F. Dok Harris's proposal to encourage urban farming has real merit -- and is just the kind of idea candidates should be congratulated for advancing in an election like this.
Aside from the very real community-building and hunger-alleviating benefits which the Harris campaign highlights, there would also arrive a small public relations bonanza from staking out a leadership position on this: a funky, healthful and productive trend unlikely to diminish. It actually is the kind of thing that can attract new people to the city from all over the country, even the world. People appreciate amenities besides sports stadiums and shopping plazas.
Similarly, Kevin Acklin's plan to add 200 city police officers is a laudable goal. It places the city's focus right where we need it -- on neglected neighborhoods which still suffer from awful reputations and disproportionately discouraging crime rates. We can not hope to achieve real growth as a city if we remain a patchwork of vast and not infrequent "no go" areas. If we are aiming to involve more city police directly with churches and other community organizations, we will need still others to pick up the slack and hit the streets the old-fashioned way.
Do we need an urban farm in every one of our 88 neighborhoods? Can we afford 200 new police officers? Probably not, but these are reach goals. These will focus the mind and our energies on the right kinds of things: changing the tempo and dynamic of our neighborhoods. Perhaps only our more blighted and vacant neighborhoods will be amenable to farms, and perhaps we might only be able to scrounge together 30 or 40 new officers in the first year. So much the better. These candidates are pushing the envelope.
Both challengers would also radically alter the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority in the mode of what has been attempted in the U.S. Army: lighter, more agile, more precise forces that do not dominate our communities so much as assist them; that do not funnel huge resources into out-of-town coffers but rather invests these directly in our own people and initiatives. It is fitting that both Acklin and Harris seek to adjust in this direction, because it is an idea whose time has come.
Luke Ravenstahl, meanwhile, has made it abundantly clear how he intends to continue "moving forward" with his URA: that is to pursue activity that pits communities against developers, the board room against the grassroots, arbitrary corporate hegemony against professional city planning, management against labor, present residents against gentrification, honest entrepreneurs against political game players, and economic growth against every other necessary civic priority. It is an early 20th century model which boasted a mixed record even in its heyday. It does little more than shuffle the deck chairs on a ship which may not sink but certainly drifts aimlessly -- from the empty husk of one development that once typified "progress" and "salvation" to the next.
That is the alpha and the omega of our incumbent's vision; it consumes vast resources while enriching very few besides the brokers behind these deals. It is why Mr. Acklin displayed admirable gumption in exposing the influence of one of these professional hijackers of government, and why he felt comfortable naming it what it is.
Carmen Robinson opined during the Democratic primary that Mr. Ravenstahl doesn't seem to care about poor people. There is indeed much Our Mayor has never quite been seen to care about, relate to, understand or even have patience for.
His reaction to community benefits movements has been brusque and offensive -- acting supremely annoyed at the suggestion of any form of engagement whatsoever. His attitude towards public safety in Oakland during the G20 has been one-sided in favor of police authority and the safety of businesses, while remaining utterly deaf and dumb to concerns about civil liberties and the safety of demonstrators and students. His response to every one of his ethics scandals -- once they have sufficiently festered and demanded a posture of contrition -- has been to regard them as public relations mistakes -- things he should have known would attract unwanted attention. He has never expressed remorse or granted the reality of any impropriety in his actions. He is the mayor who doesn't "get it".
This governance-by-machismo would perhaps be more tolerable if he could walk the walk; if other aspects of his vision made sense. But these are all chimerical.
Witness his position on consolidation: a mere stated desire that Pittsburgh city government should eventually fold into Allegheny County, heedless of all the other municipalities, heedless of the many practical political complications, heedless of the many small steps in terms of collaboration we could be taking in the present. It is a plan no citizen will ever support except those who cannot see past their abstract frustration, and who feel vaguely comfortable with leaders that express abstract agreement.
Witness his plan to solve our pensions crisis. Some it seems are overly impressed with his successful effort to avert what was called a state takeover of our pensions systems, yet in the absence of a workable plan that state takeover may have been our best hope. The parking garages will not generate $200 million in revenue -- and the truth is we will require far, far more than $200 million in revenue, and even then it will always remain a sinking fund. Yet it is internally elegant in its simplicity and will provide at least a couple years' comfort as a few prime garages are leased for a few encouraging-sounding figures.
Witness the Pittsburgh Promise: an initiative whose conception predated Ravenstahl yet which he embraced very early on to generate confidence and momentum. While scholarships are never entirely a waste, most of the resources and energy being poured into this program would truly have been better directed improving the actual education of our children. Few suburban families are going to uproot and relocate to the City to send their children to what are seen as inferior schools, in order to take advantage of a complex and partial scholarship at the end of a rainbow. There will be no stampede to repopulate the City from this. There will however be a steady outpouring of goodwill for UPMC and for the public officials who get to stand behind an adorable song and dance.
Witness even the G20. While doing little harm, and while perhaps generating a bit of enhanced interest in future conventions, residents cannot eat, cash in or spend "the equivalent of $20 million in advertising." Although it dominated our consciousness, our landscape and our airwaves, the Pittsburgh G20 actually comprised the barest blip on the national and international radar; it was over before anyone knew it was occurring. The G20 was novel and a bit gratifying, but it was no meaningful civic achievement that did anything for anybody, unless you need a trump card during a debate.
To borrow what has become a well-worn cliché, ask folks in Sheraden or Beechview what they think of these oversold talking points. Better yet, ask an economist where we stand in real terms, and what any of these have done or are likely to do to assist things. Or ask any of the professional public servants who have been jettisoned from or scapegoated by this administration, in favor of political, malleable, and often enough under-qualified yes persons. This is not an administration that holds up well to scrutiny.
In the wake of pretending to change his name for the Superbowl, Mr. Ravenstahl in some quarters acquired the nickname Steelersteel. It is an apt moniker, for he is in many ways a Man of Steel: hard, polished, unyielding, unsurprising.
He is like unto a ball bearing, the dual purposes for which are to smoothly facilitate a machine's movement and to completely resist pressures from all sides. For him, the course and purpose of that machine is for others to determine: perhaps some small-minded conception of Providence, or a corrupted interpretation of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Yet he knows cunningly well how to resist, defray, divert and divide those pressures all around him: these being awake and troubled Pittsburghers.
A vote for Ravenstahl is a vote for fantasies and myopia -- in conjunction with a grotesque and ruthless political efficiency. I will have precisely none of it.
Meanwhile, neither challenger has revealed himself liable to drool all over the controls and thereby drive the City straight up onto the rocks, despite the suggestions of a few who gloss over central tenets of their argument. These political appeasers suggest that we already fashioned a minimally competent administration basically from scratch -- so if we grant that point for the sake of argument alone, there is every reason to believe we can improve on that product given another chance with more trustworthy, empathetic material.
For mayor, we confidently endorse both Kevin Acklin and Franco Dok Harris, in light of their evident intelligence, impressive educational attainment, promising achievements and very well-founded civic intentions. Both have accurately diagnosed critical deficiencies in the status quo, and both have built upon these to articulate constructive visions for Pittsburgh's future. My own personal inclinations toward demonstrated constancy and seeming guilelessness will compel me to touch the screen upon Mr. Acklin's bubble, but either one would be deserving.