Last Thursday, the Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neil -- whose perspectives are usually warmly welcomed, at least in my home -- wrote a column which has received a rather chilly reception. His effort, titled "2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference", examines the two men -- Interim Mayor Luke "Handcuffs" Ravenstahl and City Councilmember William Peduto -- who are competing for the Democratic mayoral nomination. Both candidates are proposing what seem to be similar tax abatement proposals, offering a 10-year, 100% tax break on any newly-developed property within specific city neighborhoods. While there are some differences in the two plans, especially in terms of which neighborhoods are included in the tax abatement scheme, they are generally quite similar to one another.
In fact, they are a bit too similar to one another, both in their general nature and in the timing of their respective announcements. And since Master Ravenstahl's plan was decidedly sparse on specifics, while Mr. Peduto's proposal was accompanied by 60-some-odd pages of supporting analyses cobbled together during a year-long study by an 18-member tax force, it was abundantly obvious just which candidate had come up with the idea first. As he has on so many occasions, Luke Ravenstahl is attempting to squeak by at the last minute by copying the homework of the nerdy kid.
But according to the Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neil, this is actually a good thing:
As long as challenger Bill Peduto keeps offering ideas, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl keeps stealing them, this city has a chance to make a nice run.
"Stealing" is ordinarily a pejorative, but not in politics. It is a poor politician who attacks a good idea from a rival. A smart politician seizes the idea, tweaks it and claims it for his own.
That's what's been happening in the Ravenstahl-Peduto race, which has frustrated the less known, less moneyed, less telegenic and less politically connected Peduto, but it's hard to see how this take-and-take is bad for the city.
But Mr. O'Neil didn't see these reversals as a problem. After all, he argued, "[w]ho can argue that learning from early mistakes is a bad trait in a politician?".
Actually, if you read the letters to the Post-Gazette's editor over the past two days, it would seem that plenty of people have an argument with this conclusion. The first two letters appeared yesterday:
When folks say two heads are better than one, they tend to assume both are heads full of ideas. But this old saying doesn't apply when all the insight, innovation and wisdom are coming out from under only one thinking cap.
Brian O'Neill, who claims that it doesn't matter so much if either city Councilman Bill Peduto or interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wins the upcoming mayoral election, does not seem to care that all the great ideas he cites in his Feb. 15 column ("2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference") originated from Mr. Peduto's diligent work.
I would like to emphasize to him that, if Mr. Ravenstahl ends up finishing the remaining two years of this term, Pittsburgh will be left to flounder with a man who has not yet presented the city with a promising initiative of his own (although he's attached his name to plenty).
On the other hand, if this election brings Mr. Peduto into the mayor's office, with him he'll bring all his policy expertise and his ability to keep coming up with fresh ideas. The city's future is in the balance, from its financial straits to its aging population to keeping the Penguins here. It matters deeply who wins this election.
Developing creative ideas that will address the challenges our city faces is a mark of sound leadership. Shouldn't we choose the candidate of innovation rather than the one who just copies him?
Copycats OK?Then, after that one-two punch on Monday, even more of these letters appeared today:
Columnist Brian O'Neill ("2 Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates in Search of a Difference," Feb. 15) says that it is OK that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl keeps stealing Councilman Bill Peduto's ideas.
How would he like it if he saw his ideas in someone else's column?CELESTE BEHREND
Great leaders are those who generate great ideas
Does it really matter who wins the mayoral election? Brian O'Neill doesn't seem to think so. In his Feb. 15 column, "2 Candidates in Search of a Difference," he points out that both Democratic candidates are proposing similar ideas for the future of the city, and maybe it's not important which man wins.
Hmm, I remember these same arguments being made during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Would anyone care to make that argument today?
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hasn't told us his ideas for improving the city of Pittsburgh. Well, that's not entirely true, as Mr. O'Neill points out -- the only ideas the mayor seems confident in supporting are plans put forth by Councilman Bill Peduto. Mr. Peduto has a clear vision about where he wants to take the city. With his focus on neighborhood-based development, environmentally friendly policies and historic preservation, he is setting forth an agenda that will revitalize our city.
If you look at American history, our greatest leaders have been the greatest idea generators. Mr. Peduto has the right ideas for the city -- even his opponent seems to think so. We do not need a middleman mayor like Luke Ravenstahl to parrot the ideas of Bill Peduto.KYLE ETHAN FISCHER
It does matterWhat's noteworthy here is that the Post-Gazette didn't publish any letters in support of Mr. O'Neil's views. Or, for that matter, in support of Master Ravenstahl's theft of Mr. Peduto's intellectual property. In many cases, the paper makes some attempt to counterbalance thesse kinds of letters with others representing the opposite perspective. One can only suspect, therefore, that the Post-Gazette simply hasn't received any. All of these letters appeared in the printed version of the newspaper, but the Post-Gazette often publishes additional letters on its website. Yet even there, one can find no letters in support of either Mr. O'Neil or Master Ravenstahl.
While I thank Brian O'Neill for bringing to light Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's pilfering of quality ideas from Councilman Bill Peduto ("2 Candidates in Search of a Difference," Feb. 15), I cannot agree with his conclusion that it makes no difference who ultimately wins the election in May.
Ideas are but the beginning for changes that must take place in order to save our city. The implementation of a progressive vision takes a real, original leader, as in Councilman Peduto, not a follower.
Pittsburgh has run out of time. We cannot afford to wait and "see what the kid can do."JANEY ZEILINGER CLARK
Indeed, it's not just this fairly small group of motivated letter writers who have taken issue with Mr. O'Neils perspective. The Post-Gazette's own editorial board -- which usually runs in lock-step with the Interim Mayor's press releases -- even noticed the difference between the two candidates' proposals, and particularly the difference in how much preparation had gone into each of them:
Pittsburgh Council has before it two ideas for offering tax breaks to draw new residents to targeted city neighborhoods. One is a thoroughly researched and analyzed 64-page proposal from Councilman Bill Peduto. The other is a thin and speculative concept from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. ...I have zero confidence in the Post-Gazette's editorial board. They may have noticed Master Ravenstahl's vacuousness in this one instance, but they have a habit of swinging back around to his side in the end. The letters from the paper's readers are, to me, far more interesting. Maybe the public in general, and not just those who populate the burghosphere, are actually beginning to notice that Luke Ravenstahl is a failure of a mayor. One can only hope.
There are attractive elements in both plans, but only Councilman Peduto's, to date, has the necessary supporting analysis. The administration needs to deliver similar justification for the mayor's ideas if council is to give the same weight to his points in this key public initiative.
UPDATE: The day after this post originally appeared here, the Post-Gazette published yet another letter from someone who disagreed with Mr. O'Neil's perspective on the mayor's race:
His sudden interestIn the interest of fairness, I should point out the the Post-Gazette also managed, on that same day, to find someone in this city who thinks that the theft of Mr. Peduto's intellectual property is a damn fine thing:
I am writing in response to Brian O'Neill's Feb. 15 column "2 Candidates in Search of a Difference." I am a realtor in Pittsburgh and served on the Shared Tax Abatement for Neighborhood Development Task Force organized by Councilman Bill Peduto to study his proposed tax abatement for Downtown.
I worked for more than six months, with representatives from more than a dozen different groups (everyone from labor to building owners), to develop a plan that would revitalize Downtown, bring in new revenue to the city and promote green buildings, historic preservation and public art.
During this process, then-Council President Luke Ravenstahl never attended a meeting and never sent staff in his place. Now that he is running for election, he suddenly has a vested interest in our work.
However, he never asked to meet with us, never asked for our opinion and never credited the working group or the consultant for our hard work. The mayor's announcement is not backed by any plan, there has been no research and there is no economic impact study to go with it.
As someone who loves this city and has worked long and hard on plans to redevelop Downtown, I am greatly disappointed that our mayor would play politics with such an important issue.CHARLENE HAISLIP
North Point Breeze
Energizing proposalOh well. There had to be at least a few old-school back-room political hacks out there who think its a fine idea if Luke Ravenstahl stays in office for another few years. After all, old-school, back-room, back-scratching politics is precisely how this city got into such a huge mess in the first place.
I would like to applaud Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for his progressive proposal to offer tax abatement incentives for development projects in the city of Pittsburgh ("Competing Plans Air to Boost City Housing," Feb. 14).
In particular, Mayor Ravenstahl's proposal pays homage to the late Mayor Bob O'Connor's promise to return our city neighborhoods to their former glory. In contrast, Councilman Bill Peduto's proposal to offer tax incentives for projects Downtown and in adjacent areas, to the exclusion of our city neighborhoods, falls short and creates a vacuum effect that will hinder private investment in our neighborhoods.
The mayor should be commended for his attempt to energize the Downtown living initiative without "throwing the baby out with the bath water" as is proposed by Mr. Peduto. If adopted, the mayor's proposal to provide development incentives for neighborhood projects will yield a powerful catalyst for energizing private investment and expanding community development success.
On behalf of Wylie Holdings and others engaged in community development efforts, I can only hope that Mr. Peduto will see the shortsightedness of his plan and embrace the broader proposal offered by Mayor Ravenstahl.JOE EDELSTEIN
Wylie Holdings LP