Carnegie Mellon University
May 11, 2022

Politics, Persuasion and the Press

By Michael Henninger

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094

As a Carnegie Mellon University student absorbing knowledge in the seats of Baker Hall, Dan Gilman didn't know the first thing about local government. Nearly two decades later, the CMU alumnus and special faculty lecturer leads a discussion as an expert on the topic for students absorbing knowledge in the same seats of Baker Hall.

Gilman has come full circle. From CMU Student Body president to Pittsburgh city councilman, to chief of staff to the Mayor of Pittsburgh and back again co-teaching Politics, Persuasion and the Press with David Shribman, a special faculty lecturer at CMU and Pulitzer Prize-winning former executive editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"We want to show students the relationship between government politicians, the media and the public, and what that three-legged stool looks like and how information flows — in all directions," Gilman said. "More importantly, we are examining how the rhetoric has changed over time, both in how news is consumed and how the public provides feedback."

At the start of a class, he asks his students to compare two news articles written about a budget address delivered while Gilman was chief of staff to former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. As the discussion unfolds, tackling what is — and is not — in each article about the budget, Gilman provides behind-the-scenes context about the process.

"All of us should do what we can to leave this place better than we found it." — Dan Gilman

"Today's young people still have a great deal of optimism for the future, but also a sense of justice and what they expect to see in the world," he said. "The hope that they are going to continue to fight for what they believe in leaves me with great optimism."

Like many students, Gilman used his time at college to explore different directions, ultimately finding his path in life.

"One of the main reasons I chose Carnegie Mellon was the ethics, history and public policy program. I was a stereotypical undefined liberal arts major who really did not know what I wanted to do in life," he said. "What I liked about the program was that it was one-third philosophy, one-third history and one-third political science."

Gilman became involved — simultaneously serving as the president to both his fraternity and CMU's student government, before taking an internship with Congressman Mike Doyle in Washington, D.C.

"I fell in love with government in the experience of being there but became very disheartened by the dysfunction and partisan backlog of Washington, D.C." Gilman said.

An internship with a young city councilman named Bill Peduto would provide Gilman the missing piece of the puzzle.

Gilman in City Council chambers
Dan Gilman, left, listened to students in CMU's ethics, history and public policy program deliver a presentation on autonomous vehicles to Pittsburgh City Council in 2017. 

"I went into it knowing as close to zero as you really can about city government and municipal government. What I found was the amount of direct impact you're having on people in a city council office in Pittsburgh was so profound compared to the gridlock of D.C. I just fell in love. Local government was the place for me," he said.

Gilman went on to win his own city council seat — twice — and ultimately returned to work as Mayor Peduto's chief of staff. He helped lead the City of Pittsburgh during a transformative moment.

"Pittsburgh is either America's smallest big city, or its biggest small town. It has struggled in the past with the collapse of steel, losing half its population and going financially bankrupt," Gilman said. "Now it's continually ranked as one of the best cities for young people, as a foodie city, and as one of the best places to retire. There are still struggles to overcome, but I'm proud of how far we've come."

The next chapter in Gilman's story still centers on the future of Pittsburgh. After the election of Mayor Ed Gainey in November, Gilman transitioned to higher education, taking a roll at Duquesne University as chief of staff, and now, returning to teach at CMU. Just double check which Professor Gilman gets auto selected before sending an email.

"I had a unique relationship with CMU, my dad (Fred Gilman) being a professor, a department chair and a dean. I learned a lot watching him be part of a university my entire life," Gilman said. "From a very young age, my parents put into our lives the importance of volunteerism and giving back. All of us should do what we can to leave this place better than we found it."

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