In this Sunday's paper, Tribune-Review columnist Joseph Sabino Mistick provides some early analysis of the race for Pittsburgh's Democratic mayoral nomination. In a move certain to please geeks like me, he even invokes the special qualities of one of the most beloved Star Trek characters, Mr. Spock. He looks at the two competitors in the race -- incumbent Interim Mayor Luke "Flip Flop" Ravenstahl and City Councilmember William Peduto -- and rather accurately diagnoses the pros and cons that each man brings to this election. His overall conclusion is that Pittsburgh could benefit most if the two candidates were connected to one another through a Vulcan mind meld, during which the qualities of both men could be mixed together to form the city's ideal mayor.
What an wonderful solution. I'm ashamed that I didn't think of this myself. At the same time, we could use a tractor beam to hold up the collapsing remnants of our flawed convention center, and use our region's natural abundance of dilithim crystals to build a matter/anti-matter reactor in Schenley Park, thus providing the City of Pittsburgh with an unlimited supply of clean, non-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy for at least the next millennium, if not even longer. I'll just send a quick sub-space message to Star Fleet Command, and our problems will be solved just as soon as the Enterprise can establish an orbit around our planet.
Since it seems rather unlikely that any fictional television-hero aliens will arrive to intervene in Pittsburgh's mayoral politics anytime soon, I guess we'll just have stick with our low-tech, early-21st-century ways and let the voters make this choice. But while Mr. Mistick's proposed solution may be seriously flawed, his analysis of the two candidates is pretty much on-the-money. About Luke Ravenstahl's inherent advantages, the columnist has this to say:
Ravenstahl is the darling of the media and has the great advantage of the incumbency. This comes with its fair share of sycophants but those self-interested hangers-on translate into willing contributors.It's hard to argue with the facts here, although I do wish the mainstream media could examine Master Ravenstahl's use of public funds to pay for his political campaigning with something more than an adolescent "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" grin on their faces. The article continues on to note some of the problems that the interim mayor is likely to face during this election season:
Outside money is no problem for the young mayor. And he is certainly not shy about using taxpayers' dollars to promote himself around the city on billboards and mailers. Together, his private and public funds form quite a war chest.
Ravenstahl's youthfulness and inexperience, often negatives in political campaigns, seem to be working for him this time around. "Hey, why not give the kid a chance" has become a common refrain.
But Pittsburgh has real problems that demand serious solutions. And it is here that the young mayor stumbles. Ravenstahl may reign over the style sections of the newspaper but the cynical political reporters are a harder sell. While the mayor agilely handles the first question on any topic, the follow-up questions almost always throw him.It's here that Mr. Mistick's column really shines. He picks up on something that I have only just begun to notice myself, but which a few other observers have already been commenting upon. Master Ravenstahl tends to descend into stammering incoherence when faced with any question for which he does not already have a pre-programmed response. This is a problem that his opponent, Mr. Peduto, certainly does not seem to suffer from. As Mr. Mistick's column continues:
And challenger Bill Peduto shines in that arena. A self-described public-policy wonk, Peduto clearly enjoys wallowing in the minutia that composes the science of government. It is likely that he never saw a blue-ribbon study on any municipal topic that he did not love.Provided that no science fiction fanatasies intervene, the Democratic voters of Pittsburgh will be asked make a choice between these two men. On one hand, we have Luke Ravenstahl, who has almost no original ideas of his own, who remains unknowledgeable (or at least unable to appear knowledgeable) about even the largest problems facing the city, and who is far too beholden to the old-school party bosses who control his campaign's purse strings. On the other hand, there is Bill Peduto, who has so many ideas that almost everybody will disagree with a few of them, who has a predilection for convening ever more committees to produce ever more reports on the city's problems, and who is known for aggressively confronting the Democratic party's biggest power brokers, such as the leaders of the city's public employee unions. The big question here is which man the typical voter is likely to lean towards on May 15th?
I wanted to get something of a glimpse behind the curtain of an individual voter's decision-making, so I posed this question to a young lady at church this morning. I've known her for a number of years now. She's bright, soft-spoken, well-educated, and a resident of one of the city's eastern neighborhoods. In fact, she lives just down the street from where Bill Peduto announced his candidacy for mayor last month. She teaches advanced science classes at a rather well-regarded private high school, and she fully recognizes that the city is facing some enormous problems. She is, in short, the almost perfect stereotype of a Peduto supporter. Except for that fact that she's not supporting Peduto.
Instead, she really likes the idea of having Luke Ravenstahl as our city's mayor. In her own words, "I like the fact that he's young... that he can bring in new people and new ideas". She admits that she, like most of the city's voters, hasn't spent a great of time examining the interim mayor's performance or positions. Instead, she is basing her opinion of Master Ravenstahl solely on the one and only thing that nearly everyone knows about him... his youth. Due to that fact alone, she sees him as someone who simply must be a reformer. She sees him as a man who simply must have new and invigorating ideas. She sees him as someone who is very much like herself. And she clearly doesn't see Luke Ravenstahl as the champion of the old-party status quo that he most most certainly is.
Score one for the unicorn.
This is the challenge that the Peduto campaign must face as it moves toward the Democratic primary. Many city voters aren't really paying attention to the news stories that are supposed to be shaping this race. Many city voters don't know about all of Master Ravenstahl's countless mistakes and poor decisions. Many of them don't even want to know about them. They may recognize that Pittsburgh has it's problems. They may recognize that old-style, party-machine politics have served our city very poorly indeed. But, if anything, they see the older Bill Peduto as the representative of this disastrous status quo, and they see the youthful Luke Ravenstahl as the dashing young knight who will stand up and lead the fight against the old guard.
Somehow, the Peduto campaign needs to penetrate the consciousness of voters like these and let them know that they have the whole thing backwards. They must become far more muscular and move far more aggressively to label Luke Ravenstahl as the old-school party-hack disaster that he actually is. And they must do it fairly soon, before mere inertia awards Interim Mayor Ravenstahl with the reformer image that rightfully belongs to Councilmember Peduto. I just hope that they truly understand what they are up against. So far, I haven't seen much to suggest that they do.