Monday, March 5, 2007

Endorsement Endoscopy

I have never, ever done one single thing in my life because any political party told me that I should. I don't own a gun because the Republicans told me to do so. I don't limit my automobile use because the Democrats told me to do so. And if I don't listen to political masters on even minor issues like these, there is no way in hell that I would ever allow any political party to make an important decision for me. Especially one as important as whom I should vote for in the upcoming Pittsburgh mayoral election. So from a personal standpoint, this weekend's Democratic party endorsement decisions are more or less irrelevant. But Pittsburgh voters -- and Pittsburgh's Democratic voters in particular -- often behave like passive little sheep, and these endorsement results may very well be harbingers of stupid voter decisions yet to come.

As reported in the mainstream press (Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review), and in local blogs such as The Burgh Report (which I'm proud to note broke the news before any other outlet, mainstream or otherwise) and 2 Political Junkies, Interim Mayor Luke "Flip Flop" Ravenstahl trounced his only opponent, City Councilmember Bill "Cojònes" Peduto for the Democratic Party's mayoral endorsement. The final vote was 602 brain dead, moronic party hacks for Ravenstahl, and 163 mostly brain dead, nearly moronic party hacks for Peduto.

As you can probably tell, I don't hold the members of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) in high regard. My feelings have nothing to do with the outcome of the endorsement race. I've never held them -- or their Republican counterparts -- in high regard, and I would still see them as brain dead, moronic party hacks even if they had endorsed myself to be the next mayor of Pittsburgh. Endless decades of one-party rule here within the city limits have twisted the ACDC into something that most Democrats from the even the most marginally competitive regions of this country would find simply unfathomable. It is a collection of people where family ties and ancient feuds are far more important than any ability for original thought, and where a strong group-think mentality drives away nearly everyone with an IQ approaching the triple digits. Nobody with an ounce of intellectual integrity could stand to spend any length of time in this kind of environment, which is why the vast majority of the population -- even here in Pittsburgh -- not only plays no role, but pays absolutely no attention to internal party politics.

I don't honestly know, therefore, just how important the endorsement itself is to the typical Pittsburgh Democratic voter. It's so meaningless to me that it's extremely hard for me to imagine it being very important to anyone else. But there will be those who are swayed by it, especially those who are paying absolutely no attention to the election, and who will only turn out to vote on May 15th after being reminded to do so by an ACDC phone call, being driven to the polls by an ACDC volunteer, and having an ACDC "how to vote" card pressed into their hands on the way into the polling place.

But the biggest effect of Master Ravenstahl's endorsement victory -- which was rather accurately described as a "landslide" by the Post-Gazette -- is likely to be more subtle. An off-off-year primary like this one doesn't draw a great deal of attention from the typical voter, but they still hear bits and pieces of the news leading up to it. Last night and this morning, these voters are hearing terms like "landslide" and "endorsement" used in connection to Luke Ravenstahl's name. And that will pretty much take care of all the research and study that most of them intend to put into their vote -- if they vote at all -- on May 15th. This weekend's endorsementment doesn't just "lend the air" of inevitability to Master Ravenstahl's election. For many voters, it has built a massive stone fortress of inevitability that Mr. Peduto will have an enormously hard time tearing down.

For interested and informed citizens like myself, Luke Ravenstahl is clearly a disaster. After months of pleading, by myself and others, throughout the burghosphere, I still have yet to encounter a single worthy argument in favor of retaining Master Ravenstahl as the Mayor of Pittsburgh. At their worst, the few things written in support of him fall into the "give the kid a chance" or "isn't it cool to have someone so young" line of thinking, and are oblivious to what our interim mayor has done with the chances that he has already had. At their best, these arguments voice support for the self-interested benefits that one's own group, neighborhood, or even self will reap in the wake of a Ravenstahl victory. But not one statement has described even one positive result for the city as a whole that Luke Ravenstahl has either provided or promised as mayor. His actions thus far have largely consisted of a string of failures, and his promises for the future are either all-but-exact copies of Mr. Peduto's plans or simply remain unpresented by the interim mayor's campaign.

If we end up with an election where there is no real competition, there will never be any reason for these future plans of Master Ravenstahl's -- assuming that he actually has any -- to go anything but unstated. He can just hide behind his incoherrent generalities about "moving Pittsburgh forward", and never have to worry about irritating anyone at all with the specifics of his proposals. That would a real tragedy for everyone.

This is supposed to be an election, and not a coronation. We need real competition to bring out the best in both mayoral candidates. And this weekend's endorsement vote did a great deal to weaken that process, much to the detriment of our city and our region. The ACDC exists to serve its own interests. I'm not entirely convinced that its members did a good job in this regard yesterday, but they certainly did absolutely nothing that was in the best interests of Pittsburgh.

While I don't know what paperwork has been filed by the Peduto campaign at this point, I would suspect that there is still time for them to change course. A victory in the May Democratic primary is now looking less and less likely. There isn't a great deal of time, there isn't a great deal of general interest among the citizenry, and the most likely primary voters are those who are beholden to the party's machine. Those are precisely the ones who will never vote for Mr. Peduto, whether it's because of his stance on the city's Act 47 bankruptcy or his clearly-announced plans to take on the most powerful city employee unions, such as those which represent firefighters and police officers.

If Mr. Peduto is going to continue his quest for the Democratic nomination, he needs to attract non-traditional primary voters to the polls. The only way to do that is to come out swinging hard on issues that will energize this non-traditional group. But to be perfectly honest, I am at a loss about just what kinds of issues these may be. Identifying those issues, getting the message out about them, and allowing that message to sink in seems likely to take far more time (and far more money) than Mr. Peduto has prior to the May 15th primary.

A Democratic primary victory may be -- indeed probably already is -- beyond Mr. Peduto's grasp. But there may still time to try a radical and far more energizing course, one that would send a clear message to Pittsburgh's typically lethargic electorate that Bill Peduto, and not Luke Ravenstahl, is the young man with bright ideas for our city's future. Mr. Peduto, now that he sees what the party establishment thinks of his candidacy, should at the very least consider pulling out of the Democratic primary altogether, and instead mounting an independent bid for mayor in November's general election. Doing so would give him more time to campaign, to present his ideas to all city voters (and not just the Democratic base), and to raise money. It would also gain him a flury of indignation from the party elite, which would generate tons of free publicity and also signal that he is clearly the candidate of change.

If Mr. Peduto really wants to be the mayor of Pittsburgh, that may be the only way to give everyone who supports him a real chance to vote for him. I'm not saying it's the ideal solution. But it may be the best one for Pittsburgh.


Mark Rauterkus said...

Peduto does need more time. It comes in the form of the 2009 primary.

Peduto can't -- and won't -- shot himself in the foot by pulling an end run like Tony P might attempt in the city controller race.

That move would end Peduto's career.

Peduto can't be seen as a sore loser.

Bill could reach out to the rasslin crowd (see my blog) -- but -- don't hold your breath as to that pathway being a silver bullet.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Sorry, Mark. But I don't think I will ever buy into the "wait until 2009" logic. This election is happening now. The pension bomb in the city budget needs to be defused now. The union contracts need a dose of sanity now. And we need to put an end to Ravenstahl's constant mistakes now. Even two more years of status quo would be too much for our future to bear.

Cities, especially small cities like ours, really can't pass the bill onto the next generation and let them pay for it. Because our kids will just leave town if the taxes get too high. And the longer we let these fiscal bombs keep on ticking, the higher the taxes will need to be (and the larger reductions in service will need to be) to pay for them.

On KDKA about a month ago, Peduto said something along the lines of, "if you win the election without confronting the fire contract, just what in the hell have you won?" He gets it. He understands the problem. But he doesn't have a prayer at winning the Democratic nomination. Not now. And most certainly not after 2 years of Ravenstahl incumbency in 2009.

If Peduto believes that the city needs a different mayor, one that understands these problems and will do something about it, then he needs to face the reality of what the local Democratic party is telling him. He's not welcome there. So the only way to become mayor is to run outside of the local party system.

If he doesn't win, then at least he gave it a shot. He will still hold his council seat, and have two more years left. Even if he re-registers as a Democrat at that point, of course, he will be persona non grata in the local branch of the party. He will definitely face a primary challenger in 2009. But even then, he's likely to retain his East End constituency. His career need not be completely over.

It's just an idea. But the time for action is now, not in two years. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with almost everything in your post. But I want to point out that while the committee is horrendous, there has been (and will continue to be) a grassroots movement among progressives to get into the committee, and it's going to take time but it will start to make real change. Last year, the moronic powers-that-be within the committee collectively shit a brick when 100+ new people ran for committee seats-- has never happened before. Most of them were in the city limits. The committee went out of its way to try to derail the effort; succeeded somewhat, but about half those people beat out incumbents, many of them the hackiest of the hacks, and are now "on the inside." So those 163 people that didn't vote for Peduto, it's unfair to lump them into a category of "nearly moronic." It's unfair and inaccurate.

That said, this is all the more reason for real people to ditch the apathy and hit the streets to get the non-traditional voters out voting. Shit, Susan Banahasky won the 9th ward in her House race last year. Why does this matter? B/c she was able to appeal to a boatload of non-traditional voters; one- and two-star voters, independents, people who were unregistered. And the turnout in the 9th ward was very high-- again, scaring the crap out of the old gaurd there.

There is data demonstrating that all the GOTV efforts in non-traditional voting groups were a huge portion of the giant margin that Casey had over Santorum, esp. in SW PA. These same groups/efforts are underway for this mayoral campaign (not on the same scale, of course, but still are underway). My point is that there are lots of people out there who can turn this tide-- the committee endorsement results were a disappointment, because they point out how far we have to go. But as you said, few people listen to the committee endorsement. Many do, but as with EVERY campaign, you don't go after the un-gettables. You hold you base, and you go after everyone in between. Don't waste time on granny so & so who thinks Luke is a cutie-pie. Screw granny.

Mark Rauterkus said...

The hurts of the recent past stung. The hurts of the future are going to knock out our teeth. Way worse.

You know this. I understand this too. But, Joe Six-Pack and the MSM do not. And, others do not care.

People will leave. They think, so what. For them, leaving is an option. They (example, college students) expect to leaave.

If Bill drives a big hairy wedge between himself and Luke -- it will be over for Bill.

Bill needs to keep up the pressure. Sure.

Here is the other fact that played out for countless meetings before this blog opened. The politicians who made the mess are the least capable of cleaning it up.

Last month's quote about fixing the fire contract signaled an urgency from Peduto. Great. But it comes after years of his "over spending", "over reaching" and too many nods in the process of the decline.

Peduto has broken ranks -- on some measures. He didn't like the PNC Bank TIF, but it was a rare event. And, his lone "NO" vote is not grounded on beliefs that I want to see with every breath he takes.

For years Peduto worked to pass the bill to our kids. And, the downtown abatement plan (recent) passes along extra bills for 10 years -- to the next generation.

Smitty said...

The culture that permeates the Democratic Party is far too complex to characterize it as brain dead or moronic.It's like belonging to the Mason's,the Marines,or any other kind of fraternal organiziation.And often, those on the outside find the machinations of those on the inside bewildering and seemingly mindless.

These various endorsement fights took place under one roof and with surprisingly little volatility.For the most part,all sides mingled freely with each other joking and catching up on family news.The festival like ambience was missing only a band.There was food and drinks and plenty of back slapping among young and old, male and female,white, black, hispanic and asian,gay and straight.It might be imperfect,but it did,at least yesterday, resemble the community at large.

Anonymous said...

I can't share Smitty's somewhat romantic review of yesterday's meeting. This is a party of hacks. It's the party of Lenny Bodack Jr over Patrick Dowd, Luke Ravenstahl over Bill Peduto, et seq. Yes, it is important that the room is not as whitewashed as a Republic convention would be. But, the mentality differs little from any other political animal trying to preserve or enhance its power. With its continued failure to base endorsements on merit (at least sometimes), the AC Democrats will continue to marginalize themselves. Mike

Smitty said...

Anon..I supported Bill,Mike Lamb,Anthony Costa,Thesea Colaizzi Kelly Bigley and Cathy Bubash.I cast no vote for Boss Onorato.I spent much of the day speaking with people who were supporting Luke.Not one was rude to me.I'm as shocked as you at the adulation the committee gave to Luke. If you understood what i said about the culture you would understand that's what brings 90 % of the people there:the common values and beliefs they share.It doesn't make them bad people.

Anonymous said...

Smitty - my comments were not intended to cast the committee members as "bad people" but to point out their collective ineptitude. If there actually was enough diversity (in types of people and thought process) perhaps there would less of the back slapping "culture" you reference. From where I sit, that "culture" doesn't serve the voters in a competent or helpful way. Mike

Matt H said...

Oh you know if Peduto had won it would have been a headline on every single political blog. All of you Peduto people are in spin cycle right now after the butt whopping Mayor Luke put on Mr. Peduto. The results from the vote show that Peduto has a TON of work to do to better relate to the voters of the party. Whats great about this vote is that it is city wide. The results show that Mayor Ravenstahl has the support of many many peopkle city wide.

Why give "The Burgh Report" so much recognition for reporting on the results before anyone else? I don't recall the MSM ever reporting live with breaking news about the results. It's a next day story.

"I still have yet to encounter a single worthy argument in favor of retaining Master Ravenstahl as the Mayor of Pittsburgh."

OK. I live in the Elliott section of the city. An area that has been in total decline thanks to many years of zero help from the Murphy administration. Right now I am working with Councilman Deasy and some other elected officials to develop some NEW housing and the rehab of vacant homes here in Elliott & the West End. The proposed tax abatement from the administration will help my projects that I have going here in Elliott. Why wouldn't I want to support a candidate that is going to directly help my area with a plan? Peduto's plan does nothing for my area.

The Peduto campaign had a huge set back on Sunday. I don't think they can rebound from this.

Maria said...

"The Peduto campaign had a huge set back on Sunday. I don't think they can rebound from this."

Yes, God knows a 'no' vote from ACDC just killed Flaherty's, Caligiuri's and Masloff's chances. Not.

Smitty said...


The Jackal said...

I don't know if anyone watched "Night Talk" last night but the sorry state of Pittsburgh politics played out on live TV quite clearly when some lunch pail democrat called in to say that Peduto (who was the guest) got what he deserved in the endorsement vote because he "talked down" to the people and could not relate to their lives. You could tell Bill was frustrated by the question as he apparently comes from solid working class stock. If the voters hold you in disdain because you are articulate and advocate ideas that most of the rest of the country embraced years ago, then there's not much hope for the city.

Where are the Republicans though? To me this is a MUCH larger issue as it relates to the future of the city. At the end of the day we are debating which democratic candidate is less destructive but they are two peas from the same pod in my view. They both advocate direct government intervention in the economic process and are dependent on the current power structure to advance. Peduto is much better prepared for this role than Opie but if you actually spend any time listening to him, he becomes VERY irritating after awhile.

Pittsburgh needs a dynamic two party system. Any party that has ruled uninterrupted for +70 years will be completed rotted out and devoid of ideas - that's not surprising. But you get what you vote for. If the knuckleheads keep putting these folks into office, then the results are clear - more population loss, higher taxes, less hope.

Why the Republicans have not fielded viable candidates and spent the least 20 years building a grassroots infrastructure truly escapes me. People say Pittsburgh cannot elect a Republican mayor but people said the same things about NYC and LA. Republican administrations fundamentally changed the trajectory of these cities though, we no one thought this was possible.

Is there even a Republican candidate for Mayor this year? (and please don't tell me it's Joe Weinroth).

Richmond K. Turner said...

Señor Jackal... thanks for commenting, first of all.

Where indeed are the Republicans? Probably where they usually are in Pittsburgh politics, which is virtually nowhere. Will they even put up a candidate? I have no way of knowing. I ran into Weinroth a few months ago at the grocery store. He sounded like he was going to run. But I've also seen some things in the burghosphere which suggested that he may be running for controller and not mayor.

Either way, it's a lost cause.

I fully take your point about Los Angeles and New York City. New York in particular would be a vastly different city if they had not elected Rudy. So why can't Pittsburgh do the same?

In part, I suspect that it has to do with Pittsburgh's insular nature. We don't have new blood moving here all of the time in the way that NYC and LA do. Those who live here tend to have been born here, and those who have been born here tend not to trust anyone from outside. Hell, a good number of them are unlikely to have ever met anyone from outside of the region.

Habits die hard everywhere, but they are much harder to kill off when the same people keep talking to one another year after year.

A good friend of mine used to live here in the city. He had come from elsewhere, and was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. He got involved in his neighbohood's GOP ward, and worked very hard for them.

One year, they managed to find someone to run for some office. I can't remember which office it was, but I think it might have been for the U.S. House. They worked fairly hard to get their candidates name out there, and they scored something like 23% (or maybe it was 32%) of the vote in the general election.

After all that work, they were incensed that they hadn't at least attracted enough votes to be competitive. But they weren't willing to rest. On the very day after the general election, their candidate told them that he would make another run for the exact same office in two year's time. They already had 23% (or was it 32%) of the district's votes, and they would spend the next two years working on winning the rest of the district over to their side.

The candidate worked like a dog. He knocked on something like 80% of all the doors in the district. He took a leave of absense from his job. They didn't have a bunch of money, but they put in all kinds of hours.

Two years later, they received precisely the same percnet of the votes as they had during the previous election.

People in Pittsburgh vote straight tickets without even looking at the names; in that environment, and with a huge numerical registration advantage among Democrats, perhaps the results weren't all that suprising.

But they were still enormously discouraging. My buddy moved to the North Hills. The candidate never bothered seeking office again. And on it goes...

J-Bird said...

I believe Ravenstahl's own campaign slogan reveals what is wrong with Pittsburgh's Democratic Party: "I Like Luke".

There is no dynamic platform, no core issue Luke's campaign is touting as a good reason to vote for him, its, "I like Luke, yinz give'm a chance."

Peduto's campaign has its own problems, but when you look at the candidates, Peduto clearly articulates a message about economic growth in the communities and fiscal discipline. All you have to do is drive through the new East End business corridor to observe what the councilman has done. Ravenstahl is product of a family name and unfortunate circumstances--Peduto is at least a policymaker who has produced results.