Thursday, January 17, 2008

Interview: Patrick Ford (Part 1)

We met Pat Ford on September 25, 2007, just after he was named executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

It was only in February he was named Director of Economic and Community Development, whereas in the previous year he had become Director of City Planning.

Ford was just moving into his new office, which was piled high with boxes: 12th floor, 200 Ross Street, corner office, looking out over Station Square and the confluence. Top of the world.

"This way you can slide right down the fire pole and into planning and zoning hearings, right?" we joked.

"No, I have people for that now," Ford laughingly assured us.

As it happens, Ford did attend the City Planning hearing on January 14 personally, as the representative of the Mayor.

He went to college to study architecture. He developed an interest in policy and urban planning, which he pursued in grad school. When he mentioned that he attended undergrad on a football scholarship, we had to ask -- is that part of the bond between himself and Mayor Ravenstahl?

"Oh absolutely," he agreed. "We're both athletes. He's a football player, I'm a football player. Football teams are 24 alpha-dogs -- how do they get along?"

Ford went on to describe working with the Mayor as a pretty rip-roaring, intense experience -- but a productive one, provided you know your role and can keep up with the fireworks.

"If you get in a room full of alpha-dogs, I know he's the boss," he said.

We asked Ford if there was anything he'd like us to know about the Mayor that does not get reported in the press.

"He's very direct," he started. "He knows how to take charge ... he does take charge. He can assimilate information really quickly, and make a decision."

"You don't get that in someone who's been in politics for 20 to 40 years," he added.


Pat Ford is a man of lists (more on this later), and after 12 years working in private sector consulting, never really putting down roots, he and his wife actually started assembling lists (utilizing their own data and metrics) of cool places to live.

Naturally, Pittsburgh surfaced near the top.

In 2001, Ford sought a job in Pittsburgh city government, and was hired under Mayor Tom Murphy as a zoning administrator.

"There were the coolest people, the nicest people ... but I was just administering. I didn't really have a say in policy, visioning, master planning." We asked if he was frustrated by the lack of input he was allowed in the Murphy administration, and he just sort of shrugged.

Although he and his wife came to love Pittsburgh -- "neighborhoods just have a pulse here" -- they wound up moving to Pompano Beach after a little while, trying again to find a match.

Fast forward a few years, and this time Pittsburgh sought out Pat Ford -- or rather, newly elected Mayor Bob O'Connor tracked him down, remembering something special he saw in the brash young administrator with the architecture and planning background, and prevailed upon him to return to Pittsburgh.

Before long, he was bonding not only with the new Mayor but with young Councilman Ravenstahl. The rest, as they say, is history.


"Everybody thinks I'm this development czar, development at all costs!" Pat Ford says, pumping his fist mockingly in the air.

"Do you know that guy?" Ford asked, mentioning a tweedy, bespectacled young man who had just popped in and out of the room to ask a question. "That's Rob Stephany, my Deputy Executive Director. He's the guy in East Liberty that came up with the whole East End."

"Where are our next two or three East Liberties? Where are our next two or three East Liberty Development Corporations? That guy is a champion of the community!"

As Ford was defending his understanding of the importance of neighborhoods and communities, we asked him about his political background. He's a Democrat now, but back then?

"I was like, Reagan! Reagan!" he said, again with great humor. "I grew up hard-core, party line."

He describes a long, slicked-back head of hair, fashioned in the style of a corporate shark.

"That was me, and it was shallow. It was more about money and less about ideology. Plus, after a while you learn, the old trickle down effect ... wasn't working ... like I was told it would."

The turning point for Ford came not in getting a job in Pittsburgh city government, but in George Bush's election in 2004 ... and specifically the comedy of Louis Black during that period.

Ford said he just couldn't take being torn apart and told what an idiot he was, in such a bombastic, over-the-top manner. Even still, he needed one more nudge to cross party lines.

"You can thank Doug Shields for putting the voter registration form in my hand when I moved again."

We asked if he is finding his long experience as a Republican, a supply-sider, a consultant and a colleague of big developers, to be helpful in his current role with the city.

"Helpful? Absolutely," he said. "Absolutely. It helps you bring a tighter game to the table."

All photos are reproduced with expressed permission from the blog author of Love of Chair.
* - Why did we hold onto this for so long? A Post-Gazette piece on Pat Ford just barely beat us to publication. Right after that interview came Yukon-gate, Boat Dock gate, the mayoral debates ... and it was off to the races. We decided to hold this material until another good opportunity came along.


  1. Bram, this is great stuff. You truly captured the personality behind the suit. i would enjoy this even if he weren't my husband, but you've got to admit, know a good picture when i see it, since he is.

    where's part 2?

  2. Thanks Alecia, and thank you so much for the mention on WTAE. It made my dad's day, that's for sure. Also, I should say that although you are the first one I've ever worked with, you are extremely helpful as a press secretary. Meritorious, even.

    Part 2 will come out hopefully over the weekend.