Mayor-elect Peduto's campaign chief Costa to lead operations
By Bob Bauder
Published: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto promised to end political patronage in City Hall, but he's hiring the campaign manager who helped him get elected.
Peduto said he tapped Guy Costa as operations chief because of his experience, not political connections.
Yet observers say Costa's connections could serve Peduto well.
“We needed some people who know city government, and nobody has more experience than Guy Costa,” Peduto said. “You just can't bring in a bunch of new people and expect to hit the ground running.”
Costa, 57, of Squirrel Hill was raised on Pittsburgh politics.
His late grandfather, Joseph, and father, Jay, were intricately involved in Democratic Party circles. Jay Costa served as Allegheny County treasurer for nine years and worked in the Treasurer's Office for more than 30. Costa's brothers, Jay and Paul, are state legislators.
Though Guy Costa has never held an elected post, he has worked on political campaigns since he was 11, including national ones by Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore.
“I think he can walk into a room, and whether it's a community group in Brookline or anywhere else in the city, including the African-American community, most people would feel he's competent and that he walks the walk and talks the talk,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park.
Costa held key positions for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County for more than 30 years.
“(Costa) is well politically connected, and no matter how pure and noble (Peduto wants) to be, it doesn't hurt to have good political connections,” said former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, who chairs the county's Republican Committee.
Costa said he will work hard to improve Pittsburgh.
“I don't believe in some of the old-school politics,” he said. “I believe in doing what is right. I believe in being transparent, being accountable. I'm here to do what is right.”
Costa was the city's Public Works director for 10 years before retiring in 2009. The end of his career was marked by a flap with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl over overtime the city wrongly paid to several supervisors.
Costa at the time said he felt “blindsided” and “embarrassed” when he and his family learned through news media that Ravenstahl had suspended him for a week without pay for insubordination. Ravenstahl declined to comment for this story.
“That was a very frustrating time for me,” Costa said. “I'm glad I moved on, and I'm glad I'm coming back.”
Former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer, a lobbyist whose clients include government entities, said he's puzzled by Ravenstahl's actions.
“Why in the world the previous administration would jettison him the way they did is beyond me,” Cranmer said. “I think what he will bring to the new administration is a real thorough understanding of not only pubic works but the whole city government operation.
“He also brings the weight of his two brothers,” he added. “Jay Costa is one of the most prominent Democrats in Pennsylvania. That can do nothing but help the city when it comes to state support.”
Former Mayor Tom Murphy said Costa “committed himself to public service and public administration. There's a talent to doing a job well. I think Guy has that talent to do operations well for the city.”
Costa was diagnosed eight years ago with an inoperable brain tumor. He said the tumor has not grown, but likely will do so at some point.
“It's called a watch and wait,” he said. “I have to take medication, and I get an MRI three times a year. We'll watch it and see if it's changed.
“When it starts growing, then they'll have to treat it. So far, knock on wood, I've been fine for the last eight years.”
He tore a rotator cuff in early December when a motorist struck him as he crossed a Downtown street. He said he was in a crosswalk and the driver didn't see him.
“I need rotator cuff surgery,” Costa said. “One of the things I want to work on is we need to do a better job of educating pedestrians and the public just to keep your eyes out.”
It's too early to predict changes Peduto's administration might make, Costa said.
City fleet vehicles such as snowplows and street sweepers will be equipped with global positioning devices so the city knows the exact locations of equipment in real time, he said. The information will be available via the Internet, and residents will be able to see when plows and sweepers will arrive in front of their homes.
Costa said he wants the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to crack down on officials, including police officers, who park illegally in the city.
But his main focus will be to ensure that employees do their jobs.
“I feel my role is going to be to make sure work that's necessary is getting done,” Costa said. “I want to be more proactive than reactive.
“A lot of departments in the city are good at being reactive. I think we need to improve on our proactive.”
Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or email@example.com.
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