If I were elected Governor, the first thing I would do is … well, call for a recount. But if it turned out that the people of Pennsylvania actually meant to make me their Governor, the second thing I would do is make sure that these five Pittsburghers were by my side from Day One.

These five individuals, much like Pittsburghers as a whole, know how to work collaboratively, solve complex problems and—most importantly—they never, ever quit.

Fittingly, it was the resolve, ingenuity and never-give-up attitude of our residents that allowed our city to come roaring back from not only the body blow of the 1980s, but also two tough recessions. It’s Pittsburghers who have made our home not only the most livable city, but also one of the very best places to be in the world, period. Pittsburgh has never looked or felt so good.

So who are the five unlucky Pittsburghers I would have at my side if I were Governor? Drum roll please …

Mildred Morrison. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Mildred Morrison. Photo by Brian Cohen.

5. Mildred Morrison, Secretary of Aging

If you’ve never met or worked with Mildred, you are truly missing out. As Administrator for the Allegheny County Department of Human Service’s Area Agency on Aging, Mildred oversees delivery of the services and strategic planning that make Pittsburgh one of the best places to age. I like to think of Mildred as an iron fist in a velvet glove. She tells it like it is, but never makes you feel like you’re being lectured. Just the opposite: Mildred makes you feel like you are being heard.

Yet what’s most incredible about Mildred is that she can take a complicated issue and make it easy to understand (just ask her about the Aging Waiver issue). Her incredible leadership skills come from her days working in the private banking industry, followed by a stint as an Executive Director for a large nonprofit service organization and now as an agency leader in the public sector. Sorry, Rich Fitzgerald—I need her in Harrisburg!

Sunil Wadwhani. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Sunil Wadhwani. Photo by Brian Cohen.

4. Sunil Wadhwani — Secretary, Department of Community and Economic Development:

Hands down, the state could do no better. Sunil came to Pittsburgh from India in the 1970s to get his MBA from CMU, and he never left (at least not until I take him packing with me to Harrisburg). Sunil was an early pioneer in the IT industry, where he was the co-founder and co-chairman of Mastech, later renamed iGate.

iGate would go on to employ thousands of people here and around the world, but it was always Sunil’s ability to work face to face, crossing bridges and speaking the language of people from all walks of life, that makes him so successful. His community leadership on the Allegheny Conference and CMU boards, as well as his work with United Way, shows his commitment and passion for others. He can open doors for Pennsylvania like few others can. Not to mention that Sunil is one of the most self-deprecating people I know. Just ask him to tell his story about first arriving in Pittsburgh, coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, and seeing a truck with rolls of AstroTurf on its bed. He thought, “What a country! Americans even have their grass taken out to be laundered!”

Sara Bresnahan Kennedy. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Sara Bresnahan Kennedy. Photo by Brian Cohen.

3. Sara Bresnahan Kennedy – District Director, PA House of Representatives

Perhaps you know I’m a (moderate) Republican. But suppose I was a Democrat Governor coming to work with a Republican-controlled legislature. I want a person who understands the Republican leadership and the legislative process—someone who’s strategic, personal and always seeking win-win solutions. I want Sara Bresnahan Kennedy.

Originally from Indiana County, Sara moved to Pittsburgh several years ago to become Representative Mike Turzai’s District Manager. With a can-do attitude and the best constituent services one could ask for, Sarah is truly one of our region’s young leaders. Little gets done in the legislature without the support of the majority caucus, and the really big things only get done when you have the support of both caucuses. Sara understands that principle, and she practices it every day. Sorry, Mr. Speaker—I need Sara!

Lisa Schroeder
Lisa Schroeder

2. Lisa Schroeder – Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Forget about moving to Baltimore, Lisa! Why in the world would you go to a place with a football team like the Ravens, anyway? We need you in Harrisburg. After reinventing our riverfronts, creating Three Rivers Park, redesigning Point State Park, lighting our city’s bridges, and turning on an iconic fountain (to name a few things), no one has leveraged so much from so little to make Pittsburgh more beautiful than ever. Lisa has served as head of Riverlife since 2000, and we have her work to thank for many of the city’s incredible facelifts in recent years. What makes Lisa so successful is her engaging, collaborative and intelligent style of leadership. So Lisa, what do you say—can we convince you to hold off on the purple and black jersey for a little longer?

Mark Cherna. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Mark Cherna. Photo by Brian Cohen.

1. Marc Cherna – Secretary, Department of Human Services. Truly sorry, Rich Fitzgerald, but you have some of the most talented leaders in government, and I need them!

Where to begin with Marc Cherna? He started at Allegheny County in 1996 to fix a problem—Children and Youth Services. Almost 20 years later, Marc has created a true Department of Human Services, coordinated a huge range of services to meet the total needs of our neighbors, stretched every dollar to two, and made Allegheny County’s DHS the envy of county governments across the country. In Pennsylvania, Marc is the go-to guy for creating unified departments—just ask Philadelphia and Westmoreland County. Marc is the kind of person no one wants to lose—the kind of person who forms the very bedrock of an operation.

So there you have it. If I were Governor, these are the five outstanding Pittsburghers I would want at my side. Wait, let me add a sixth—my wife Kelley would make a terrific First Lady. On second thought, she should probably be Governor. After all, I would make one heck of a First Gentleman!

John Denny is founder of Denny Civic Solutions. He has played a lead role in diverse humanitarian, corporate, public affairs, and philanthropic initiatives in Pittsburgh and has spent much of his careeer work supporting and representing community and political leader Elsie Hillman.