Love for the city keeps City Councilman Gilman running on full throttle
Dan Gilman doesn’t stop.
Watching him in action for a day is nothing short of exhausting, as the city councilman representing the Eighth District of Pittsburgh — which includes Squirrel Hill north of Forbes Avenue, Shadyside, Oakland and Point Breeze — adeptly shifts his attention from drafting a resolution in support of nursing mothers to the projected outcomes of a major Carnegie Mellon University expansion to sewage.
This is a man who takes his role as a public servant seriously, say those who know him, his mind rarely swaying from a constant focus on working for his constituency and his city.
Gilman, 32, is serving his first term in the City Council, coming to the job with 10 years of experience as chief of staff to then-City Councilman and now Mayor Bill Peduto.
The Carnegie Mellon University grad is a devotee of local government: Right after college, he turned down a job offer to work for President Bill Clinton at his foundation in Harlem, N.Y., opting instead to work for Peduto and the betterment of Pittsburgh.
“You can have direct impact” by serving locally, Gilman says between reading emails, which he does constantly. “From trees to potholes to speeding stops to school bus stops to $200 million in construction in District 8. That’s what’s so amazing about this job — getting the whole pack.”
It is 9 a.m. and Gilman begins his day by addressing the concerns of three citizens he spoke with the night before at his annual fundraiser, an event for 300 people that he hosted at the Strip District’s Pittsburgh Winery.
He is reading and typing with an impressive alacrity. He has a lot to do, typically putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week.
“It’s rare I have a weekend day when I’m not at least at one or two events,” he says. “If you look at this as a job, you’ll drown. It’s got to be your passion.”
And it is clear that his work is most definitely a passion, with another being Amanda Kennedy, his fiancée, whom he will marry on Valentine’s Day at a destination wedding in Scottsdale, Ariz. The couple will fly out Rabbi Ron Symons of Temple Sinai to officiate, Gilman mentions as he looks up from his emails for a minute or two, then goes on to monitor his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Despite maintaining a permanent staff of three and employing two interns, Gilman personally handles his own social media.
“If you’re going to be authentic and reach out,” he says, “it has to come from you.”
He takes some time to review his talking points for an event he will be attending with Peduto at which he will lobby the NCAA to lure the Women’s Final Four to Pittsburgh; he confirms a meeting to talk about flooding issues on Walnut Street and Negley and Maryland avenues, where people’s homes are filling with sewage; he reviews information regarding his upcoming appearance at Pittsburgh Housing Court, where he will testify on behalf of neighborhoods against absentee landlords who have left their buildings in disrepair.
He sends an email off to Verizon to inquire about the ability of constituents to get FiOS. He reviews a text from the police letting him know that they have recently issued four speeding tickets on Beechwood Boulevard, good news that he will share with concerned residents.
This, all before his 10 o’clock Council meeting.
“It’s definitely juggling,” he says. “I am obsessive about checking my phone constantly. I try to not let the emails build up.”
He estimates that he receives between 200 and 250 emails each day, and he or his staff respond to each one.
He calls in his staff and delegates several tasks, including researching what other cities are doing with regard to mandating “proper nursing rooms” in public buildings in advance of his presentation of a resolution on the issue and looking into an alleyway behind Beechwood Boulevard that is beginning to crumble into people’s yards.
His focus flits from one topic to another without missing a beat.
“I’ve always had this much energy,” Gilman says. “I was always the person who volunteered, and always the person who didn’t just sit around and complain about something, but who looked for an active solution.”
Driven by a work ethic instilled by his parents — his father, Fred Gilman, typically works 15-hour days as the dean of the Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University and his mother, Barbara Gilman, volunteers for such organizations as Hillel-Jewish University Center Pittsburgh Section, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh — he also credits the good doctor, Dr Pepper, for his seemingly unending energy. He drinks several cans each day and supplements with coffee.
This is a man who accepts invitations to speak at PTA meetings whenever possible.
“I can’t say ‘yes’ to everything,” he says. “But I say ‘yes’ to most things.”
He also meticulously monitors the headway made on addressing his constituents’ concerns and complaints. On this particular morning, he is following the progress of trees that need to be trimmed, the reporting of a sinkhole, crosswalks that need to be repainted, an abandoned property, a shop sign that has been knocked over, and a constituent who is angry about receiving a parking ticket, among other things.
When the clock strikes 10, Gilman quickly walks down the hall of the City Council Building to take his place at a conference table among his fellow councilmen for the morning’s meeting. The session begins with impassioned pleas by two residents: one concerned with the containment of the Ebola virus and the other distressed over violence in the Hill District.
The meeting proper commences, and the six members present vote on a series of resolutions involving various improvement projects throughout the city: allocations, zoning and a sewage plan for the expansion of Heinz Field.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Gilman heads back to his own office, takes a few seconds to sign some papers that his staff has ready for him and picks up a few more that he needs for his 11:30 a.m. meeting — a confidential conversation in the mayor’s office regarding a proposal for a new $100 million housing development in Oakland at the intersection of Centre Avenue and Craig Street.
The proposal is in its early stages, he says, but he is enthusiastic.
“Craig and Center is truly the gateway to downtown from Oakland,” he says, following the meeting. “It would be a great anchor for development for Oakland.”
At his desk, he eats a sandwich picked up by his staff, before a quick meeting with an attorney from the city’s law department, and then he is off to his car to drive to a meeting in Oakland, checking his email on his phone until he starts the engine.
In Oakland, he meets with Ralph Horgan, associate vice president of campus design and facility development at CMU, to get the lay of the land vis a vis the university’s planned expansion. He wants to see for himself how a new parking structure will affect traffic flow in the neighborhood, and get an idea of how the university’s proposed new façade will be an aesthetic upgrade while improving the quality of campus life.
On the ride back downtown, Gilman is still working, making mental notes of problems he sees in the area.
“When I drive, all I see are problems to report,” he says. “Graffiti that needs to be removed, potholes that need to be filled. I am constantly on city inspectors to get things done. The brain is always on work mode. It really is.”
By 2:30 p.m., he is back in his office for a few minutes before his next meeting. He turns CNN on his television to catch up on the news as he gets back online to check his emails: more sewage problems, which is “probably the biggest problem facing Western Pennsylvania,” he says.
At 3 p.m., he joins a meeting with municipal employees to discuss the issue of correctly designating streets as public or private.
“My concern is we’ve been treating some streets like public, but there are no records we have accepted them into the city,” he says. “There are other streets we all agree are private, but the residents have no idea they are private.”
Correctly identifying street designations will determine whether the city is responsible for things like snow removal and sewer issues.
Those present decide to do title research on three of the streets in question as a pilot plan, then to regroup.
It is now 4 p.m., and the councilman still has a lot of day left: a meeting with a constituent, and then an appearance at the Women’s Final Four Reception at the Convention Center, which is scheduled to conclude at 6:30.
He is fueled by adrenaline, he says, which has come to feel like his “natural speed.”
But, he says, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.