When Bill Peduto became Pittsburgh's 60th mayor on Jan. 6, he was carrying a special burden. And it wasn't the weight of new responsibility.
"The day I got sworn in, I was the biggest I'd ever been — 240 pounds," Peduto says. "I could feel it."
They call it "running" for office, but politics can be hazardous to your health. The hours are long, the work often sedentary. Peduto says that as he began gearing up for his mayoral campaign, he no longer had time for his amateur hockey league, or even for dinner. "I ended up ordering a pizza at 10 p.m," he says.
The results were obvious: "There is a horrible picture of me after [a mayoral debate]," Peduto recalls. "The suit I'm wearing was just ... busted. There was an intervention by my staff, who made me buy three fat-guy suits."
But after five months in office, Peduto, who's 49, is taking better care of himself — and not just for his own well-being. As his administration launches a multifaceted public-health campaign, he's trying to lead by example.
"The health and well-being of the city is the first duty of the mayor," Peduto says. But "having a mayor who is slugging around at 240 talking about fitness is disingenuous. And if I can do this, you can do it."
In an effort to prove that — and perhaps set a new standard for government transparency — Peduto let City Paper observe his Saturday workout.
Put aside any thoughts of gleaming Nautilus machines or preening East Enders: Peduto works out alone, in a studio on Lawrenceville's Plummer Street owned by his trainer, Tyler Thomas Lenio.
"For some people, going to the gym is social," Peduto says. "But I hate it."
Lenio's space is all business, and Peduto starts his workout with a series of boxing routines. Circling the floor in a blue T-shirt and shorts, and New Balance sneakers, he delivers flurries of hooks, jabs and uppercuts at Lenio's punch mitts. Within a couple orbits, Peduto might not have quite attained the eye of the tiger, but he doesn't look like someone the average Democratic committeeman would want to fuck with, either.
"I don't like working out at all," Peduto says, a bit breathlessly, between rounds. "So if I like doing this, it means a lot. It allows me to think about things — and punch Tyler."
Then come a series of presses and squats and hoisting kettlebells. Lenio calls this his "total body workout": It lasts a bit more than a half-hour, and City Paper can attest it's even more grueling than a budget hearing.
Still, there's a long road ahead — for Peduto and the city.
Despite the New Pittsburgh's aspirations for a younger, healthier look, it's bedeviled by bad habits. Nearly a quarter of the region's residents are smokers, for example — far more than in such metro areas as Boston and Denver.
Some health threats, like air pollution, aren't things you can fix at the gym; others are tied to outside factors. In 2011, for example, The New York Times reported that infant mortality rates among African Americans in Allegheny County were worse than rates in Mexico. Meanwhile, in a 2009-2010 Allegheny County health survey, roughly one in five people who earned less than $15,000 a year reported being physically inactive — a rate several times higher than that reported by residents earning more than $50,000 a year.