PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “It was emotional,” Pittsburgh’s mayor-elect Bill Peduto told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday afternoon.
Peduto was describing his meeting with President Obama at the White House on Friday.
“I was kind of worried because I didn’t have a speech prepared and I didn’t want to — the first things coming out of my mouth would be me choking back tears or breaking my voice,” said Peduto.
Peduto said he never imagined he would be there in the company of other new mayors actually talking to the president.
“He had us there for over an hour and a half, so it wasn’t just a quick meet-and-greet,” he said. “It was an in-depth conversation.”
And the president frequently put the participants on the spot.
“He called out the mayor-elect of Detroit, and after they told the story of Detroit and, of course, all of us said we’re with you, he said, ‘well, Detroit could learn from Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh has transformed,'” recounted Peduto.
“And he gave his knowledge of how he knows our economy has changed, and then he introduced me and said, ‘Bill, why don’t you tell us a little bit about that,'” he said.
Peduto did that and then articulated his wish-list for the president, including a special pilot program for universal pre-K education.
“What I offered him was Pittsburgh being an example of an urban lab,” Peduto said.
And the new mayor reiterated his campaign pledge to focus on neighborhoods, “partnering with the federal government to rebuild neighborhood business districts that have seen no development.”
And Peduto asked for help to continue the city’s environmental upgrade, as he told the president, “To become the first city in the world with all LED street lights.”
The Pittsburgh Democrat also gave a preview of his upcoming swearing-in ceremony.
Just like the late Mayor Bob O’Connor, Peduto hopes to be sworn in on the steps of the City-County Building on Monday, Jan. 6, with a meet-and-greet at the PPG Wintergarden.
But in the meantime, the transition to a new mayor continues.
Delano: “Do you think Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has done all he could to make this a smooth transition?”
Peduto: “Hmmm. I would give a lot of the credit for working out the details that are necessary for a transition to certain members of his staff.”
While Peduto credits Ravenstahl’s public safety director Mike Huss, finance director Scott Kunka and operations director Dwayne Ashley, he’s not sure why Ravenstahl has blocked things like the pension changes the new mayor wants.
“There’s no doubt about it. There’s still that level of politics. It really doesn’t make much sense on the way out. They’re really isn’t any game to be won,” noted the mayor-elect.
Peduto says he’s more focused on the future, including his White House meeting with President Obama where the mayor-elect had a special request.
“I asked him for the scaffolding of the Washington Monument,” recalled Peduto.
Delano: “What would you do with that?”
Peduto: “That’s exactly what he said. He said, ‘Why do you want the scaffolding?'”
Peduto was referring to the scaffolding erected earlier this year to repair the monument from earthquake damage.
“I said, look, the Allegheny Passage is a great bike trail that takes you from Pittsburgh to Washington DC,” said Peduto. “Wouldn’t it be great to start at the Washington Monument and end at the Washington Monument.”
“If you’ve seen that scaffolding, it’s beautiful,” he added. “It was designed by a famous architect, Graves. Lights up beautiful. I said, I’ll find a nice place along the river that we can place it.”
Peduto says the president turned to his senior aide and said, “Let’s find a way to do that.”