Pennsylvania/New Jersey Transforming Pittsburgh Into A Thriving, Vibrant New City

Friday, July 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews the Honorable Tom Murphy, Mayor of Pittsburgh.

Editor: What factors went into your decision to run for mayor in 1993?

Murphy: The City of Pittsburgh was in need of a new direction. Although my predecessors had done a remarkable job of keeping Pittsburgh moving through very difficult times following the collapse of the steel industry, Pittsburgh was still thought of as a "smoky steel city" in 1993. It was my goal and mission to change that reputation. Pittsburgh needed to evolve and grow as a city, to create the quality of life of a 21st century city, and to transform itself into a destination city. I am proud of the investments we have made in our community, and to say that we have accomplished our goals. Residents and visitors alike are astounded by the environmental, cultural and professional changes that have transformed Pittsburgh into a thriving, vibrant new city.

Editor: How have your position and responsibilities evolved over the past decade or so?

Murphy: Many people, including the local press and sometimes other elected officials, are wary of change, and overcoming that inertia has proven to be a daunting challenge throughout my tenure as mayor of Pittsburgh. Whether it is building two new world-class sports stadiums and a world-class convention center, rebuilding and revitalizing former public housing communities and transforming them into vibrant mixed-income neighborhoods or creating miles of new riverfront trails, a mayor must be willing to set a vision and goal for the future and not allow the forces of the status quo to derail the city's progress. As we have succeeded in transforming Pittsburgh into a thriving, vibrant new city, we have seen Pittsburgh evolve into a city that embraces its new image.

Editor: How did your Peace Corps experience help to shape your leadership style?

Murphy: I learned early in my time in the Peace Corps that the most powerful person in the village was the one that was able to speak the language of all the surrounding villages. As mayor, you need to be able to effectively communicate with all of the stakeholders and constituents in your community, whether it is another elected official, a community activist, a corporate CEO, neighborhood residents, or out of town visitors.

Editor: When you were first elected mayor, Pittsburgh's finances were in a sorry state, with a $32 million deficit. The city now enjoys a budget surplus. Please tell us about the steps you took to ensure the city's financial integrity.

Murphy: After several years of managing our way through Pittsburgh's financial problems, we made a fundamental decision that we could no longer survive with a 50-year-old tax structure, where nearly half of all users of city services paid little or nothing for those services. While we sought to reform Pittsburgh's antiquated tax structure at the state level, we also took the necessary steps to right size Pittsburgh government. We reduced our workforce by nearly 40 percent, brought in private management for non-core services like our vehicle fleet maintenance, and made deep cuts into our annual spending. All of these efforts, combined with the successful modernization of Pittsburgh's tax structure has restored our bond rating, given us a projected budget surplus and put Pittsburgh on the path to long term fiscal stability.

Editor: What are a few of the visions for the city's economic revitalization that you put into action?

Murphy: When I took office as mayor in 1994, I made a decision that Pittsburgh could no longer afford to wait for the private market to revitalize our polluted former industrial sites. My administration created an $85 million local economic development fund by diverting a portion of our local tax revenue, and used this fund to purchase more than 1,200 acres of blighted, abandoned industrial property. We took the risk of cleaning up these brownfields and preparing them for development. We then identified a private development partner to revitalize these sites. Today, these sites house some of Pittsburgh's most desired residential neighborhoods, new high-tech companies, miles of riverfront trails and new entertainment and recreation facilities.

Editor: What quality of life initiatives contribute to attracting cutting-edge companies and talented professionals to Pittsburgh?

Murphy: In order to attain and retain the best and brightest you have to offer residents and families a very high quality of life. Ensuring that we have beautiful, accessible parks and miles of riverfront and park trails is a key component to ensuring that high quality of life. In addition, we are the only city in America that has rebuilt and re-designed all our neighborhood playgrounds to meet the highest safety standards. All of these efforts represent an investment in the quality of life we offer to our residents here in Pittsburgh.

Editor: What contributions do lawyers and law firms in Pittsburgh make to the city?

Murphy: Legal professionals are essential to the health and vitality of any city. I rely on the professional advice, direction and interpretations of the men and woman of the city's legal department to guide my decision making, inform our policy debates and provide a framework for discussion of nearly every issue that comes before the city. In addition, Pittsburgh is home to a number of small and large law firms that have made tremendous contributions to our community through their participation in the public process and their desire to be good corporate citizens.

Editor: When you hand over the mayoralty to someone else, what guiding principles would you give to him or her?

Murphy: Creating a vibrant, thriving city is a job that is never finished. Circumstances and situations constantly change and new challenges and opportunities must constantly be addressed. You must be willing to meet those challenges head on, and be ready take advantage of opportunities in order to enable your city to thrive and grow.