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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Ricky Nelson may have been a “travelin’ man,” but he has nothing on Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.
Since taking office five years ago, Peduto has traveled the planet – spending 276 days out of town, out of state or out of the country.
Frequent trips to Washington, D.C., New York City and California, along with farther flung destinations like Ludwigsburg, Germany; Havana, Cuba; Milan, Italy; and just a week ago, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
All of the trips were done in the name of city business.
KDKA-TV’s Andy Sheehan: “Do you see yourself as a global ambassador?”
Peduto: “I see myself as the role of a salesman.
There’s no doubt that Peduto sees his job differently that any of his predecessors, who only occasionally ventured outside the city limits. Peduto believes that promoting the city on a national and international level is equal to his task of overseeing the delivery of basic services.
To that end, he’s traveled to Europe no less than six times.
Sheehan: “What about people who say, ‘Hey, mayor, why don’t you stay in town, pick up the garbage and patrol the streets?”
Peduto: “I don’t get the opportunity to pick and choose which one I want to do. I have to do both.”
Public money really isn’t the issue; although, the travel has exceeded $131,000. Most of that has been picked up by the groups who’ve invited him. City taxpayers have been on the hook for less than $30,000 of that travel.
- RELATED STORY: Peduto Aims To Make Administration Smarter And More Efficient, Critics Say It Needs More People Willing To Get Their Hands Dirty
Still, critics like Controller Michael Lamb say the mayor’s frequent absences have hurt the performance of his administration back home.
“When you’re running a city of this size, presence is important and being here for the day-to-day decisions of the city are an important thing and a lot that should be getting done doesn’t get done because of it,” Lamb said.
While the mayor cites advances in the delivery of basic services, Lamb points to the lack of an agreement with the city’s non-profit hospitals and universities on payments in lieu of taxes, which he estimates has cost the city about $30 million.
The mayor counters that the travel has helped him net the city somewhere between $50 and $100 million in grants and helped him sell Pittsburgh to high-tech companies such as autonomous vehicle pioneers Uber and Argo AI.
“You can’t sit in an office and wait for companies to come to you. You have to be engaged,” Peduto said.
In his travels, the mayor has also pursued two of his personal passions. He’s made five trips, including a conference in Denmark, on bike transportation and bike lanes.
And more recently, he’s gone to conferences and summits on global climate change, which is an issue that has thrown him into an international spotlight.
Sheehan: “Is that a good role as mayor?”
Peduto: “Well, it’s a role I’ve sort of been cast into since one famous tweet that’s received about 25 million views.”
In the tweet read around the world, Peduto challenged President Donald Trump who pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In doing so, Trump said he represented Pittsburgh, not Paris.
In response, Peduto tweeted, “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy and future.”
As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future. https://t.co/3znXGTcd8C
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) June 1, 2017
Peduto says it’s done more than anything to change the city’s smoky image. Just last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded Peduto and the city a $2.5 million grant for adhering to the accords.
It’s a nice get, but something Lamb says the city would have received even if Peduto had stayed home.
“I don’t really fault him for being part of that conversation, but a lot of it he could do here,” Lamb said.
The mayor’s office also provided two documents, one shows the mayors travel over the past five years.
The other shows the more than 400 travel invitations which he has reportedly declined over the same period.