Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For Mayor: The Choice Should Be Obvious.

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.


  1. Just voted for Dok.

  2. I voted for Kevin.

  3. No you didn't. You voted for Dok. All smart people voted for Dok.

  4. Final predictions on the %s?

  5. What if...this had been a two man race? What if Kevin or Doc had withdrawn from the race and thrown their support to the other? I guess we might know when all the votes are counted. I just have to wonder if the thought had crossed either's mind.

  6. Paz - As I wrote in Briem's space:

    LR: 57
    KA: 25
    FDH: 17

    Without a ton of confidence. I've been hearing 70% for Ravenstahl for months already, but I'm skeptical.

    deegazette - My recollection from a recent P-G article is that it was never considered "seriously".

  7. You know, Vote Day seems like the perfect crowd sourcing opportunity to track turnout with the right app.

    I was just #72 at 3pm -- poll workers said 190ish would be 30% turnout.

    Will there be a post-work surge?

  8. All smart people voted for Dok.

    I believe you meant to say, "All insufferably smug people who think they're smart voted for Dok."

  9. Was distributing literature for Acklin at a polling station - a number of people mentioned that Kevin and Dok should have somehow combined forces in order to make the race more competitive.

  10. Boy are you guys going to be embarrassed.

  11. I voted for Kevin.

    Good ones: Verbanec "professional hijacker of government"; Luke is a ball bearing.

    A couple of days ago I read a fleeting allusion online linking Luke to infidelity. Today at the polls one of the poll workers told me of a very recent, very public instance of Luke allegedly "hitting on" the daughter of a staffer of a city council member.

    When I watched WTAE's video today of Luke casting his vote I noticed that he didn't open the door to the voting place for his wife. Instead, with a baby in her arms, she opened the door for herself and Luke. Later, when Luke was being interviewed by multiple microphones, she stood behind him with a perturbed grimace, gritting her teeth and looking this way and that but never at Luke.

    Maybe the pressure is getting to the kicker and it's affecting his home team. That's understandable, but I'd hate to see the city fall behind as the shanked extra points and missed field goals pile up.

  12. @ deegazette:



    Without repeating myself, the lack of sophistication among even the most active political observers in Pittsburgh is astounding. Candidates for office don't just "combine forces" to defeat a mutual enemy; what's in it for them? What's in it for their staff? More altruistically, what's in it for their supporters?

    And folks wonder why an incumbent is so hard to unseat in Pittsburgh. Potter hit on it with his long post today -- there is no coalesced form of opposition to the longstanding albeit decaying D Machine. The reason for the lack of such cohesion is not, however, that political candidates fail to be altruistic to a fault, which is what people are really suggesting they do when they ask one of them to drop out. The reason for the lack of such cohesion, I submit, is that noncandidates who are nevertheless politically active lack the sophistication to understand electoral incentives and DEMAND such cohesion. Put another way, it's not a shame that Dok or Acklin wasn't able to convince the other to drop out; it's a shame that YOU weren't able to do so.

  13. Re: Potter's Election Day musings ... I don't think that "figure of neighborhood respect" Al Vento would appreciate being called a "node", even by Dork, I mean, Dok, Harris. That's pretty nodey, er, nerdy, if you ask me.

  14. Public service announcement: this being at last the city's terminal Election Day (for all intents and purposes), I'm going to retire what had been my zealous policing of comments like that of Let the Love Flow above. If it's an issue of speculation for some people, it's an issue, just like any other. It's not my fault it keeps cropping up. Just be circumspect as LTLF was and don't get me in hot water for allowing libel to be published -- and remember it's not only the Mayor you may be hurting. Kirk out.

  15. Point well taken Bram. Few things feel worse than fighting with your significant other, especially with kids involved. Luke was elected; his wife wasn't. Still, you can hardly read the news these days without coming across another sad story of a political spouse being caught in the crossfire.

  16. Potter highlighted Matt H. for backing Acklin, despite being a committeeperson. I'd like to note that I did the same, as a committeeman, with an Acklin sign in my yard and delivery of the PG's recent Acklin profile to my neighbors. Happily, two voters from my district told me this morning that the article convinced them to vote for Acklin.

  17. I am sticking with Dr. Jonas R. McClintock. In a better world, he would bury the other candidates.

  18. You have to give Hoagie credit where due for standing up for his beliefs... his is the only non-anonymous support from a committeeperson I have heard of.

    I mean... if you are a committeeperson supposedly willing to put an Acklin sign on your lawn then why the complete anonymity here?

  19. C. Briem - As we can see from Tim McNulty at Early Returns, committee loyalty just ain't what it used to be. I'd like to think the blogs wore them down but it probably has more to do with the Coghill/Reilly intrigue. It would be interesting if Matt would chime in on any cultural changes he's witnessed during his relatively short tenure.

    Maybe I thought it went without saying, but I give the H-bomb enormous credit. I'm sure we'll be at odds over candidates in the future but it'll be nice to know I'll be exchanging views with a critical thinker and not The Borg.

  20. I voting for the biggest piece of crap in Pittsburgh.

    I voted for Matt H.

  21. Deegazette--

    That's just it--why wasn't it a two person race?

    And why wasn't it that way in the primary?

    And where will Acklin be once this election is over? Or Dok?

    My point? My spidey senses are going nuts.

    If you take the primary of this year, add Carmen's 13% to Dowd's 28%, add in a time machine to go back and have him announce earlier instead of being a fence sitter, then Dowd might have won that primary. Carmen was the spoiler, as neat as she was.

    And Notice the Mayor going out of his way in his speech that night to praise her. Didn't have much to say about Dowd.

    Maybe I'm too cynical, but one of these "independents" is the spoiler as well. They are splitting the ticket three ways, making Luke the winner take all. And they DO NOT READ PITTSBURGH HISTORY. One, just one in MODERN time with an * (Caliguiri, a sitting Democrat).

    It makes about as much sense as Onorato or Wagner thinking they will win the Governor's office (we've been switching parties every 8 years since 1947--Duff).

    I thought the mayor was going to at least update his campaign site. The fact that McKrell according to Early Returns was less than enthusiastic about the race, just goes to show they really are not taking this seriously, just as they are not taking the office seriously.

    Lady Elaine

  22. Re: Court of Common Pleas

    Think Walko or Zappala Peck will win?

  23. Dear PghComet,
    Most people will never manage to write so well in their lifetime. Awesome. My compliments.

  24. And: the charge of failing to present a cohesive challenge to Lukey is an indictment of the city Republicans, isn't it?

    The same name on the D and R columns: it would make Afghanistan's Karzai wonder what everybody's noodging him about.

  25. It was not a two person race because neither of the independent candidates could put ego aside for the benefit of the constituents. I like both guys. Can you imagine as I can that either alone might have been unbeatable with the support of the other?

  26. Well done - you've matured since 3 years ago.

  27. 32% reporting

    Luke Ravenstahl 8817
    Franco Dok Harris 3753
    Kevin Acklin 3181

  28. Presently 61% reporting:

    Ravenstahl 20,802
    Harris 9,353
    Acklin 7,272

    It's ovah....

  29. Awesome piece of writing. Great work.

  30. Ok, now I am just down in the dumps because this is the last election for the comet. How about LONG LIVE THE COMET? in some form?

    Goodnight, Irene.

  31. Was Harris the spoiler here?. What was his message other than, "My Dad was awesome?" Not saying this to be a sore loser, but I wanted Luke to campaign with some vision, and was again disappointed.

    I can afford it and am ready to move to the burbs. The lack of any real debate is sad and discouraging. I need a reason to vote for a candidate other than a D behind their name.

  32. It should be easy to see if the Harris or Acklin votes came from folks likely to vote against LR no matter who was running or if either garnered independent support beyond that. That will answer who was the 'spoiler' if that concept applies at all. When the detail results come up we will parse.

  33. Why parse, C. Briem?

    Challengers in last days of race had little to offer....Dok ate purple carrots! mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!

    Other goof, can up with some emails that backfired....

    Incumbant Mayors don't get voted out of office in the Burgh...and the Republicans don't back thier own because the Democrats in this town are whores and have been giving Republicans what they want for years. TIF's as an example...

    That being said, The City is much better off with Luke in office,,,than that bum, Bob O,Conner.

    Good luck Mayor Luke.


  34. you know Monk I think I agree with you... but if we don't look at it briefly there will be interminable spin on what it all meant. Then people will repeat the spin and eventually memories will fix on myth. Might as well actually look at th data to understand what actually happened.

  35. No need for "detailed results" to "parse" what happened here. Harris had the broader base of support. Acklin knocked on a shitload of doors below the Mon to see Ravenstahl pile up his biggest margins there. Acklin is the spoiler, peeps. No effing doubt about it. Cut it any way you want; if he wasn't in this race it would have been competitive; if Dok weren't, Luke still would have wiped the floor with him. I hope the pittsburgh blogosphere's unending fascination with the possibility of some Weberian legal-rational automaton governing Grant Street as some twentyfirst century technocracy goes away. Charisma. Wins. Elections. Dok has it, Kevboy doesn't.

  36. Just some points on the last points:

    1) I think in the last days of the election, both candidates made decisions informed by the inevitable outcome. Why not utilize the spotlight, while you have it, to advance worthy and idiosyncratic causes like A) urban farming and B) exposing John Verbanac even though the negativity is likely to backfire? You only live once. Not sure either of those were meant to be strategic decisions.

    2) Still pretty remarkable these results based on the fact that the media resented having to cover a race. And that's what I'm 90% sure happened; I should know because I remember months ago, I did. They got all jazzed up over DeSantis, they got pretty jazzed up over Dowd, and it was like, UGH! Two independents? Yet another depressing go-round? Don't make me go through the motions, PLZ! I totally relate, even though eventually I cuffed myself in the side of the head enough times to get my game face on.

    3) Of course, several are extrapolating as much as they can from 6 percentage points. With turnout of 23K, what is the "margin of error" for how much that really means? And 8:11, have you met the two candidates? I'd say out of the two Dok's presentation was more "legal-rational" or whatever. I'll wait for data to shake out but I doubt either candidate will come out a "spoiler"; for one thing I doubt a ton of *either* of their votes were realistically transferable to the other. It probably worked out better, as each candidate turned on somewhat different kinds of voters. Granted if it was a one-on-one race the narrative might have been more compelling ... but then again if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his ass so much.

  37. Charisma does win elections.

    George W. Bush had more charisma than Al Gore and John Kerry combined.

    How did that work out for us?

  38. My take: Acklin got the well educated, Catholic vote along with some police and firefighters. Dok got the young, idealistic vote (typically Peduto types) along with some votes in the heavily black wards and some Steeler die hards. Luke got the people who basically pull the straight ticket and think it's all "good enough" in Pittsburgh.