Bringing a City Back From Rock Bottom

Tom Murphy was the mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006, often engendering controversy as he helped revitalize the beleaguered steel town. He is now a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute.

Murphy discussed his passion for public service as well as the need for leaders to challenge the status quo and take risks during a conversation with me, a guest writer for On Leadership. I am a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q. What drew you to public service?

A. My wife and I went into the Peace Corps after college and worked in a remote village in Paraguay. It fundamentally changed our lives. We became interested in what it means to create a community in terms of the tangible aspects of housing, health centers and schools, and the intangibles such as how people build a common vision and work together.

I carried this fascination to the north side of Pittsburgh to run a neighborhood preservation group in the mid-1970s. I ended up running for the state legislature, in part because I thought the political system wasn't responsive to issues of neighborhood concern. To everybody's surprise, I won. I later went through the same exercise in running for mayor of Pittsburgh.

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This post was originally featured on the Washington Post's website.