Friday, April 13, 2007

Peduto Saves Pittsburgh From Divisiveness By Euthanizing Democracy

In a move that was in no way surprising, Pittsburgh City Councilmember and former mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has hammered the final nail into the coffin of this year's mayoral election. The Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review are both reporting that Mr. Peduto, who pulled out of the Democratic primary late last month, has finally decided not to run as an independent candidate in November. The result is that Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will run with no major-party opposition, and -- barring an act of God or a major felony indictment -- is all but certain to be elected as our bona-fide mayor in November. Those Pittsburghers, like myself, who are grossly dissatisfied with Interim Mayor Ravenstahl's abysmal performance have been left to twist in the wind, with no way to make our voices heard at the ballot box.

Mr. Peduto apparently made this announcement by sending out a press release. But, as was the case even when his anemic campaign was still active, this press release does not appear anywhere on either his campaign or city council website. For someone who likes to portray himself as a hip urban progressive, Mr. Peduto has consistently failed embrace the web and make these kinds of things available to the general public. What we are left with are a few select excerpts which made it into the local press:

"I am a Democrat," Mr. Peduto said in a press release. "Even though a registration change would have been temporary, I believe that running as an independent would be a divisive move. A majority of local Democrats want to reform Pittsburgh, and an independent candidacy would drive a wedge between the reform movement and the Democratic Party."
An excellent commentary on this announcement has been penned by my brother-in-blogging over at the Burgh Report. Herr Burgher sees a number of positives stemming from Mr. Peduto's decision to remain an active part of our dysfunctional local Democratic machine:
I think this is probably the best move for Peduto's long-term political career. Running a negative campaign could only get him into the 40s polling wise, and he would permanently alienate a large number of voters. [snip...]

Additionally, I don't think Peduto's remarks about divisiveness are far off the mark. There is a great deal of frustration among progressives who see themselves united to the Democratic Party nationally, but see Ravenstahl and Onorato as a continuation of the back-scratching local politics that has continued to prevent this region from living up to its potential. Driving a wedge into that seam would only hurt the party.
I have enormous respect for Herr Burgher's opinions. But I have to disagree with him about Peduto's political cowardice being a good thing for our city, the Democratic Party, or Pittsburgh's now-silenced progressive movement.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Bill Peduto should have reversed course at this stage and registered as an independent today. While there was a time when I exhorted him to run as an independent and bypass the Democratic primary, that was prior to his decision, announced on March 21st, to withdrawal from the field of battle. Despite his claims that he was keeping his option for an independent candidacy open, he was clearly pulling out of the race. He hadn't given any real consideration to an independent run. He certainly wasn't taking any steps to energize those of us who would have been thrilled to support such a move. At best, he was taking a few weeks off to see if Mr. Ravenstahl would do something so spectacularly repugnant that the public would finally notice what a disaster our current mayoral administration truly is. Since the announcement, Mr. Peduto has largely disappeared from local press coverage. The Peduto campaign has effectively been in a coma for the last three weeks, and today's announcement merely takes the final step of putting it out of its misery for good.

As he did when he withdrew from the Democratic primary last month, Mr. Peduto again today invoked his pathological fear of "divisiveness" as a reason not to bring his message to city voters. And to think that I once believed that this guy had some balls! Here's the bad news for everyone with a similar phobia about "divisiveness". All elections in this day and age are divisive, and this is especially true when there is something important at stake. The municipal union members and the politicians who pander to them are never, ever going to hold hands and sing "Kumbayah" with the progressives who are calling for much-needed reforms to the city's extravagant pension system.

Sooner or later, if you really want to change the things that are slowly killing our city and the region as a whole, you are going to have to go head-to-head with those who want to keep things just as they have been for countless decades. It's going to be divisive. It's going to be bloody. It's going to create an endless supply of hard feelings. And it's going to be the most important battle that we -- or at least the small number of people who are still left in Pittsburgh when these problems finally come to a head -- will ever fight.

I do not see Bill Peduto's actions, on either March 21st or today, as a necessary and strategic retreat which will ensure the survival of the local progressive reform movement. Instead, I join with a writer named "Highland Ave." over at The Darn News, who notes that he or she is "... still getting e-mails from a campaign best known for re-defining 'Quitting' as 'a successful preemptive strike'". I find myself in agreement with Jonathan Potts over at The Conversation, who had the following to say when Mr. Peduto pulled out of the Democratic primary:
You don't get into politics these days unless you are willing to get your knuckles bloody now and then. Lamentable, perhaps, but that's the way it is. Just ask President Kerry. Besides, Peduto is running against an incumbent. Any time an incumbent runs for re-election the race is a referendum on their performance in office. (I realize Luke Ravenstahl isn't technical running for re-election, but the principal holds.)
And even better reaction, also written in the aftermath of Mr. Peduto's March 21st withdrawal from the primary, comes from Sue at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents:
Today I received the [Peduto campaign's] acknowledge[ment] of my campaign contribution which I have to admit was a big chunk for me to fork over. It was incorrectly addressed so I called the campaign to get that corrected. During the course of that conversation, I was fed the whole party line about the reasons why it was in Pittsburgh's best interest for Mr. Peduto to withdraw from the race and why I should still be a true believer.

It just made me angrier. Its almost as if I am supposed to just stuff my feelings down and take one for the team with just the slightest suggestion that actually *criticizing* Bill Peduto is a big fat no-no. Good girls/progressives don't. I'm supposed to suck it up and go to bat for other progressive candidates.

Fuck that. While my learned blogging colleagues around the burghosphere explore the political underbelly of recent events, critique the media response and go all cosa nostra on the Ravenstahl administration, I sit here at my computer staring at these two letters just FEELING ANGRY. It has only been three days after all. I'm allowed to be angry. It is a healthy response to betrayal. Oops, did I say that? I mean to tacitly accepting the status quo with regard to Allegheny County Dem politics.

Its only two years, the staffer told me. I'm 36. Two years is a still a proportionately decent amount of my lifetime. It is 24 months of my payroll taxes and property taxes and sweat equity. ... Two more years of driving out to the Giant Eagle on Camp Horne Road because its clean AND prostitute free. [snip...]

So while I appreciate the genuine sentiment of Mr. Peduto's campaign worker, I disagree with her philosophy. She asked me to keep an open mind. I blew a gasket at that and have to give her credit for listening to me. My mind is open.

It is my heart that is closed.
The thing is that there were real people out there who opened their hearts, donated much-needed portions of their paychecks, and gave up countless hours of effort in support of Mr. Peduto's candidacy. Many of us saw this as the one golden opportunity to demonstrate the need for change in Pittsburgh. Even if we couldn't win it, this election would at least present us with a pulpit from which the need for reform could be trumpeted to a largely apathetic and set-in-their ways electorate. Even if Mr. Ravenstahl won this election, we would at least be able to reach more voters next time around. By that time, the pension bomb will have detonated, the city finances will again be in the toilet, and we could at least say, "we told yinz so".

With no mayoral candidate in the race, the reform movement in Pittsburgh is effectively silenced for the next two years. The press isn't going to devote any sizable amount of coverage on these issues anymore, because there isn't a horse race to report on anymore. This is no great failing on the part of the local press. The public typically only pays attention to these kinds of things when there is a reason for them to do so. A contested election is one of the few things that gives your Average Joe a reason to pay some degree of attention to politics, and press attention necessarily follows the attention of the public.

Now that we have a (more or less) uncontested mayoral election in front of us, we can ask ourselves just where we are really likely to be in two years' time, assuming that Mr. Peduto tries to run again in 2009. Even I -- someone who is genuinely impressed with his knowledgeable understanding of the issues and who agrees with many of his positions -- would be very wary of offering Mr. Peduto much in the way of financial, shoe leather, or even emotional support.

After all, how can I be sure that he won't wimp out on us yet again? What if the campaign gets -- God forbid -- "divisive" in 2009? Will he turn tail and run out on us at the last minute? Will two-and-a-half years finally be long enough for this mythical and seemingly endless mourning period for former mayor Bob O'Connor to come to an end? Bill Peduto already asked me to "Believe" in his broken-promise fairy tale in 2007. I am not so sure I can trust him enough to "Believe" yet again in 2009.

But even if I can get past this year's betrayal, where will the typical Pittsburgh voter be by the time that 2009 rolls around? Even if the city finances are beginning to circle the bowl by that point, will things really be bad enough that anyone other than us wonks will really notice the problems? I'm betting that the pension checks will continue to go out, that the potholes will continue to be patched, and the quality of city services won't be so glaringly deficient as to be noticable to most voters. If things aren't all that bad, why not "give the kid another chance"?

And even if things are so bad that people finally begin to notice Luke Ravenstahl's obvious deficiencies, who are they likely to blame for these problems? Mr. Peduto will be, at that point, an 8-year incumbent on city council and could be rather easily painted as part of the problem rather than the solution. Moreover, now that he has relinquished his bully pulpit as a candidate in the 2007 election, very few people are likely to remember his warnings about our looming financial crisis. He will undoubtedly try to remind people that he "told yinz so", but -- coming from a long-serving member of city government -- those pleas could easily fall on deaf ears. And the progressive reform message, rather than reminding voters of something that they have heard in the recent past, could very well come across as something "new" and "dangerous" in a time of fiscal uncertainty.

I realize that Mr. Peduto would have lost this year's election to Luke Ravenstahl. And he would have probably lost by a fairly large margin. But I'm not convinced that this defeat would have, as Mr. Peduto claims, irrevocably wounded our chances to bring reform to Pittsburgh. Instead, I think we would have reached a few more people this time around than we did last time. And I think that 2007, regardless of the size of Mr. Ravenstahl's victory, would have provided us with a decent jumping off point for 2009.

I just can't see how anyone can hope to promote reform in Pittsburgh by going silent about the need for it. Mr. Peduto's "Reform Pittsburgh Now" movement may seem like a good idea, but let's face it. The people who get involved with it will largely end up preaching to each other. With no candidates on the ballot, the group's message is exceedingly unlikely to reach those who just want to "give the kid a chance". Those are the people that the reform movement needs to reach, and Mr. Peduto's withdrawal has given them license to simply stop paying any attention to what he has to say. When things go bad in a few years, they won't even know that anyone ever "told yinz so".

Meaningful reform may very well require a fair bit of divisiveness. And it certainly will require bravery instead of timidness.


The Burgher said...

I guess I define the term differently.

I'm going on the idea that the only method to lower Luke's poll numbers is to attack him personally. The voters, immune to change at this point, wouldn't respond to issues.

The needle won't move unless Peduto calls Luke names. Luke's positives will come down some, but Peduto's negatives will go up permanently in some areas.

Strangely, it is Luke's lack of experience that is his best asset. Ravenstahl doesn't have much of a track record to criticize because of his short tenure. And despite his missteps, the overwhelming MSM coverage has been and will be "Isn't he cute."

I respect someone who is dedicated to winning. I see more value in leaving a race you can't win -- that builds more trust than spedning other people's time and money on a campaign that gets killed.

Because of the long-term increase in negatives, the value os running a campaign to build for '09 is minimal.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Admiral, to quote a former commenter:

Here. Here, here! Here.

Mark Rauterkus said...

The Admiral wrote something about being 'left to twist in the wind, with no way to make our voices heard at the ballot box.'

The winds of change need to shift to fill the sails of the ship that waves the flag called Libertarian.

Mine may not be a golden opportunity. But, it will be both a digital and prudent opportunity.

Peduto has something to protect. He had to play defense with his career. Meanwhile, my defensive attention goes to big issues like democracy, liberty, justice for all. My fight takes an offensive posture, unlike what Peduto could dare deliver.

Bloggers: I hate ramblings that seem to serve as a pissing match (in a storm) to dash hopes that still exists within the built-in facts of the present democratic process.

We got a general election.

Luke will need to win the general election.

Those that are upset on a county wide basis have a bridge to the mayor's race this year. When the challenger to the status-quo duo, North Side Buddies -- Onorato & Ravenstahl, is one in the same, the threat grows in an exponential way.

Peduto couldn't deliver that.

I have 12 slots now with running mates. Peduto couldn't deliver that.

I have a never-give-up attitude and history that is driven by guiding principles. Peduto's quitting means he can't deliver that as well.

Plus, I told ya. I predicted, in public, that Peduto wouldn't "fight" in 2007. And, in 2000, 2001, when I was fighting, I made countless other predictions that came to be true. We knew then that the city's D politicians were trying to put the city's finances into receivership. I knew and told ya the city was going to close its rec centers and swim pool.

You and others don't need to twist in the wind.

You could do a write-in of a City Paper bobble-head Pierogie
Or, you can cast a vote for a real person doing the real work of needed opposition and reform.

You'd be nuts to say " is a golden opportunity.' But you'd be right on to say the opportunity is the best, grass-roots voice at the ballot box in November, starting today.

Think Again about your willingness to twist in the wind. Come With Me, instead.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Luke's lack of experience is an asset.

But, respect someone dedicated to winning -- BUT -- Bob O'Connor ran 3 times. Bob O'Connor kept democracy alive. Bob O'Connor didn't win often.

Bob O'Connor was 'trusted' -- yes?

Bob spent $1,000,000 to get 30,000 votes (2001). Do the math.

So, Peduto's silence on campaign finance reform has got to end.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, I just posted something similar on my blog, but with a different focus.

Peduto really is an odd duck. The bottom line is that he was worried the the party would be pissed at him in '09 for running in '07. Or the voters. Or someone. He is that worried about his political future.

But the thing is, a real reformer would worry more about his ideas, and take the chance of losing even a political future to get those ideas out there. Even if they were just stolen by the kid in knee pants.

But, and god help me, I never expected to say this, Mark Rauterkus shows us that Bob O'Connor had more wisdom that Bill Peduto had, by continuing to run (admittedly, against the disliked Tom Murphy, who had his day as a reformer).

In other words, Peduto has failed as a reformer and an ambitious candidate. Even if Luke stumbles badly, I think the University district and the east end is going to want to back someone other than Peduto.

Mark Rauterkus said...

What's this "god help me" statement about????

God can help as Easter just passed six days ago.

But, I'm one to count on "faith" and desire a do-it-ourselves approach.

Smitty said...

I find myself in complete agreement with you. Thursday evening Mr. Peduto was on WQED's "On Q" hosted by the charming Tonya Caruso. Mr. Peduto enumerated the assets he had at his availability: 900 field operatives,” the best and the brightest" in terms of Team Peduto staffers, and a readily available $500,000 for pocket money. Couple these assets with the 55 days remaining in the campaign at the time of the of his exit, throw in the 15,000 Pittsburghers who supported his first run in 2005,and it looks to me like he should have been able to run a competitive race.

I also disagree with our friend "the Burgher." This spin that Bill Peduto’s very existence causes Luke's numbers to skyrocket while Bill's spiral downward is pure BS. In a city that is falling into a financial sinkhole, with a mayor's office reprimanded by a federal judge, a police force more interested in watching a Pirate game than walking a beat, an epidemic of black on black murders, a city council that turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to the short comings of our boy mayor, a Solicitor's office without a qualified, appointed Solicitor, an ethics committee that doesn't meet, and there seems to me to be dozens of more reasons to run a very issue oriented campaign without calling Opie a bad boy. Reform Pittsburgh Now sounds nice, but in defense of divisiveness, a well fought campaign would have been the best way to sort out those who want to reform Pittsburgh Now from those who want Pittsburgh to stay the same

Maria said...


Luke's positives are in the 80's. There is no way to be competitive against someone whose positives are that high.

That is reality.

Yes, it may be almost impossible to understand how they can be so high or why Peduto's negatives have tripled in that same amount of time but that is REALITY.

You can site a million things that Luke has done wrong, but that does not change the FACT that the vast majority of voters do not agree with you.

I can never understand, for example, how anyone could have voted for Bush the second time around, but enough did that he either got the majority (or got close enough to a majority that he could throw Ohio).

That's reality too.

It took SIX YEARS for the public to finally get that Bush was bad for this country -- Luke has only been in the Mayor's office for six months. The public wants its fantasy that Luke is their magic unicorn. They are no more willing to accept the fact that Luke is bad for this city than you are to accept the fact that this is what they believe