Pittsburgh city staffers anticipate a shake-up with election
As a 32-year veteran of Pittsburgh city government, Kate Weiland knows what to expect when the next mayor takes office in January.
“The new mayor wants his staff to be his hand-picked people,” said Weiland of Mt. Washington, a purchasing agent for City Council who would be working under her sixth mayor. “Whenever you work for an elected official, you have to realize that if they don't continue to win elections, you might be out of a job.”
Democratic City Councilman Bill Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze is favored to win the Nov. 5 election over Republican challenger Josh Wander, 42, of Squirrel Hill, but both mayoral candidates promise major staff changes if elected.
Most of Pittsburgh's 3,000 employees are protected by civil service status or union contract, which means the new mayor is limited to replacing only those designated as “at will” employees. They include 50 to 60 department and authority directors, assistants and personal secretaries, according to Peduto.
New city administrations typically keep some people to preserve institutional knowledge, and Peduto and Wander say they would likely follow that tradition.
“(Former Mayor Bob O'Connor) probably changed the entire mayor's office and 75 percent of the directors,” Peduto said. “I think it's fair to say I would be similar.”
Wander plans a lot more.
“With me, you're going to have a lot broader changes than you will with any Democrat,” he promised.
Directors on the chopping block say they expect to be fired.
“When you sign on for a position in an office that revolves around an electoral cycle, you realize that at some point, it'll be time to move on,” said Paul McKrell, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's government affairs manager. “I'm sure that fact has influenced morale, but we have to make the best of the time we have to serve since there's still plenty of work to get done.”
McKrell said he knows of no one in the mayor's office actively looking to join the next administration. Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski, who has worked for the city for 31 years, said he's preparing to take his pension next year but is willing to help his replacement with department budgeting and snow removal plans.
“I'm looking at options,” he said, declining to elaborate. “There is some uncertainty with the rank-and-file. There's going to be change, and they're concerned about what those changes might be.”
Rank-and-file employees say firings are a fact of life in government. Some want their bosses to go. Others, especially those close to their boss, are worried about the change because it could impact their positions.
They're just waiting to see who wins, according to Joseph Rossi, president of Teamsters Local 249, which represents about 300 employees in public works, animal control and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. Rossi said common perception among employees is that Peduto will win.
“I've got some city employees who aren't really looking forward to Peduto because they feel he's not really pro-labor,” he said. “I have other employees who are looking forward to Peduto because they want to be a foreman.”
Peduto has named his chief of staff, Downtown attorney Kevin Acklin, but said he has not chosen other appointees. Wander has not decided on any hires.
“For the regular employees, there's no more concern than normal when the mayor changes,” said Claudia Smith, president of AFSCME Local 2719, which represents about 400 clerical workers for the city and Pittsburgh Parking Authority. “People mostly care about their wages and their benefits, to be honest.”
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.