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Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Peduto proud of being 'anti-business-as-usual'

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 10:10 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto jokes with Christine Thomas, 64, and Marie Mattola, 76, both of Beltzhoover, on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, during a campaign stop in the Allentown Senior Center.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh City Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto fist-bumps Lois Boehm of Mount Washington on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, during a campaign stop in the Allentown Senior Center.

The big guy who answered his door on a recent Saturday announced that he would vote for Jack Wagner for Pittsburgh's mayor, but Bill Peduto didn't flinch.

“Jack's a good guy,” Peduto told retired police Officer Kenneth Lewis, 59. “I'm not going to tell you not to support him, but give me a chance to earn your vote.”

City Councilman Peduto, 48, was earning votes the hard way that day in Manchester.

He started at 8:45 a.m. with a National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Club breakfast in Mt. Washington. He wouldn't finish until sometime after 10 p.m. at an event in Epiphany Catholic Church in the Hill District.

“I get a one-hour break, and there's no scheduled lunch or dinner,” Peduto said, face glowing from the cold. “The only day off I've had off this year was Easter Sunday, but I'm not complaining. I know what I want, and I know what I have to do to get it.”

What he desperately wants is to win the Democratic nomination for mayor in the May 21 primary. To get it, he has to beat former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, 65, of Beechview; state Rep. Jake Wheatley, 41, of the Hill District; and community activist A.J. Richardson, 36, of Sheraden.

Longtime friends say Peduto became interested in politics as a child in Scott delivering newspapers.

He played hockey for Chartiers Valley High School, was selected to the National Honor Society and elected student council president.

Downtown attorney Kevin C. Harkins, 47, of Belle Acres, a friend since kindergarten, said Peduto organized student dances and raised money to buy an electronic message board for outside the high school.

At Penn State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science, he became president of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and ended a long-standing feud with a neighboring fraternity by making friends with its officers.

“They made a big deal of mending the fences and had this big bury-the-hatchet party,” said Harkins, who attended Penn State at the same time. “They got together and, I guess, had some beers together, and that was the end of the feud.”

After college, Peduto worked various jobs related to politics — as a researcher, consultant and campaign strategist, including a short stint in the city finance department under former Mayor Sophie Masloff. He worked as chief of staff to former City Councilman Dan Cohen from 1995 to 2001, when Cohen left to practice law. Peduto won Cohen's District 8 seat and has served since 2002.

Masloff has endorsed Wagner for mayor. Cohen did not return calls seeking comment.

Opponents sound off As council's longest-serving member, Peduto has had plenty of time to make enemies. They paint him as elitist, vindictive, hard to work with and anti-business.

“What I hear from developers is Bill Peduto is not as focused on their needs,” said James T. Kunz Jr., business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, which endorsed Wagner. “He seems to care more about very small factions in the community than trying to get a development done.”

Detractors say he does not communicate well with government colleagues. City Council President Darlene Harris said he has not spoken to her in two years because he asked for her support in this election and she wouldn't give it to him that early. City Councilman Ricky Burgess said the same, adding that Peduto voted against initiatives geared toward helping the city's poorest neighborhoods, including a high-rise for seniors in Homewood.

Linda Judson, 54, of Squirrel Hill, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, remembers Peduto as one of five council members who approved the subpoena of authority board members in 2011. The subpoenas forced board members to meet with council about a request for money to help the city pay employee pensions.

“He does not seem to want to engage in conversation or fact-finding,” Judson said. “I don't think he comes to the table with the skills that the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh needs, including the bridge-building and people skills.”

Detractors point to Peduto's votes in favor of a natural gas drilling ban in the city and a prevailing wage for employees of companies awarded city contracts as turnoffs for companies looking to do business in Pittsburgh.

Steadfast in his beliefs Peduto does not apologize for those votes, saying he believes drilling could harm compact city neighborhoods and that workers deserve a living wage.

He scoffs at the charges of divisiveness and said he might differ with Harris politically but voted with her more times than against. He said he voted against delaying the Homewood building because he received calls from residents who complained that they were not included in the planning process.

He denies that he is an obstructionist.

“I'm not anti-business,” Peduto said. “I'm anti-business-as-usual. There are those who feel a sense of entitlement in this city. I think it's fair to say I have delayed (plans) to make sure everybody has a voice. There's never been a project that's been presented that's failed because of any involvement by me.”

Peter Gordon, 59, owner of Gordon Real Estate in Shadyside, said his company recently developed a building on South Highland Avenue for a Mad Mex restaurant. Neighbors expressed concerns about traffic and restaurant parking. As he did at Penn State, Peduto brought people together to help resolve the problems, Gordon said.

“It's good business to work with the neighborhood ahead of time,” Gordon said. “There's nothing worse than going to a zoning hearing and having it standing-room-only with angry residents.”

Peduto is godfather to the children of several friends and the “mainstay” of his family, according to his brother, David Peduto, 58, of Sewickley, a retired Army colonel.

“Bill is capable of a vision that exceeds most of what I see in the politicians in Pittsburgh, who have just a very narrow view of what future potential there is,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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