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.

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