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.
Peduto's administration has taken on the issue by joining Allegheny County's new "Live Well" campaign, a countywide effort to address everything from neighborhood safety to smoking cessation. Pittsburgh's agenda begins with the city's own workforce, says Betty Cruz, who manages Live Well Pittsburgh from within the mayor's office.
Again, the idea is to set an example, she says: "If everyone yells at you about what your health habits should be, it's never as good as seeing people enjoy the benefits."
And if you can stop city employees from smoking, anything is possible: Cruz says early initiatives will include encouraging workers to take the stairs rather than use city hall's elevators — and she's already begun policing stairwells for illicit smokers. City employees are gearing up for a 10,000-steps-per-day walking challenge this month, and Cruz says the city plans to negotiate with vending-machine contractors to provide healthier fare at city facilities.
Broader policies are taking shape as well, especially around bicycling. Plans include a proposed bikes-only traffic lane Downtown, and using city information systems to track bike-accident data — part of an effort to make streets safer for cyclists.
Ultimately, says Cruz, "We're looking outside physical health to financial issues, access to affordable healthy foods, neighborhood safety." The administration won't just track data like air quality or trail usage, but indicators like "community involvement" and "transformed blight." Cruz acknowledges such criteria might be tough to quantify, but "If you just talk about physical health, or being active, it can be an elitist conversation. You aren't going to go for a jog in your neighborhood if you're worried you'll get shot."
There are already numerous local health initiatives. But to date, "what's clearly missing was the bigger overarching leadership," says Allegheny County Health Director Karen Hacker, who is in charge of the county's Live Well effort. This summer, Hacker says, the county plans to launch a website allowing residents to find wellness programs within their ZIP code. She's also urging school districts to track and report student health data, while incorporating healthier menus and regular exercise into the school day. But in addition to such efforts, Hacker says, "I think things like public figures stepping up and saying, ‘I lost 30 pounds' — those are actually really important."
Peduto's goal is actually to lose 50 pounds. And instead of ordering late-night pizzas, he now has a couple healthy meals prepared in advance each week by local chef Art Inzinga. Peduto plans to join city workers in the 10,000-step challenge, and his schedule once again includes weekly amateur hockey games. ("I want to get to the point where I'm not having 60-year-old guys skate around me.")
It seems to be working: Already, he says, the campaign-season "fat-guy suits" are back in the closet.