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Pittsburgh mayor-elect Peduto boasts of diversity in executive team

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 10:21 a.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's executive team from left to right: Guy Costa, Debbie Lestitian, Lourdes Sanchez Ridge, Bill Peduto, Curtiss Porter, Valerie McDonald-Roberts, Kevin Acklin and Debra Lam
Kevin Acklin, Chief of Staff & Chief Development Officer
Debra Lam, chief innovation and performance officer
Debbie Lestitian, Chief Administration Officer
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto tapped Valerie McDonald Roberts, 58, of Churchill to serve as his chief urban affairs officer.
Guy Costa, Chief Operations Officer
Curtiss Porter, chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer in Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's cabinet, stepped down Friday, Jan. 16, 2015.
Lourdes Sanchez Ridge, Solicitor & Chief Legal Officer

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said on Thursday that his new administration will be the most diverse group ever to occupy a Pittsburgh mayor's office.

Peduto, 49, of Point Breeze announced that four women and three men will occupy top posts in his office. They include two blacks, a woman born in Cuba and a woman fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese whose parents are Chinese immigrants. He described all as elite.

“I think they all come from a background in business, law and government,” said Peduto, who takes office in January. “They would all be considered at the top of their fields. I would put this team up against ... any team.”

Kevin Acklin, 37, a cum laude graduate of Harvard University and partner in the law firm Saul Ewing, will serve as chief of staff.

Curtiss Porter, 73, chancellor of the Penn State Greater Allegheny campus in McKeesport, will be the mayor's liaison to Pittsburgh Public Schools as chief education and neighborhoods reinvestment officer.

“I believe in (Peduto's) vision. I believe he's articulated a vision that brings the whole of Pittsburgh forward,” said Porter, who has served as chancellor for 14 years. “There are communities where recent progress has left them behind.”

Porter lives in White Oak but said he plans to move to Bloomfield before he starts in January.

Observers praised Peduto's choices.

Malik Bankston, longtime community activist and executive director of the nonprofit civic group Kingsley Association, said the team is a sign that Peduto intends to modernize city government. He said it shows Peduto plans to give segments of the city — including blacks, Asians and Hispanics — an opportunity to help shape Pittsburgh's future.

Bankston said other cities have found that diversity is good for government and business. Pittsburgh has lagged in that area, he said.

“We hear all the time this thing about Pittsburgh being the most livable city, but the most livable city for whom?” he said.

Peduto delivered on a campaign promise that he would build a team reflective of Pittsburgh's ethnic makeup. He said he made choices based on ability.

In some cases, he said, he already knew them. Guy Costa was his campaign manager. As chief operations officer, Costa will oversee public works, parks and recreation, and the parking and water and sewer authorities.

Others came to him by chance. Former Mayor Tom Murphy recommended Debra Lam, who will be chief innovation and performance officer. Peduto said “serendipity” brought him Porter. The two started talking at a meeting, he said.

Four of the seven appointees live outside the city, but all agreed to abide by a residency requirement for employees and move to Pittsburgh by January.

Diversity hasn't been a priority for past mayors, according to Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

“This is not an accidental thing on his part,” Shuster said. “Obviously, he's taken the time and effort to make this an administrative team with a focus on gender, ethnic and racial balance.”

The key, he said, is whether Peduto based his choices also on ability, as he said he did.

“I think it's a great team and I think Peduto should be congratulated for the universality of the focus of the team that he has assembled,” he said. “Again, a lot of this depends on how thoroughly each of these people were vetted. They have to be able to do the job.”

Constance Parker, president of Pittsburgh's NAACP chapter, said the most important thing is what Peduto's team does to improve the city.

“I don't care who he puts in the seat,” she said. “Will it change the violence in our streets? Will it change unemployment? Will it change the hatred and racism that's out there?”

Voters on Tuesday elected Peduto, a city councilman since 2002, in a landslide over Republican Josh Wander and independent Les Ludwig. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl opted not to run for re-election in March, under the cloud of a federal corruption investigation that has reached close to the mayor's office.

Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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