Thursday, January 18, 2007

Icebergs on the Election Horizon

At least two icebergs have been spotted on the horizon of Pittsburgh's 2007 election. One of them is new, growing in size, but not entirely unexpected. The other iceberg's appearance was fairly predictable, but it has turned out to be even larger than anyone had anticipated. Both are enormously troubling, saddening, and have the potential to do even more damage to the already-listing, largely unseaworthy ships known as the governments of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh.

The first iceberg sits directly in the shipping lanes leading to Pittsburgh's District 9 City Council seat. This seat is currently held by the ethically-challenged Twanda Carlisle, who has been accused of everything from cronyism, to spending grossly excessive amounts on plagiarized reports produced by unknowledgeable consultants, to credit card fraud, to even bold-faced violations of our election laws. Earlier this year, the residents of her district even attempted to impeach Ms. Carlisle, but failed when a judge threw out their petition.

While Ms. Carlisle's reelection hopes have been weakened by all of these scandals, they are by no means dead. In her district, it may actually help that she is in a bit of trouble with "the man", and Pittsburgh voters are notorious for their ability to reelect incumbents, even when it is blatantly obvious that they are completely corrupt. The only real hope of defeating her is to put her up against a single solid challenger with reasonable name recognition, strong leadership skills, and a clean reputation. In most elections, this one-on-one challenge would take place in the November general election. But since this is Pittsburgh, with its perpetual one-party rule, the election will be determined during the May Democratic primary.

All of this brings us to the first of our two icebergs. Instead of facing just one challenger in the May primary, Ms. Carlisle is currently up against no less than four of them, with at least two more candidates expected to announce in the next few weeks. And as the Angry Drunk Bureaucrat reports, this furball of competition is already turning into one gigantic mess.

Unless these people get their shit together, Ms. Carlisle's reelection is all but assured. With the anti-Carlisle vote split across six different challengers, she should have no problem at all in securing the Democratic nomination, allowing her to run (most likely unopposed) in the November general election.

Perhaps the good people of District 9 could follow the example set by the citizens of Pittsburgh School Board District 2 in 2003. Back then, the District 2 seat was held by well-reviled Darlene Harris, and Democratic candidates to unseat her were threatening to come of out the woodwork. The primary would have been overwhelmed by challengers. The only way to handle things was to hold a kind of pre-primary to select a single Democrat candidate to go up against Ms. Harris. So in January, a grass-roots group of concerned citizens held a meeting at the local public library, and selected Patrick Dowd to be the only other name on the Democratic primary ballot. It worked. Darlene Harris was booted off the school board.

Don't get me wrong about this. I find these kinds of pre-primary candidate selection meetings enormously distasteful. In many ways, they are even anti-democratic. Many voters have no idea that these little-publicized meetings are even going on, and would find it difficult to attend one even if they did know about them. The result is that a very small group of people end up deciding who is worthy to appear on the ballot, which makes our elections just about as fair as the ones held in Iran. But since Pittsburgh elections are determined solely by the results of the Democratic primary, there seems to be little other choice.

None of this pre-primary maneuvering, of course, would be necessary if there were likely to be viable Republican challengers during the November general election. But this brings us to our second iceberg, namely the incredible ineptness of the local Republican party. As the Tribune-Review points out, there is currently not an announced Republican candidate for County Executive. Within the city, the Republicans haven't offered up a even token sure-loser candidate like Joe Weinroth for Mayor. If the Republican party can't put up a fight for the top posts in the city and county, it clearly won't be able to offer any kind of challenge to Ms. Carlisle or the other incumbent idiots who are up for reelection this year.

So what are county Republicans up to at this critical time? Well, as the Post-Gazette reported yesterday, they are in court, arguing amongst themselves over some ridiculously piss-ant issue concerning $5,125. They are bickering about their own by-laws; whether the county chairman was ever allowed to remove the city's chairman, whether the city chairman still holds that post, and whether the city chairman can be reinstated to a post that he claims he still holds.

Meanwhile, while these juvenile morons wrestle with issues that nobody outside of themselves gives even the tiniest shit about, they are paying no attention at all to the coming election. As a result, we are facing yet another November where a bunch of Democratic candidates are running totally unopposed. Those of us who are not registered Democrats will have -- and this is important -- absolutely no voice in who becomes our next mayor, county executive, and city councilmember. While this situation may make smug Democrats want to say "so what?", it's still a very bad thing for us all. It absolves anyone who is not a registered Democrat from any responsiblity in our region's many problems, and makes them tune out of the political process altoghether. And it looks like it will happen, yet again, in this year's election.

I wonder I can convince the Penguins to take me with them when they move to Kansas City.


Mark Rauterkus said...

The "no voice" beyond that of the choice of either a D or R isn't so "warm."

Is that what you mean with the chill of the ice?

There are indies, libertarians, commies, socialists, greens, musicians and PETA -- to name a few.

You don't need to join the arm services to get your vote to count.

And, the pre-election meeting in the east end for the next school board member might be settled in a real election, as it should.

I agree that more coordination is necessary to beat a sitting candidate. But, when there is an open seat -- to have a pre-meeting deal is wrong.

Richmond K. Turner said...

I'd have to agree with you on all those points, Mark. I can see the value in narrowing down the choices to just two candidates in the general election. That way, there is always a choice to be made, but the winner will unambiguously receive more than 50% of the vote.

I would have mentioned all the 3rd (4th, 5th, etc.) candidates out there, but I just ran out of time.

Here's a radical idea. Hold a non-partisan, completely open primary. Anyone who wants in the race (and I guess could collect those blasted signatures... but everyone would have to collect the same amount) gets on the primary ballot. Every voter gets access to the same primary ballot. Nothing is limited by party.

The top two vote-getters in the primary move onto the general election.

Even better idea; have an instant run-off like they do in Australia, where each voter records their first, second, and third choices for each office.

And, as I said in my post, I have real problems with these pre-primary meetings.