And that's when we get to the real problem with the DLC -- its policies are BOTH morally bankrupt, and politically disastrous. The rise of the DLC within the Democratic Party has coincided almost perfectly with the decline of the Democratic Party's power in American politics -- a decline that took Democrats from seemingly permanent majority status to permanent minority status. In this last election, just think of Democrats' troubles in Ohio as a perfect example of this. Here was a state ravaged by massive job loss due to corporate-written "free" trade deals -- yet Democrats were unable to capitalize on that issue and thus couldn't win the state because the DLC had long ago made sure the party helped pass the very trade policies (NAFTA, China PNTR) that sold out those jobs.

To counter, the DLC holds up Bill Clinton's 1992 win as proof that its policies win elections, but that is so dishonest it's laughable. First and foremost, almost everyone would agree Clinton ran a very un-DLC-like populist campaign for President in 1992, and won far more on the strength of his charisma/personality than any policy platform from a bunch of pencil-pushing geeks at the DLC in Washington, D.C. Secondly, since that 1992 victory -- with the exception of Clinton's 1996 victory over one of the weakest GOP challengers in modern history -- Democrats have been roundly destroyed in national election after national election.

Thus, we are brought back to the bottom line: with the DLC, Democrats get all of the bad policies, and none of the good electoral outcomes -- it is the worst of both worlds.

Why is this the case? Because, above any one issue, Americans don't thin

Anonymous said...

On the local level, Peduto is joined by fellow DLCer Representative Dan Frankel

On the State level by Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Representative Jennifer Mann

and at the Federal level by DLC executive member Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

hardly a group of "right wing extremists"