Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Smart, Very Smart

My most recent entry was critical of Bill Peduto. He has really earned my respect with his decision not to run against Luke Ravenstahl for mayor. Politically, it was a brilliant move and should serve him well in the future.

His actions should serve as a response to his critics. He is viewed as not being a party guy. Whoops let's rephrase that. Word is that Bill likes to party, just not with THE PARTY. Old line Committee people reward loyalty. They reward candidates who fall on the sword when they are not endorsed. If you decide not to run against an endorsed candidate you will get lots of support the next time you ask for an endorsement.

Critics say that Bill has a history of negative campaigning. At this point the only strategy he had if he remained in the race was to run a negative campaign. The opportunity was right in front of him. Luke accepted a boondoggle from a billionaire who just got a sweet deal from the state, county and city on a new arena. Luke's response to questions about this trip was less than straight forward. Bill had his opening. In commenting on his role in running a negative campaign for Cohen, he said he has learned from his mistake. He vowed not to run a negative campaign. Although he started to take some small pot shots, when the big opportunity was in front of him he did an incredibly honorable thing. He kept his word. He stepped back and not only didn't take shots, he made the ultimate sacrifice. He dropped out of the race rather than become ugly.

Bill had to know that after the arena/Penguin deal was done his chances of winning were slim and none. He also knows that fumigating the mess left from Murphy and then O'Conner in a half a term is almost impossible. It will also be impossible for him to raise enough money to run a meaningful campaign against Luke. Some of Bill's biggest contributors from his last bid already had jumped ship to Luke. You can't win these days without a war chest. If, as Bill and his supporters believe, Luke fails as mayor, Peduto will have a much stronger chance of winning next time. Instead of running as a two time loser. He can run as an honorable candidate on a "told you so" platform.

Should Bill not have the stomach for another run at the mayor's office, he clearly has political ambitions beyond City Council. Should he decide to run in the future for State Rep, State Senate or even Congress his actions today will be remembered. The party types should reward him for stepping aside for the endorsed candidate. The public should remember him as one candidate who really took the high road.

Now is the time for Luke to do the unexpected. I would like to see him offer Bill a prominent role in his administration. The city could be totally unified, and enjoy Luke's leadership and Bill's analytical and well thought out ideas.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mystery Mailing - Judge for Yourself

ACDC Chair Jim Burn made a call to all committee people the day before the endorsement election warning about a deceptive mailing from a Mayoral candidate. I have found a copy of the mailing and posted it. There is a perception that the old guard of the Committee is out to get Peduto. I really wanted to see this mailing because I'm really torn by this race. I see definitive and polar opposite strengths and weaknesses when comparing the candidates. I view myself as progressive and politically liberal. On the other hand I have a major problem with people who conduct their campaigns in a morally corrupt manner. I have been a Committeeman for the better part of a decade, but I question how the Committee endorses candidates. It makes me sick when candidates try to bribe committee votes by donating TV's and DVD players for Ward Meeting raffles, you won't catch me dead at a "free breakfast" for a candidate and I don't really appreciate gifts, such as aprons being dropped off at my door to buy a vote. This is why I was so interested in the alleged "deceptive mailing". Personally, I have found Jim Burn to be a major improvement, professional and a voice of moderation in County Party leadership. Remember, one of the other potential chairs was a convicted felon, so by all accounts that made Burn the progressive candidate. So, I was disappointed when some suggested that Burn was making his call to skew the election. Now I can see why he was so upset.

The front of the mailing looks identical to official ACDC mailings. The back side definitely leads one to believe that the ACDC is supporting Peduto for mayor. Just when you are really impressed and swayed by this guy's ideas you see something like this that proves what he is really all about. If this was isolated maybe there could be a logical explanation, but there is a long history of questionable tactics. This goes back to him managing the infamous Dan Cohen Congressional Campaign, by directing a low road, campaign of mud slinging, homophobic and racially charged inuendo, and general dirty politics. This submarined the political career of one of the brightest and most able young politicians to serve this area. Cohen did what a candidate should. He took the fall. He admitted fault for following the questionable strategy of his campaign manager.

We can also take a look at the last mayoral campaign. As progressive Democrats began to consider whether or not to run, there was supposedly communication between the various potential candidates. It was agreed that the only way for progressive ideas to be championed was for one progressive to run against O'Conner. Based on these discussions, Lamb announced his candidacy with the understanding that he would have the support of the other progressives. At the Candidates' Night at the 14th Ward Committee meeting interested potential mayoral candidates were invited to speak. O'Conner spoke, Lamb spoke, Flaherty spoke and a few fringe candidates spoke. Peduto was in the audience. He was specifically asked by the ward chair if he wanted to speak. He got up in front of the entire 14th ward committee and said he was not a candidate for mayor and was only a candidate for Council. As a result, unlike the rest of the speakers, he did not have to face questioning from the committee members - being questioned by 14th Ward Committee members can be very tough. There is no ducking questions. Days later he announced his candidacy. He split the votes, split the support and split the ability to raise money with Lamb, who was already clearly committed and announced as a candidate. He single handedly destroyed any chance of our city electing a progressive mayor. Do the math, if you added the Peduto votes to the Lamb votes they would have been neck and neck with the O'Conner total.

Ironically people seem to be holding Ravenstahl responsible for the problems in the City-County Building. Had Peduto chosen to throw his support to Lamb we wouldn't have this mess. Ravenstahl inherited the disaster, he did not create it. Both Ravenstahl and Peduto should be held accountable for City Council's inability to act as an effective check and balance. One of these two is going to be out next mayor. There are no other choices.

Being a sports fan in a sports crazed town I will draw a sports analogy. Would you rather have the average veteran, the .260 hitting third baseman or Cederic Wilson, or would you rather have the prospect. With the veteran, you know what you are going to get. You can't really expect him to improve or change, but you can count on his mediocrity and weaknesses. With the young guy, there is a chance he might fall on his face and fail (remember Chad Hermanson or Greg Hawthorne) or he could achieve greatness (remember Big Ben and Sidney Crosby). We know what we are getting with Bill Peduto for better or worse. We will get great ideas, analytical thought and hard work. We will also get questionable tactics (see above), alienation and blame. With Luke we don't really know what we are going to get. We do know that he is bright, articulate and a natural leader, but we don't know much else. How can we. After all he is only 5 years removed from graduating college. Of course that's five more years removed from graduating college than Bill. Some say Luke is just a follower or a puppet with Onorato pulling the strings. Who really knows. He has been mayor for only a few months. It will take until the end of the term to really find out. This means we will either take a risk with the young guy to finish out the term, or we will give Bill a half a term to implement total change.

When you are 27 your future is ahead of you. You have the potential to learn from your experience. You have the potential to gain confidence and independence, but there certainly will be a learning curve and mistakes along the way. With potential, you have hope. At 27 Ronald Reagan was a Democrat and at a few years younger than that Bill Peduto was a leader of the Younger Republicans at Penn State, before dropping out. At 27 Ravenstahl is mayor. At 26 he was Council President. Some feel he is too moderate. Is it possible that as he gains experience that he will be able to implement more progressive ideas? Sometimes it takes a moderate background to be able to implement progressive ideas. When Bill Clinton first ran he was viewed as a moderate Democrat. After 8 years he became the most effective progressive leader of our lifetime.

Bottom line is that I am very troubled by that mailing. If Peduto would try that to trick the ACDC, what might he do to alienate leadership in Harrisburg?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

More Local Political Rumblings

The Party Endorsement is today. Last night was the 14th Ward's annual Champagne and Dessert Gala. It as a great event as all of the candidates mingle with committee people in a relaxed atmosphere.

Surprisingly absent was Bill Peduto. Peduto has consistently, seemingly positioned himself as an adversary to the Party. Yesterday this occurred again. The County Chair had to call every committee person and warn them about an improper and deceptive mailing from a mayoral candidate. Curious, I dug through the garbage for mailings from both Ravenstahl and Peduto. I couldn't find the right mailing, which apparently was a card from Peduto that looked like an official mailing. It supposedly suggested that he had received the endorsement already. I wish I saw it. I wonder if it was truly deceptive or this is just a political ping pong ball.

I did dig out a letter from Peduto that we received on Saturday. Although not the letter that Burn complained about, he does take a curious tactic. Bill states:

As elected neighborhood leaders, you shouldn't be told who to vote for by political officials. You are free to make your own personal decision about the kind of leadership Pittsburgh needs to grow and develop. After all, you know the challenges our city faces. You know the desires our citizens have to maintain and improve their quality of life. You, as elected Democratic leaders, will be a part of the decision-making process in my administration.

For such a smart, experienced and savvy politician why, days before the endorsement, would he go out of his way to alienate Party leadership? Also isn't a bit insulting to think you have to tell elected committee people that they can make their own minds up. Instead of insulting, why didn't he take the high road, explain why he thinks he is the better candidate and ask for their votes. This is the exact danger of Peduto. He doesn't know how to win over political leaders. Based on informal discussions with political state wide leaders in attendance last night, it is also clear that Peduto has exaggerated his representation of close relationships with our state elected leaders. Assuming Ravenstahl gets the endorsement, which seems to be what Peduto is crying for based on his recent conduct, what will happen when he runs against the party in the primary. Even if we wins, how is he ever going to mend these fences and effectively create positive change? It's a very curious strategy from a person who is always well prepared and plans his moves in detail.

Other able candidates were in attendance. I had a long conversation with Christine Donahue, candidate for Superior Court. She is one of only two female candidates. She is also one of the most respected local trial attorneys and was highly recommended by the bar. The other candidate from Western Pennsylvania is Judge Ron Folino, who is an outstanding Common Pleas Judge. We have two great candidates from our area. Hopefully they can both win the statewide election.

There are several outstanding candidates running for the four Common Pleas Court openings. Hugh McGough was in attendance. Of the new faces he stands out. What will be interesting is how many candidates will drop out if they don't get the endorsement. Judge is a funny thing. Judges aren't really politicians, but they are selected by a political process.This creates a conflict between choosing the best potential jurist and the most loyal and committed member of the party. This is why it often takes able candidates two or three races to become elected. Perhaps decisions made after 4:00 this afternoon will determine who is elected judge next year.

The City Controller race is also extremely fascinating. Arguably the candidates in this race would be better suited for mayor than the Mayoral candidates. Mike Lamb is smart, highly educated, proven, experienced and approachable. Doug Shields has proven to be an effective leader in his tenure as President of City Council. He is also a bright guy and has matured, or mellowed, into an effective champion of progressive ideas. You also have to have some sympathy for Tony Pokora. This is his job and his career. I do not think he has any political ambitions other than to be able to continue with his career. He finds himself in a battle with two excellent, experienced and able politicians. One would like to think that the City can have the luxury of having both Lamb and Shields serving in important elected positions and there can be a place for Pokora, who has been a loyal city employee.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Mayor's Race







As a committeeman I have a keen interest in the upcoming mayoral election. The party endorsement vote is this Sunday. Yesterday I heard a presentation from each candidate. The candidates attended the home of the President of the 14th Ward Independent Democrats Club. Each candidate spoke for 10 minutes and answered questions for 40. In attendance were board members of the organization and committee persons.

Ravenstahl spoke first. The group was made made up primarily of Peduto supporters who did nothing to hide their partisan feelings. Ravenstahl was articulate and knowledgeable. His responses were very forthright. He comes across as being fresh and honest. On the other hand many in the group felt that he was not "progressive". Although his youth will make people question whether he has enough experience to lead the city, he unquestionably is bright, confident and articulate.

Peduto similarly is a very polished speaker. He is extremely well prepared and knows the issues. The experience of having been involved in several campaigns has served him well. He is clearly attempting to improve his image by being more approachable and engaging.

Peduto knows the issues and is quick to point out fault in existing programs and plans. Although he suggest alternate solutions that have merit he glosses over the practicalities of how he can implement his plans. Peduto has the advantage of not having a track record as mayor and as such can be critical of decisions made by Ravenstahl and past administrations. On the other hand, although he has a track record on City Council, he has not served as a leader. He has been one of several council representatives, but never in charge. From that position he has been viewed as progressive or the champion of the underdog. He has served an important purpose on council. Parallels can be drawn between himself and others on Council who have come before him such as: Madoff, Pollock and Cohen. All of them were intelligent and outspoken members who challenged the ideas of the majority, but none ever became mayor. None of these people were viable candidates for mayor because of their oppositional approach. All burned out and faded from the political scene.

Although normally being the incumbent is a strength for a candidate, in this case it is going to cause challenges for Ravenstahl. He became mayor because of his position as President of City Council. O'Conner had been mayor for only a short time when he fell ill. Quickly it became obvious that he made mistakes in staff selections. This caused Ravenstahl to walk into a hornet's nest. Unexpectedly, as new mayor Ravenstahl had to clean up the mess from the O'Conner administration, which in turn was trying to clean up the mess from the lame duck Murphy administration. Recognizing that the city was in a delicate state mourning the loss of it's just elected mayor, Ravenstahl took the high road. We gradually has made staff changes while not creating turmoil in City Hall. Although not of his making, he had accepted the responsibility of the Regan/McNeilly fiasco. When the Federal Judge ruled against the City the mayor had to answer. The reality is that the entire situation occurred because of decisions made by the O'Conner administration.

The city is clearly at a cross roads. We have a financial mess. A city that originally had an infrastructure for a much larger population and industrial base must now support that infrastructure with a smaller tax base. To exacerbate the situation the city's biggest employers are non-profits that are not obligated to pay taxes. How are our problems going to be solved: by ideas or by leadership? We need good ideas and strong leadership, but ideas are useless if they can not be implemented. The secret to this city and region flourishing is strong bonds between the city, county and Harrisburg. Although Peduto may have more creative ideas Ravenstahl does a better job of building bridges.

Despite the clear improvement of his image, Peduto's report card would read

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Peduto, your son Bill is extremely bright, but he does not play well and share with his classmates. I am also afraid that Bill does not follow through on his projects."

Recent history shows that Peduto does not get along with the Allegheny County Democratic Party, he does not communicate will with the local State representatives particularly those in his own district, he has had a history of ducking the Committee people in his home districts of the 7th and 14th Wards, and he has failed to garner the support of his fellow members of City Council. If he is mayor, will he turn Pittsburgh into an island? How will he be able to sell his creative ideas to County and State constituents?

Perhaps the most telling analysis is why Ravenstahl is running as in incumbent, but Peduto is not. If Peduto was a true consensus builder, wouldn't he, as one of the longest tenured councilman and fresh off of a second place finish in the mayoral race, have been selected as President of Council? Ravenstahl, despite his youth and relative inexperience was so chosen by his peers. Peduto would have you believe that Ravenstahl was merely a puppet of his opponents on counsel. If that is so, why was Peduto's closest council ally, Doug Sheilds able to succeed Ravenstahl. If Peduto can't even win over the people who he works with on a daily basis how can we expect him to be able to win over those in Harrisburg?

Ravenstahl is more of a bridge builder. In this case in order to be a bridge builder he needs to be more of a moderate. As such he might not always be able to support the most creative of approach, but he can sell a more moderate plan that can be accepted, approved and adopted. Just as he won over his more senior constituents on council he will have an effect on county and state leaders. Let us not forget that he may have been selected because he was the most qualified to be President of Council. After all, at that time he was the only member who was a college graduate. He is bright, articulate, competitive and willing to consider advice and differing opinions. He is humble enough not to believe that he is always the one with the best answer. He also is willing to admit when he doesn't know an answer. When then happens he finds the answer and responds. He also is willing to accept responsibility for mistakes on his watch.

Peduto is very critical, and rightful so, of the fiscal problems created under the Murphy administration. Remember Peduto was working in City Council when all the mistakes were made. Instead of accepting blame for the disasters that occurred under his watch he passes the blame to Murphy, O'Conner and his fellow members of council. If he was such a great leader and knew the fiscal problems were so bad, why couldn't he be an effective enough leader to convince others in office of his position?

Bill Peduto serves a very important role in our city. He challenges the status quo and forces us to think of new ideas. Unfortunately since he cannot convince other politicians to agree with him on a regular basis, his most effective role is going to be as contrarian or watch dog from City Council. Ravenstahl appears to be the more natural leader. With Ravenstahl youth and lack of experience comes risk. He will need to prove to be strong and confident in his own ideas and policies. He needs to break free of the cloud of the O'Conner administration and lay a solid foundation for his own administration. The only opportunity for him to do this is as an elected mayor and not as a mayor by attrition.