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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Stop and look around you at the statue on Grant Street

| Saturday, May 12, 2018, 2:42 p.m.
The statue of Richard S. Caliguiri is partially covered ins snow outside of City-County Building in downtown on March 21, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The statue of Richard S. Caliguiri is partially covered ins snow outside of City-County Building in downtown on March 21, 2018.

When the phone rang around 3 a.m., I knew it was bad news. And, even though it was 30 years ago last week, the starkness of the message has kept the words fresh: “Dick died.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri had died at age 56, after battling a rare heart disease. His passing was not unexpected, but it still left us speechless, wondering what to do next.

Mayor Caliguiri was well into his third full term, and by that time, many of his original staff had moved into development, banking, business and law. But that was before anyone knew that he was sick, or most would have stayed.

David Matter, the mayor's best friend, had been his city council aide, campaign manager and executive secretary in the mayor's office. He knew how we felt, and within hours, we got a second call, to come together to do one last service for our mayor and help run his public funeral. It was a blessing to be asked.

The Caliguiri administration was a marvel. Called Renaissance II, it came 20 years after the great successes of Mayor David L. Lawrence's first Pittsburgh renaissance, and it transformed the city again. Cranes were rising on every downtown corner as five major office towers rose into the sky, creating the urban center we know today.

Neighborhoods had their pride restored. The broad sweeping residential communities and those that are tucked into our little nooks or perched on hilltops were all recognized. Each was assigned an urban planner who had the tools to save them and help them grow.

Instead of pitting the neighborhoods and businesses against each other — an easy political trick — Dick knew that one could not prosper without the other. He used quiet leadership and conciliation to move the entire city forward. It took patience and guts.

All of this took place during the collapse of Big Steel and the exodus of most of the corporate headquarters that had once called Pittsburgh home. During the 1980s, unemployment hit 13.9 percent in Allegheny County as the region lost 133,000 jobs.

None of that stopped Dick from creating a consortium with Pitt and CMU to develop the Second Avenue Technology Center or establishing the Cultural District in a rough part of Downtown or taking the first step to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh in 1986. He knew where the city was headed.

And, finally, there is his living legacy. Dick's administration was composed mostly of young professionals, the children of working-class Pittsburghers, who came armed with that rare combination of idealism and pragmatism that the city needed then. And they have continued to serve through the decades.

On the steps of city hall there is a statue of Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri, created by famed sculptor Robert Berks. It is easy to breeze by it, but this is more than cold bronze. It is a tribute to a living, breathing man who stepped forward when others were stepping back.

So, stop. Spend a moment with one of America's great mayors. Then look around at the fruit of his labors, smile and give thanks.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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