This week marked the inauguration of Pittsburgh’s 60th mayor, Bill Peduto. I’ve lived in Pittsburgh going on eight years, and have only experienced two mayors. And so I became curious about who’s been minding the shop all these years. I was surprised (or maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised?) to find out just how many of our leaders have run afoul of the law.
Our very first mayor (burgess, officially), George Robinson, was arrested by George Washington for participating in the Whiskey Rebellion. To learn more about this Western Pennsylvania moment of revolt, check out some of the most popular books of that era, and if you just want to celebrate whiskey and toast our first mayor, whip up some cocktails with our Fight for Your Right to Imbibe list.
Then there is the even more curious case of one Joseph Barker, the “Anti-Catholic” party candidate, who served as mayor from 1850-1851. He won as a write-in candidate while serving a jail sentence for indecent language and inciting a riot. He was released from jail for one day for his inauguration. The next day, the governor pardoned him. Barker is also notable for two arrests during his term, for assault and battery and possibly kidnapping. He was decapitated by a train, and you can visit his grave at Allegheny Cemetery, if you are so inclined.
William McNair was mayor during the disastrous St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936, but is mostly known for a disastrously contemptuous relationship with City Council. When he resigned in October of 1936, he then quickly tried to renege on his resignation. The City Council had had enough, and refused him. He was jailed for two hours in April of 1936, for refusing to pay a numbers runner who had been found innocent. McNair wasn’t a fan of gambling, but he did love to play the fiddle, and even played on the radio. A New York Times article was titled: MAYOR M’NAIR FALLS TO GET RADIO GONG; Pittsburgh Executive, Just Out of Jail, Performs on Amateur Hour and Berates Foes.
Still hankering for more knowledge of Pittsburgh’s quirky mayors? Check out our the Pittsburgh research page on our website, or visit the Pennsylvania Department‘s skilled researchers at the Main Library.