One of the core responsibilities of government at all levels is to ensure opportunity for all of our constituents. However, government as in our society as a whole often falls short of this goal and doesn’t adequately reflect the true diversity of our citizenry. The City of Pittsburgh has made strides through initiatives like the Personal Department’s DiverseCity 365 that seeks to attract more minority job applicants. But we still fall short when it comes to equal representation on boards, authorities, and commissions, as department heads, and as minority contractors on city-sponsored projects. The city’s Equal Opportunity Review Commission is charged with working towards greater representation and has recently been further empowered via legislation that I gladly voted for on City Council, but we need to double down on our efforts to make Pittsburgh city government reflect the diversity of our city and provide opportunities for everyone. To further these goals I will create an Initiative on Equity and Diversity led by a cabinet-level appointee who will serve as the city’s “diversity auditor.”
The men and women of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police are, by and large, good hardworking people who truly care about this city and its safe. However, the financial scandals and incidents of police brutality that have shocked our communities, damaged the bureau, and severed ties of trust with many Pittsburghers, particularly African Americans. It is critical that we develop a comprehensive strategy for restoring this trust and proving to our citizens that our police will serve and protect them regardless of where they live or the color of their skin. I will make this a top priority of my administration and begin working on it on day one. Yet, I can’t do it alone. We must address this issue as a community, keeping in mind these problems won’t be solved overnight. I know together we can make the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police the best in the country. We owe it to our communities and the hardworking men and women who we serve.
Back when Pittsburgh’s zoning code was first rewritten, it was ahead of its time. The zoning code contained some forward-thinking development standards that advocated for environmental sustainability and the protection of our natural topography. It recognized the changing economic landscape of the city and moved us away from industrial development and instead towards education, medicine and neighborhood business districts. However, it has been nearly 20 years since our code was rewritten and much has changed in the field of city planning, the economy of our city, and development patterns and techniques nationwide. Therefore, we need to reassess our zoning code and find ways it can be streamlined, made easier to understand and comply with, and ensure it is compatible with our 21st century city. Rewriting a zoning code is no small task. It will require a great deal of community input, technical expertise, feedback from developers, and cooperation from all political stakeholders. But it is a task well worth taking on and one that I think can have a highly positive impact on the future development of our neighborhoods.
The City of Pittsburgh is the population and economic center of Allegheny County and tens of thousands of Allegheny County residents come to the city every day to work, visit restaurants, and attend events. The city and county are inherently linked in many ways, including in many of the challenges we face. Issues like the water quality of our rivers and streams, the flooding that plagues many of our neighborhoods, the funding of our public transportation system, the assessment of property taxes, and economic development planning require close cooperation and good working partnerships between officials at the city and county levels. As Mayor, I will build on existing relationships and create new ones to strengthen our partnership with the county to the benefit of all residents of Pittsburgh and the region.
In the 2010 Census, Pittsburgh saw an across the board population increase of 22% for young residents between the ages of 20 and 24. Our median age decreased from about 35 years old to about 32 years old. And we welcomed thousands of young new residents to our neighborhoods; many who came from larger cities to take advantage of the lower cost of living and job opportunities here. We know that young people don’t just want trendy coffee shops and artist lofts, they want the same things all residents want: safe communities, vibrant business districts, and solid public transportation. New residents can be powerful growth engines for the city, and we need to find opportunities to attract new residents to move in, get college students to stay, and encourage kids who grew up in Pittsburgh to move back and be a part of our city’s future.
In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) law. This law allows municipalities and redevelopment authorities to create TRID Districts so new revenue can be utilized to expand and create new public transit opportunities. Stakeholders in East Liberty are working on implementing the city’s first TRID District in conjunction with new developments in the area. The TRID will allow a portion of the new property taxes created through redevelopment efforts to be dedicated to improvements in public transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure in the surrounding area. Our hope is that this TRID District becomes a model that can be used in other neighborhoods. But creating TRID may not be enough. To supplement the district and ensure that the development within it is in line with the goals of expanding and creating transit opportunities, I will work with our City Planning Department to create the city’s first Transit Oriented Development zoning overlay.
Allegheny County’s recent reassessment process has been a clear example of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s broken property tax reassessment system. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that doesn’t require regular, professional, standardized property tax reassessments and the disastrous results of that failure are apparent all around us. Going decades without reassessments and then being forced into them via lawsuits is a recipe for failure and that is just what we have witnessed – failure to follow national standards in conducting a reassessment; failure to protect low- and moderate-income homeowners and senior citizens; and failure to produce equitable results that reflect real changes in property value without burdening taxpayers. Leaders of the State, the County, and the City fought against the harmful, judicially-mandated reassessment but we lost the fight. We have to work with leaders in Harrisburg to make sure that this never happens again and to put in place a system that is fair, equitable, and protects property owners from being taxed out of their homes.
The decision to enter Act 47 state oversight was one of the most difficult I have ever had to make as an elected official. In the dark days of 2003 and 2004, we were faced with an impossible choice: allow the City of Pittsburgh to descend into bankruptcy and financial ruin or enter Act 47 status to reduce our spending and right-size our city government. I rallied five Council members to take the latter path. We knew it would be difficult and that it would require sacrifices from many hard-working people across city government. But we also knew it was our only real choice. Bankruptcy would have meant crushing new taxes on every resident of Pittsburgh, a devastating reduction of services, and an exodus of businesses and investors from our city.
Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” If we’re going to make Pittsburgh’s government work for residents first, we’re going to have to make sure that we are using your money most effectively, even if it means breaking free of our old habits. We need to budget taking the real needs of the people into account, not excuses like “because that’s the way it’s always been done.” Around budget time every year, we see the Mayor and City Council make small tweaks here and there and move funds between departments, but we have never taken the opportunity to completely reexamine our budget and start from zero. I will use new tools to reexamine our budgeting process and make sure that we are spending money prudently and where its impact is most felt.
The idea of “working with others” seems to be a reoccurring theme in this mayoral race. Let’s stop and think about what that means. Does “working with others” mean propping up the status quo? Or does it mean building broad and diverse coalitions to change Pittsburgh for the better? The former has kept the same few in power and the latter has opened the city to new voices, new approaches to development, new protections for workers and our environment, and new faces in city, county, and state government.