Article Published: October 21, 2014
Article Published: October 21, 2014
As Pittsburgh’s 60th Mayor, William “Bill” Peduto has embraced technology like no other official in city history. Peduto used technology to run successful political campaigns and deploys technology to better connect government to its people. Peduto also knows that the rising tide of technology has made Pittsburgh one of the world’s top innovation centers.
Peduto started his term as Mayor in January 2014. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as a member of the Pittsburgh City Council from 2002 until 2014.
Prior to being elected to City Council, Peduto ran a consulting business and later served as Chief of Staff to his predecessor in City Council, Dan Cohen.
The Mayor talked to TEQ about his passion for public service, his love of technology, building Pittsburgh’s technology industry and more. Here are excerpts from the Mayor’s interview on the Pittsburgh technology Council’s TechVibe Radio 1020 AM KDKA. Listen to the interview in its entirety at pghtech.org.
TEQ: We have so much to talk to you about. Tell us what led you to pursue a life of public service.
Mayor Bill Peduto: I had a very strong interest in history when I was very young, and started reading books when I was, like, in second grade on people like F.D.R. and General MacArthur. I got a very strong interest then in American history and gravitated towards government. When I got out of school, I was working on political campaigns and built up a consulting business that way. By the time I was turning 30, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life trying to figure out what little niche of a campaign ad could destroy my opponent, but really wanted to get back into government. So I took a pay cut of one-half, went to work for the Councilman at the time, Dan Cohen, as his Chief of Staff, and when he decided he wasn’t going to run I decided to run for City Council.
TEQ: Let’s sort of fast forward. Talk about embracing technology and social media, which played a big role in your election. How are you using it now?
Mayor Bill Peduto: I was in the [Sophie] Masloff administration working in finance after one of those campaigns, and then I went down to D.C. to work inside the Beltway. We were taking all the data of every election around the country and putting 52 different demographics on top of it. These were the first super voting files that were being created in the country, and that company was bought by a soft money PAC. So I came back to Pittsburgh and started my own company utilizing that technology to help Democratic candidates by using tech. Throughout the time on City Council I had the opportunity to represent the East End of Pittsburgh and got to meet a lot of really cool folks who came up with really creative ways to adapt and utilize technology. The stuff that we did during the campaign, some of it was cutting edge. I mean, we were the first campaign back in 2005 to podcast in the state of Pennsylvania. That was a year before the President even started!
In 2008, we developed the first mobile app for [Pittsburgh] city government [iBurgh] with help from Carnegie Mellon. We’re bringing it back and adding some steroids to it. But the thing about it is—those types of applications—it always was to do really two things: number one, to go after an audience that traditionally isn’t gone after in political campaigns; and number two, to get them to get more active to vote. Now, our goal is to get them to get more active in their community.
The tools are changing. We’ve done Mayor’s Nights Out, where we go into the neighborhood. Then we did Mayor’s Night In, where we invite people into the Mayor’s office at night. Then we decided to do Mayor’s Night Online, and we partnered with Reddit, and we created the first of its kind Reddit AMA that wasn’t with a politician who had a staff member handing them notes how to answer questions, or the staff member just answering everything. It made best use of Reddit. But, those types of tools helped us to engage the public, but if it were only to do it for that sake, then it wouldn’t really do much. The goal is, now that person is more engaged; now that person may show up in that church basement in the community meeting when the development is being talked about; now that person has a voice and they are going to want to get more involved in the city.
TEQ: You have this propensity towards the appreciation of data and technology. You also are not satisfied. You’re ready to take it to the next level. That’s pretty exciting.
Mayor Bill Peduto: Have you looked at City Government lately? I mean, it’s not a knock against the people; it’s a knock against that we haven’t invested in systems and training to be able to get the most out of the people that we have. There’s a lot of potential there, but what we’re looking at doing with much of it is allowing the present systems to die on the vine and then build new systems to take on from that point, not simply add another layer to what’s already built.
So, we brought Debra Lam on board, an international consultant who was living in New York, London, and Hong Kong, who wanted to come back home to Pittsburgh and she is now a Chief of Innovation and Performance. Our goal is not to be able to lead the innovation and performance, but to able to bring in the companies and individuals that are doing it, and empower them, and to give them what they need in order to do more. A lot of our URA over the years is focused in on building parking garages and big box retail. We’re stopping that funding and we’re looking at funding small companies and housing in order to be able to rebuild neighborhoods and also, at the same time, give a launch to companies that otherwise might leave. And I think that sort of network needs to have the advocacy and the support of those that are already there.
TEQ: We had Steve Case in town earlier in the summer with the Rise of the Rest Tour where he’s saying that innovation comes out of cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit, not just Silicon Valley. I thought it was really exciting for him to choose Pittsburgh as a town to highlight that. What are your thoughts?
Mayor Bill Peduto: I mean, you’ve got to think about all the great work that’s being done at CMU and has been done with robotics. But, when those professors need to actually get the pieces made, they’re going to the Sheet Metal Workers union. And the Sheet Metal Workers are creating the product in order to be able to do it. And in return, what they’re looking for is the opportunities to be trained in business so that the man or the woman who has worked there for 20 years can start their own company. And, there’s a natural partnership where you don’t have to ship stuff in order to get it, you can get it right down the street from your neighbor.
TEQ: So what could Pittsburgh be doing better?
Mayor Bill Peduto: So, I just had this conversation today with some of the folks from Carnegie Mellon and Pitt, and we talked about what happens after I have a conversation with the founder of Kickstarter? What’s the follow-up? ‘Hey, great to see you! Let us know how we can partner.’ Wouldn’t it be great if there was something that was more interactive? A follow-up that is different than just an email or a PDF where, ‘this is what we have to offer’. And if you think of it this way, where when we try to market, say, the Carrie Furnace site, that you know when the county’s doing it, they’re talking about access to rail, access to river, reclamation, economic development funds available. How do we market to those in a tech industry in a tech way what those resources are, and not in just a document, but something that engages them?