Peter F. Flaherty

Peter Francis Flaherty (June 25, 1924 – April 18, 2005) was an American soldier, activist, and politician. He served as Assistant District Attorney of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania from 1957-64; a City of Pittsburgh Councilman 1966-70; Democratic mayor of Pittsburgh from 1970-77; United States Deputy Attorney General during the Carter administration from 1977-78, and County Commissioner of Allegheny County from 1984-96.

Peter F. Flaherty
Member of the Allegheny County
Board of Commissioners
In office
January 2, 1984[1]  January 1, 1996
Preceded byCyril Wecht
Succeeded byMichael Dawida
16th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
April 12, 1977  December 9, 1977[2]
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byHarold R. Tyler, Jr.
Succeeded byBenjamin Civiletti
54th Mayor of Pittsburgh
In office
January 5, 1970[3]  April 11, 1977[4]
Preceded byJoe Barr
Succeeded byRichard Caligiuri
Personal details
Peter Francis Flaherty

(1924-06-25)June 25, 1924
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
DiedApril 18, 2005(2005-04-18) (aged 80)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Nancy Flaherty
Charlene Conely Musser
Alma materCarlow University
Notre Dame University (Law)
ProfessionAssistant District Attorney; City Council

Flaherty was born and raised on Pittsburgh's North Side. He served in the United States Air Force during World War II and used the G.I. Bill to become the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from Carlow University in three years, then graduated cum laude from Notre Dame Law School and became a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. He developed his own legal practice which included the Pittsburgh Steelers among his clients. In 1971, he earned a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Affairs.

Mayor of Pittsburgh

In 1965, Flaherty led the Democratic Party ticket when he was elected to the City Council. Four years later in 1969 he easily won as "Nobody's Boy" against the Democratic Party machine candidate, Judge Harry A. Kramer, in the primary election. In the general election Flaherty beat the Republican, John K. Tabor. Four years later, in the 1973 election, Flaherty was re-elected by winning the Democratic primary, the Republican primary, and the Constitutional party primaries, the latter two through write-in votes. He was the only mayoral candidate to have achieved this feat in Pittsburgh's history. It would not be achieved again until incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl did so in 2009. He first campaigned for Mayor with the promise to return the Mayor's Office to the neighborhoods instead of the "special interests".

Flaherty became immensely popular as he focused on infrastructure instead of the large redevelopment projects which had been pursued over the previous twenty years. He also focused on the tax burden which had been increased every year from 1960-70 by tax increases and/or the addition of new taxes each year. In his first full year in office he had to deal with a Blue Flu of the Police, a strike by telephone operators and in the beginning of 1971 a general strike of all City of Pittsburgh blue collar employees, including refuse collectors. He made national headlines by using rental trucks and his administrative staff to collect refuse during the strike to comply with a mandamus action by the Democratic machine County Commissioners.

During his seven years as mayor, Flaherty reduced the payroll by almost one third, balanced the budget each year without a tax increase or any new taxes, reduced the taxes by two mils, eliminated the wage tax for three years, and left office with a substantial budget surplus and taxes lower than when he took office. He increased the amount of street repaving from less than ten miles in 1969 to more than 100 miles in his last year in office. This was accomplished in part by using city personnel and a city owned asphalt plant instead of continuing to contract out the work. He was sued by Allegheny Contracting Industries for not using contractors and specifically Allegheny Contracting Industries but the jury found that Flaherty had acted in a good faith belief that the company was giving fixed bids because it and other companies were guilty of division of territories.[5]

To improve refuse collection, Flaherty cancelled the contract for the North Side of the city with Browning Ferris Industries and had the North Side pick up done by city employees under the city's supervision. In reaction to public demand Flaherty organized the first citywide emergency ambulance system using city employees. He converted the city zoo, the conservatory and a number of fire stations from coal furnaces to gas heat in order to eliminate pollution and operate the systems more cost effectively. Flaherty put in a modern centralized water filtration and pump station system which dramatically increased the efficiency of the Water Department. His City management brought accolades from David Rockefeller and Fortune Magazine.

Flaherty was featured in a book on city governing called City Money:Political Processes, Fiscal Strain, and Retrenchment by Terry N. Clark and Laura Crowley Ferguson, Columbia University Press 1983. Throughout most of his tenure as mayor, Flaherty successfully opposed the Early Action Program, a huge project which included a rubber tired transit vehicle called Skybus. At the end of his tenure the dispute over this program was resolved by a study performed through the agreement of Flaherty, the county commissioners, representatives of labor and the City Council. The study recommended the abandonment of Skybus and the use, instead, of steel wheel on steel rail technology. This recommendation was adopted by the County transit agency.[6]

While he was mayor, the City of Pittsburgh through Flaherty's staff negotiated the first collective bargaining agreements in the city's history pursuant to new state laws passed for police and fire (Act 111 of 1968) and for all other employees (Act 195 of 1970). Despite the labor strife caused by cutbacks during the first year of his administration, there were only five grievances appealed to arbitration during the remaining six years that he served as Mayor and there were no more work stoppages or interruptions. While Flaherty was mayor, the city adopted a home rule charter which he supported. In addition, the law was changed so that the members of the Pittsburgh School District Board of Directors were elected instead of being appointed (April 28, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, p. 1.)

Minority community relations

Although he was criticized in the African-American community for opposing forced busing, his administration was a leader in recruiting minorities and women for top administrative posts and throughout the work force. One of his early appointments was former Duquesne University and Boston Celtics basketball star Chuck Cooper, as Director of Parks and Recreation. He eliminated the Police Tactical Police Force unit which was associated by African Americans with racism during the late 1960s and especially the disturbances that erupted after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pittsburgh was the first major city in Pennsylvania to adopt a successful affirmative action program for minorities and women.

County Commissioner

Flaherty was elected to the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners in November 1983.[7] He supported longtime Commissioner and fellow Democrat Tom Foerster's long-term goal of building a world class airport in Allegheny County. This became a reality in 1992 when a first class airport was opened and later named its terminal in Foerster's honor.

He supported Foerster and served as Foerster's intermediary with the City of Pittsburgh to build a new county jail to replace a facility which was designed by famous architect Henry Hobson Richardson in the 1800s. The team of Foerster as chairman and Pete Flaherty as the second Democrat on the three member Board of County Commissioners served together for three four year terms. Both Foerster and Flaherty were defeated for re-election in 1995.[8]

Senatorial and gubernatorial elections

Flaherty was the Democratic Party nominee for United States Senate in 1974, losing to incumbent Republican Senator Richard Schweiker in the general election. Flaherty was also the Democratic Party's nominee for governor of Pennsylvania in 1978, losing in the general election to Republican Richard Thornburgh, who would go on to become United States Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. In 1980, he again ran statewide as the Democratic nominee for United States Senate. Flaherty was defeated by Republican Arlen Specter, having taken 48% of the vote.

Deputy Attorney General

He supported Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and went to New Hampshire to support Bill Clinton in his first run for the presidency. His early support of Carter earned Flaherty his appointment as Deputy Attorney General of the United States in 1977.


Flaherty died at age 80 in 2005. He is interred in the Roman Catholic Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[9]

Electoral history

See also


  1. "New Allegheny commissioners promise new era of cooperation". The Gettysburg Times. January 3, 1984. Retrieved December 29, 2011.
  2. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 1977 (December 2, 1977), pp. 2085-86
  3. Walsh, Lawrence (January 5, 1970). "Boos Greet Flaherty's Pledges". The Pittsburgh Press (Final ed.). p. 1. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  4. Warner, David (April 11, 1977). "Pete Out in Mayor Switch". The Pittsburgh Press. p. A-1.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 19, 1979, page A3.
  6. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, p. 1, March 5, 1976.
  7. Wade, Chet (November 9, 1983). "Jacob defeated handily". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  8. "Democratic House-Cleaning". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 21, 1995. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  9. Obituary,; accessed July 11, 2018.


Political offices
Preceded by
Cyril Wecht
Member of the Allegheny County Board of Commissioners
Succeeded by
Michael Dawida
Preceded by
Joe Barr
Mayor of Pittsburgh
Succeeded by
Richard Caliguiri
Legal offices
Preceded by
Harold Tyler
U.S. Deputy Attorney General
Served under: Jimmy Carter

Succeeded by
Benjamin Civiletti
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joe Clark
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 3)

1974, 1980
Succeeded by
Bob Edgar
Preceded by
Milton Shapp
Democratic nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Allen Ertel
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