Pittsburgh was everywhere this year. Whether it was the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup or the mayor publicly rebuking the president, there was no shortage of Pittsburgh in news feeds far beyond Southwestern Pa.
But which stories mattered the most locally? And which are likely to matter most in 2018?
Here’s our shortlist of the biggest and most impactful stories of the past year, and those most likely to remain relevant in the year to come.
‘Pittsburgh not Paris’
Who can forget when President Trump, in withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord in June, invoked Pittsburgh’s name to declare his allegiance to the citizens of this country before the bonds of international treaties? Trouble is, Pittsburgh didn’t vote for Trump, as Mayor Bill Peduto was quick to point out.
Peduto’s irreverence quickly thrust Pittsburgh into the international spotlight. But you may be asking why this story will still matter in 2018? In short, it’s because cities like Pittsburgh continue their pursuit of environmental efforts, like the Paris Accord, and other legislative initiatives in defiance of the Trump administration. Most recently, Pittsburgh joined dozens of U.S. cities in signing the Chicago Climate Charter, which builds on prior commitments to subdue global warming. Expect that sort of local coalition building to continue in the new year as Trump begins his second year in office. Also expect cities like Pittsburgh to play a prominent role.
Year of the Woman
After a year marked by an outpouring of female voices and perspectives and in which more women ran for public office, the influence of women is only likely to grow in 2018. In Pittsburgh, outgoing councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and three others formed a new PAC aimed at getting more women into politics and more money to those who already are.
It was a bad year for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — and 2018 might be as well. The beleaguered entity was the subject of a state audit in 2017 that confirmed deep-seated issues with its management structure and infrastructure. Meanwhile, water main breaks and boil advisories continue to occur. All of these issues are likely to continue to have an impact in the coming year as PWSA looks to right a ship that’s been wrong for so long.
A statue and memorial to famed composer and native son Stephen Foster was the subject of renewed criticism on the heels of deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va., in August. Foster’s statue, which sits on public property outside the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland, depicts Foster seated above a black, banjo-playing man in tattered clothing. Critics of the statue call the depiction racist. Supporters say it shows Foster being inspired and communing with a fellow musician. But a review of the statue was launched by city officials, leading to public hearings on the subject and the city’s Art Commission recommending the statue’s removal. Mayor Peduto has yet to make a final decision on the matter. That decision will come in 2018, Peduto’s office confirms.
When tech giant Amazon announced in September that it was looking for a second home outside of Seattle for its newest headquarters, cities including Pittsburgh jumped at the chance to host it. Like many other cities, Pittsburgh spent big to create a bid touting itself as the obvious choice given its tech-friendly image, existing talent pool and continuing economic rebound. And while we still haven’t learned much about the particulars of the city’s bid, we’ll find out in 2018 if Pittsburgh made the cut. Amazon has promised billions in investment and 50,000 new jobs to the winner, meaning that if Pittsburgh is chosen, it could be a game changer. Meanwhile, not everyone is convinced of our chances. Some are also unconvinced that Amazon coming here would be a good thing in the long run.
Ah, Tim Murphy. What can we say that hasn’t already been said about the former Congressman who resigned in October amidst a scandal involving an extramarital affair and text messages in which Murphy (a pro-life Republican) allegedly urged a mistress to get an abortion. But aside from the schadenfreude involved here, Murphy’s resignation is far from outliving its relevance. A special election has been scheduled for his vacant seat in March, at which time Democrats — newly emboldened by Doug Jones’ Senate win in Alabama — hope they can turn the reliably red 18th Congressional District blue. Former marine and federal prosecutor Connor Lamb is seeking Murphy’s former seat for the Democrats while state Rep. Rick Saccone has been chosen to run by the Republicans.
In 2017, Mayor Bill Peduto was easily re-elected to a second term. But while his election came as no surprise, there were surprises to be had in City Hall this year. For starters, Peduto Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin announced this month that he’s leaving his post to rejoin the private sector. He’ll be replaced with Councilman Dan Gilman whose District 8 council seat will now be put up for a special election. (A date for that special election had yet to be set as of the writing of this article.) There’s also new blood on council following Councilman-elect Anthony Coghill’s win in the November municipal election. Coghill represents the continuation of a Democratic monopoly on council, but it remains to be seen if that monopoly yields a front that’s more unified or less in 2018.
Pittsburgh’s days under state oversight for financially distressed municipalities may be numbered. Everyone from the mayor to Pittsburgh’s financial recovery coordinators agree it’s time to remove Pittsburgh from the cover of Act 47, also known as the Municipalities Financial Recovery Act. Pittsburgh has operated under Act 47 since December 2003, when chronic deficits, overwhelming debt and mounting employee pension costs nearly pushed it into bankruptcy, TribLive reports. Since then, Pittsburgh has eliminated operational deficits, achieved annual balanced budgets and paid down debt. As a result, officials say Pittsburgh is a prime candidate for an Act 47 exit, which could happen by early 2018.
Champions of the World
Now for some lighter fare. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup for a second straight year in June, hundreds of thousands of fans turned out for a parade in their honor. The defending champs have struggled to recapture that magic so far this regular season, leading some to wonder if they can pull off a three-peat. We’ll find out as the 2017-2018 season continues. Also to be seen in 2018, will the Steelers go all the way? Only time will tell.