In the past few days, I have encountered a few viewpoints that have forced me to reexamine the events of the past month or so. The first was an excellent post over at Pittsburgh Comet, which examines the stated reasons behind Pittsburgh City Councilmember Bill Peduto's decision to pull out of the Democratic primary. The second was an email that I received from a loyal reader, which challenged a few of the observations that I made in an earlier post. Together, they have sparked a few ideas in my head, and they cast a light upon just how the mayoral race might have been affected by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee (ACDC) endorsement vote on Sunday, 4th March 2007. In some small way, this most anti-democratic of Pittsburgh institutions -- the idea that party leaders, and not everyday citizens, should chose who is worthy to seek elective office -- is responsible, once again, for ensuring that our election was over before the first voter had a chance to cast a ballot.
In my earlier post, I took the Post-Gazette to task for providing inadequate coverage of the mayoral race, particularly over the past month or so. I presented a kind of ironic argument that it was only now, once Mr. Peduto had pulled out of the race, that the Post-Gazette -- and particularly its editorial board -- was paying any attention to either him or the election in general. I was far from alone in making these observations. Similar arguments can be found over at The Burgh Report and 2 Political Junkies.
Specifically, the Post-Gazette was faulted throughout the burghosphere for either neglecting a number of important issues entirely, or relegating them to its "Early Returns" blog, which appears only online and thus has a far more limited readership than the print version of the newspaper. A list of these issues would include:
- Endless debate dodging by the Ravenstahl campaign,
- The use of the "hands on hips" picture on both city and campaign documents,
- The overdue details of the the tax abatement plan, and,
- The flip-flop answers about contraception
In addition to these accusations largely ignoring issues in the "hard news" portion of the paper, the Post-Gazette's editorials and opinion columns were taken to task for some questionable decisions. The newspaper had, after all, responded to the Master Raventahl's Heinz Field arrest with a kindly wink, and described the favoritism shown to him afterwards as something that was "very Pittsburgh". The theft of Mr. Peduto's policy ideas, such as property tax abatement, was also given a grinning nod in the pages of the Post-Gazette.
But, as one of my readers pointed out in an email this morning, the editorial board also has some history of taking Master Ravenstahl to task when they think he deserves it. They castigated him over the Regan/McNeilly case, and even accused him of using "lame ethics" in this matter. They also provided a very unfavorable reaction to his lacking-in-detail tax abatement proposal, especially as compared to the plan put forward by Mr. Peduto. So there is some degree of balance in the paper's editorial positions, as indeed Tony Norman himself argues in today's paper.
Instead of being blamed for consistently giving Luke Ravenstahl a free pass on his endless sequence of ethical fumbles, the editorial board at the Post-Gazette might be better accused of, at least in recent weeks, simply ignoring the mayoral election altogether. They published their tax abatement editorial on 18 Feb 2007, and that was largely the final word they provided on any mayoral topic until Mr. Peduto withdrew from the Democratic primary this week. There wasn't even a reaction on the editorial page to the ACDC endorsement vote. Instead, they chose to cast their attention on such vitally important topics as the excessive length of the Oscars telecast and the introduction of a new form of postage stamp.
Thus the sins of the Post-Gazette seem to be ones of omission rather than commission. When you look at the list of stories that the paper has largely ignored, you will notice a very clear trend. Every last one of these topics surfaced only recently. And for the most part, these issues have only become truly relevant in the weeks since the ACDC endorsement vote, which Mr. Peduto lost by a landslide.
After that defeat, the Peduto campaign went largely, and rather unexpectedly, silent. While blogs such as this one were busy pointing out that there were still no debates scheduled between the two candidates, that Interim Mayor Ravesntahl had broken his promise to provide "the full data" on his tax abatement proposal, and that the same photographs appeared on both city documents and the Ravenstahl campaign website, there was really only a token reaction from the Peduto campaign. And more importantly, there was no sign that the Peduto campaign itself was driving any of these stories.
Prior to the ACDC endorsement vote, it had not been that way at all. When Ravenstahl went a week without responding to the Peduto's initial debate challenge, the Peduto campaign went on the attack with a press release. News coverage followed, including some pointed questions put to the interim mayor by mainstream reporters. A few days before the endorsement, when the Werling settlement was coming before city council, Mr. Peduto took bold action to demand the reinstatement of the cost recovery program. But once Mr. Peduto lost the endorsement decision, we simply stopped hearing from him and his campaign. While the blogs were pushing forward, Mr. Peduto seemed to go into a sulking and depressive funk.
This funk lasted a few short weeks before Mr. Peduto decided to throw in the towel altogether. But as The Pittsburgh Comet points out, this decision -- even when examined from a number of different angles -- doesn't seem in any way rational.
Mr. Peduto's purported reasons for leaving the race can be distilled into the two related threads. First, there is the inescapable reality that Pittsburghers seem committed to their "give the kid a chance" delusions. Secondly, the only way to defeat that mindset would be to go massively negative, and that was something that Mr. Peduto simply didn't want to do. A third very important aspect of Mr. Peduto's decision is that he chose to announce it at the very last moment, just hours before the filing deadline. As a result, there wasn't even an opportunity for any other Democrat to get into the race, and voters will be left with no options whatsoever in our mayoral election.
Mr. Peduto seemed most upset that there was no discussion of the issues taking place, and that he was most in demand by the news media to discuss the unethical behavior of his opponent. Yet there seemed to be no push by Bill Peduto to discuss these issues once the endorsement defeat was behind him. Even the burghosphere, faced with a lack of either media or campaign reaction to the stories we were putting forward, began to see Mr. Peduto's defeat as all but inevitable. There were no more Peduto press releases to remind us that the interim mayor was dodging debates. There was no public push for council to adopt Peduto's tax abatement plan instead his opponent's. There were no reminders from the Peduto campaign that the Ravenstal tax abatement details were well overdue. If there were no discussions about the issues, it is largely because Mr. Peduto wasn't asking anyone to have them.
Bill Peduto could have, and should have, continued his campaign. He could have, and should have, continued pushing every last issue that was important to him and the citizens of Pittsburgh. If he was adverse to going negative, he simply could have refused to do so. Pointing out that your opponent's plans are inferior to your own does not constitute negative campaigning. And sometimes, doing so can even force your opponent to take a position on something that would otherwise have been ignored entirely. By leaving the race, Mr. Peduto has guaranteed that these issues will now never be addressed, however begrudgingly, by the Ravenstahl administration.
Bill Peduto could have, as he had done in 2005, stayed focused on the issues and lost the primary with honor. Or he could have used his withdrawal from the Democratic primary as a springboard to announce his independent bid for reform in the City of Pittsburgh. Either option would have assured Pittsburgh's voters -- perhaps a minority of them, but important voices nonetheless -- that there would at least be a choice on the ballot. Maybe we weren't going to win, but we would be given an honest means of communicating to Luke Ravenstahl that we are unhappy with his flawed leadership. Instead of giving us options, Bill Peduto took them away. He turned tail and left many of us out in the cold.
It really would seem that his defeat for the Democratic endorsement, which he did not even seek in his 2005 campaign, destroyed Mr. Peduto's will to go on. In the weeks that followed, his campaign became so timid and weakly reactive that his withdrawal from the race could best be viewed as a mercy killing. My personal view, having never once given a shit about the political endorsement of any group, and especially not the worthless Allegheny County Democratic machine, is that Mr. Peduto's reaction was massively excessive and largely unwarranted. In fact, from my perspective, being unendorsed by that particular group of mental midgets was an enormous asset instead of any kind of liability.
But the evidence seems clear that it affected Mr. Peduto in ways that I will never be able to understand. A few hundred people got together and decided that Mr. Peduto wasn't the best man to represent their own narrow interests as the Mayor of Pittsburgh. And Mr. Peduto decided that he would rather listen to them than to the actual citizens who are supposed to make these decisions in our democracy. For months, Mr. Peduto was our only hope. And now, because of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee -- and Mr. Peduto's gross overreaction to their opinion -- our city has no hope at all.