Tom Murphy’s activism on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side propelled him to serve in the state Legislature from 1979 through 1993. On Dec. 30, 1993, he conferred with Mayor Sophie Masloff in City Hall and power transferred quietly.
A month earlier, the 49-year-old legislator had hoisted his 2-year-old son, T.J., into the air after learning he had won election to the mayor’s office, a post he held for three consecutive four-year terms. A picture of that scene appeared on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s front page on Nov. 3, 1993. The victory was especially sweet because an earlier campaign in 1989 ended in failure.
As mayor from January 1994 until January 2006, Mr. Murphy was highly visible and hard working. He was often seen running on riverfront trails or in Point State Park. As the city’s 56th mayor, he was passionate about improving neighborhoods and making Downtown more vibrant even if, at times, he could be a bit prickly.
To a large degree, he succeeded in transforming Pittsburgh. Mr. Murphy’s zeal for improving the city’s rivers led to the creation of more than 25 miles of riverfront trails. Public-private partnerships transformed blighted industrial land into residential or retail spaces. One example is Nine Mile Run, a former slag heap that became Summerset at Frick Park, a residential community.
Other major achievements during Mr. Murphy’s administration include construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was the largest certified green building in the nation when it opened in September 2003.
Mayor Murphy’s plan to raze Downtown buildings on Forbes and Fifth avenues to attract a Nordstrom department store and Planet Hollywood ran smack into ardent opposition from preservationists. The department store chain, Lazarus, came and went from a Downtown building that is now condominiums. To the horror of preservationists, the Mellon Bank Building became a home for Lord & Taylor. The department store chain had a brief run before leaving town.
As 2012 drew to a close, the former mayor made a rare appearance in City Council chambers. He told civic leaders that a Strip District project proposed by the Buncher Co. falls well short of Pittsburgh’s world-class standards for riverfront development. Buncher has backed away from seeking tax increment financing from the city.
Since 2006, Mr. Murphy has been a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.
Nathan R. Shrader: “A terrific mayor who refused to wave the white flag of surrender. The efforts he made to revitalize and renew Pittsburgh’s economy for the future have helped make Pittsburgh the livable, increasingly vibrant place that it is today.”