Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto leaves after a news conference on Monday, June 16, 2014 about a videotaped confrontation between a police officer and a woman at the city’s gay pride parade and festival on Sunday June 15 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
As a city councilman, Bill Peduto was ubiquitous—Church dining halls in Greenfield, development meetings in Hazelwood, vigils in Larimer. He has tried to be the same accessible person as mayor, but during a recent conversation with the New Pittsburgh Courier, he admitted he can’t.
“A buddy of mine said we should go fishing, and asked when I was free. I looked at my schedule: ‘July?’ My girlfriend is saying she never sees me either,” he said. “But I’m learning to say, ‘no.’ It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of minutia, and not do the big things I want. So, I know I have to take my hands off the steering wheel more.”
While he now holds the position he sought for years and is being invited to mayoral conferences across the country and overseas, sometimes, he said, he has to be reminded.
“I’m in Giant Eagle standing in line like I have for 30 years, and an old guy in front of me turns and says, ‘aren’t you the mayor?’ Nothing different but the job,” he said. “So yeah, every now and then it’s like, Holy s__t, I’m the mayor.”
That came home to him in a more serious way after he praised the technology brought to bear and the police work done to identify and arrest a suspect in the Wolfe sisters’ murder.
Because he is now the mayor, he realized later, that praise added to the perception that more resources are dedicated to well-off White victims than the far more numerous Black murder victims. So he attended a vigil for one of those victims’ just days later.
“I had to be there,” he said. “I had a ‘Mayor’s Night In’ where anyone can come and talk to me, and three out of four of the women there had lost children, and those cases are unsolved.”
When asked why public information on unsolved Black homicides is not being made available to the press without a formal “need to know” request, Peduto told the Courier that Tree of Life founder Adrienne Young had been denied that information for five years despite filing formal requests.
He said Young would now get what she’s requested, but he said nothing about eliminating the formal requirement though he acknowledged it is public information.
He was equally nonplussed when asked about allegations that a member of the Civil Service board, tasked with reviewing police and fire applicants, had systematically removed Black and female candidates from final consideration.
“I am not aware of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case,” he said. “I am looking into expanding (the Office of Municipal Investigation) oversight to the civil service.”
As to other areas of police/community relations, Peduto said he was also looking at adding officers to Zone 5 and rotating officers out.
“We’re going to be at 900 officers by the end of the year, and I’ve asked Cmdr. (Timothy) O’Connor, if possible, he could take more officers on an as-needed basis,” he said.
But Peduto admitted he didn’t know if that really is possible. He also said that with budgetary overseer, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Agency recommending tax hikes to address the city’s underfunded pensions, he has very little leverage in upcoming contract negotiations with the police union on minority hiring, recruitment and retention.
“I’ll trade the residency requirement for all of those,” he said. “I can’t offer raises. I could maybe do something with flex-time, but I can’t do much.”
He did say that he is confident that with OMI director Deborah Walker, solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge and Public Safety Director Steven Bucar all coordinating their efforts, police community/relations and officer moral will be improved.
Those efforts will further be enhanced by the hiring of a new police chief, he said. The search process is already underway.
He noted that for his first meeting to gather public input on what qualities the new chief should have, he met with youth from the Hear Me project and Allies for Children.
“One of the things we have to change is that most of these kids are afraid of cops,” he said. “That’s because their only interaction with them is during incidents.”
Peduto reiterated that he and Bucar will host a series of community input meetings in each police zone beginning June 26 and running through July 24. The full schedule is available on the mayor’s web site.
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