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Pittsburgh, An International Background For G-20 Summit

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Pittsburgh, An International Background For G-20 Summit

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Pittsburgh, An International Background For G-20 Summit

Pittsburgh, An International Background For G-20 Summit

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Next month, dozens of world leaders will gather to talk about the global recession at the G-20 economic summit. The last few times they've gotten together, it was in London and Washington. This time, the location is Pittsburgh. All jokes aside, the White House says it chose Pittsburgh as a city that weathered an economic collapse, and has become a place with a good deal of optimism. Guest host David Greene talks to the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, as the city prepares to welcome leaders from around the world.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

Next month, dozens of world leaders are gathering to talk about the global recession. And the last few of these G-20 meetings have been in places like London, Washington, D.C. As for the site of the upcoming summit...

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The United States will host the next G-20 Summit, September 24th through the 25th, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

(Soundbite of murmuring and laughter)

Mr. GIBBS: Get a little murmur there? That's - there's a Terrible Towel back there somewhere, wasn't there? There you go.

GREENE: That's right. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs got some chuckles from reporters when he announced the Pittsburgh Summit back in May.

Pittsburgh, of course, is known for its gritty steel roots, its football, those Steelers Terrible Towels that Robert Gibbs mentioned. Not known for hosting world summits. But all jokes aside, the White House says it chose Pittsburgh as a city that weathered an economic collapse when the steel industry buckled in the 1970s and now has become a place with a good deal of optimism.

One person who's getting ready for the September summit is Pittsburgh's mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, and he joins us.

Welcome, Mayor.

Mayor LUKE RAVENSTAHL (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania): Thank you. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: No problem. So you've probably heard that tape from White House before. Were you surprised by this announcement?

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: We weren't. You know, we knew, obviously, when Robert Gibbs made the announcement that it was coming. I will tell you, a month or two beforehand, when we got the initial call from the White House suggesting that Pittsburgh was in the mix to host the G-20 Summit, we were both surprised, but at the same time very excited about the opportunity that we would have to host the summit. And of course, after the initial call we had to show the White House, show the Secret Service, that we were able to host the event.

And the good news is, obviously, that they chose us. And you know, those laughs that came from the press corps, you know, I think will be really proven wrong once we have the chance to host the summit in September.

GREENE: And those laughs have annoyed some Pittsburghers, as I understand.

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: They have. And you know what? One of the challenges that we face in Pittsburgh is an image problem. And I think it really showed with the press corps there having a chuckle. But I'm convinced that once those same folks that were in that room get a chance to visit Pittsburgh, spend a few days in our fine city, realize why the president chose us, those laughs will quickly turn into a very impressed group of people, once we host the world in September.

GREENE: Well, how exactly are you to preparing? I mean I know you've already -there's already been talk of protests and businesses worried about how this will affect them. Your city is not, you know, huge. You know, what's on priority list to get ready for this thing?

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: Well, number one is public safety. You know, we understand that with hosting a world event like this come a tremendous amount of protesters. We welcome that, actually. We encourage folks to protest and talk about the issues that are important to them, but to do so peacefully. So public safety, of course, is our number one priority.

But secondly, we have a chance here over the next two months to really reshape that image problem that I was talking about and really tell the truth and tell the real story about a thriving city, a city that reinvented itself, as you mentioned, after the steel industry collapsed in the '70s.

We have a very, very good story to tell. And fortunately the G-20 is going to give us the global spotlight to tell that story.

GREENE: Well, Mr. Mayor, how do you find the balance? I mean on one hand, you know, you want to tell that story and, you know, show Pittsburgh off, what it is today. On the other hand, I mean gritty, tough, steel, football, it's so much a part of the city. And so where is that balance?

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: Well, I think they both co-exist. And that's the one thing that we'll be able to tell. You know, U.S. Steel is a fine corporation. Their headquarters is still here. We still have advanced manufacturing. We still have heavy industry in Pittsburgh. So it is still that gritty town, that hardworking town.

The people have remained the same. The difference is now maybe not all of them are reporting to work in a steel mill. They're reporting to work, you know, at one of our health care institutions, at one of our universities. So it's not just steel anymore. But at the same time, you still have that Pittsburgh work ethic and that's something we're very proud of and certainly won't shy away from.

GREENE: Well, I want to ask you about Pittsburgh food. As a Pittsburgher myself, I know the great Primanti Brothers sandwich, that massive sandwich with fries and meat and everything on it - are you going to feed the world leaders some of that, to give them a...

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: You know, I don't know. One of the things that's amazed me, quite honestly, about the G-20, is how everything kind of revolves around food. Literally, in our convention center where the G-20 site will be and all the meetings will take place, they will build out dining rooms and kitchens. And it's pretty incredible, the focus on food. So I'm not sure really how much of a chance we'll have to put a Pittsburgh spin or touch on it.

Of course, if we do have the chance, we'd love to introduce them to the Primanti sandwich. But my guess is that most of that activity - meals, et cetera - will be controlled by the White House and the world leaders.

GREENE: Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And they will be hosting the G-20 Summit late September.

Mayor, thanks for joining us.

Mayor RAVENSTAHL: Thank you, David.

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