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Pittsburgh pivots again

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It's Bill Peduto. With a precisely planned and perfectly executed campaign for mayor of Pittsburgh, he overcame Jack Wagner's endorsements by the firefighters and police unions and both major city newspapers, delivering a message of a better future, promising a city that will exceed its current greatness.

Wagner was presented as the steady option by his own campaign, embraced by many leaders of the past. And Peduto was the candidate who vowed to rock the boat and redd up City Hall. It was another of those Pittsburgh moments — a clear choice between the old and the new — and voters once again turned away from the past.

They did it in 1969, when they elected political maverick and “nobody's boy” Pete Flaherty as mayor, instead of Judge Harry Kramer, a good man and safe choice, an organization guy. And they did it again when they elected independent candidate Dick Caliguiri over Tom Foerster, the Democratic Party's mayoral choice in 1977.

This spirit runs in the blood here. Pittsburgh was built by immigrants who left the old for the new, abandoning the familiar in the Old Country, eyes ahead and not over their shoulders. So it should come as no surprise that this spirit still surfaces in Pittsburgh politics from time to time.

This year, any link to the past was a mortal political blow. When incumbent Luke Ravenstahl dropped out, his team quickly sought safe harbor with Wagner, irrefutably linking their political camps. And when Ravenstahl sponsored anti-Peduto ads created by the infamous Republican “swift-boating” ad agency, Wagner's early traction fizzled.

Ravenstahl, who had managed to blend only the worst of old Pittsburgh and new — the corrupt political habits of the past and the folly of youth — had become political kryptonite.

Jack Wagner might be Ravenstahl's latest political victim, but probably not his last.

And as for the charge that Peduto does not always get along with some of his colleagues on City Council, it seems that, as before, the voters have grown weary of politicians who get along with everybody. As our immigrant founders knew, any politician with nothing but friends is no more to be trusted than a union president who never disagrees with the bosses.

So, once again, Pittsburgh pivots to the future. Peduto, the father of the first political campaign in these parts worthy of the 21st century, will now strive to transform Pittsburgh into a modern city, worthy of the immigrants who rejected the past and placed their stake here.

After clearing one low hurdle in November, Peduto will pilot a beautiful but troubled city, still aground on the shoals of pension debt, facing staggeringly expensive environmental problems, a leaderless police department and developers accustomed to doing as they please.

If Peduto's past is any indication, he seems to appreciate Aristotle's notion that “Towns should be built so as to protect their inhabitants and, at the same time, make them happy.” And that is the task ahead.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

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