Pittsburgh Leadership

Republican Mayoral candidate Mark DeSantis finally took the gloves off earlier this week, accusing incumbent Luke Ravenstahl of being the human equivalent of Gertrude Stein's Oakland: There's no There there. Rich Lord's P-G coverage of DeSantis's policy team intro is representative.

Ho-hum. The intro was okay as far as it went, but it went wonky. DeSantis will have the money to make the race entertaining. As long as he's likely to go down, he should go down really swinging. Talk about the future of Pittsburgh, Mark. Give the people what they need as well as what they want. No one cares if Luke Ravenstahl is a star-struck, ethically-challenged celebrity chaser. He's a publicly pleasant guy and a Democrat in a city where that's almost all that matters.

What Pittsburgh needs is leadership. It could come from the Mayor's office or from City Council or from any number of other sources. (If I sound for a moment like I've watched The American President one too many times, it's because I have.) Luke Ravenstahl's problem isn't just that he's done nothing. His problem is that he has failed to lead.

What does that mean?

In my book, the biggest test of leadership is the ability to attract good and talented people to the cause. A leader inspires people to follow. If you're Mayor, that means that good and talented people should want to work for you and for the City that you represent. Look around city government right now. The P-G reports: City Hall Hobbled by Brain Drain. The official line is that budget constraints hobble hiring, but that explanation hides a deeper problem. Folks who staff municipal government don't do it for the pay (which is low) or the hours (which are long). Those managers and directors do it because at some level, they believe. Right now, the believers are fleeing. That's a bad sign. Eventually, it's not just the staff that will turn their backs. Eventually, the rest of the City will turn their backs, too.

If you want to change things -- if you're running for office (Mayor, say) -- what do you do? Go beyond pointing out the lack of activity. Go beyond putting out a conventional platform (which DeSantis is preparing to do). On top of that: Put something out there that people can rally behind, both your future staff and your prospective supporters in the electorate. Inspire them. You may lose (DeSantis almost certainly will lose), but inspire someone to pick up the banner and carry that momentum forward. There will be another election before we know it.

How about this? Declare that the following five things should and will be *the* major priorities of the City, and that the Mayor should and will collaborate with the County Executive, County Council, City Council, the School Board and Superintendent, and other regional leaders to make them *the* major priorities of the region. The specifics are important, and those have to be worked out. Inspiration, though, arrives via the vision.
(1) Business and jobs creation.
(2) Public education.
(3) Equitable taxation for individuals, families, homeowners, and businesses.
(4) Ethical, effective, and responsive government.
(5) Safe and clean natural and manmade regional infrastructure. A clean environment, in other words; safe bridges and roads; and sensible public transportation.

It doesn't have to be the Mayor or Mark DeSantis who puts this out there. Mike Tomlin could do it (after he wins the Super Bowl, at least). Or John Murray. Or Astro Teller. Or Jared Cohon or Mark Nordenberg. Or Glen Meakem. I'm not interested in political affiliation and I'm not necessarily interested in politics. As Ben Stein said in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "Anyone? Anyone?" *Someone* needs to start talking this way; someone needs to build a new way of thinking about Pittsburgh's future. If you build it, people will come. They will most definitely come.

At the least, they'll stop talking about whether UPMC should have bought Luke a ticket to a golf outing.


7 Responses to "Pittsburgh Leadership"

O said... 8/29/2007 10:38 PM

Folks who staff municipal government don't do it for the pay (which is low) or the hours (which are long). Those managers and directors do it because at some level, they believe. Right now, the believers are fleeing. That's a bad sign.

I just thought this should be repeated because it is important. (Even if it hits a wee bit too close to home.)

Anonymous said... 8/30/2007 12:15 AM


Maybe by identifying the people's perception of the region's top leader - in whatever sector of the community - we can get move the focus off the politicians and get on with something positive.

Here is a crazy question for Pittsblog readers: Who do you believe is the region's top leader?

EdHeath said... 8/30/2007 7:29 AM

DO you remember the movie “Tootsie”? The part where Jessica Lange tells Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman in drag) that all she wants is a guy to tell the truth to her, that he just wants to sleep with her, etc, etc. Then Michael Dorsey (Hoffman not in drag) repeats her words back to her, verbatim, at a party, and of course she slaps him. I dubbed this the Tootsie/Tsongas effect. Paul Tsongas won New Hampshire in ‘92, back when a candidate could spend a few months there and really explain why it was so important to raise taxes, because that was how we would get rid of the deficit. Tsongas had had brain cancer, and in a meandering way, was quite earnest and convincing. Given the time. Clinton, of course, started winning all the other primaries, because people liked (or hated) him very quickly. By the way, Clinton was, IMO, a good President who got lucky with the internet boom.

The Neurobiologists who are coming back in vogue declare with all their soul that reason can overcome your emotional reaction to a candidate, but only if you work really hard at it. I believe most people operate in a cognitively dissonant manner about almost everything, because that is the easiest way to experience information overload. Of course, we are proceeding through a moment of specific political change not unlike what happened in 1970. A minority of people always believed Iraq/Vietnam was wrong, but slowly the majority came to believe it. Not fast enough, Bush/Nixon got re-elected, but you’ll have that (people choosing security when their beliefs are challenged).

You may want the truth. Pittsburghers will say they are entitled to it. But I don’t think Pittsburghers can handle the truth (couldn’t resist referring to the other Sorkin movie). Actually, I think many ordinary Pittsburghers would rather eat quiche than to vote for a republican (maybe if they imagined it was pie). I don’t know what would jar Pittsburgher’s out of their mindset in time to help DeSantis, partly because the more threatened Pittsburgher’s feel about their basic assumptions, the more likely they are to fall back on them.

Still, I’d like to see some slogan’s like “Give Experience a Chance”, and “we were wrong about Iraq, maybe we’re wrong about Ravenstahl”. Not much help, I guess.

Anonymous said... 8/30/2007 10:42 AM

A good post. I think you're right in looking for this election to be one of visionary leadership that brings in a team of the best and the brightest that will make those visions a reality. Pittsburgh really can't afford to continue to muddle along, placated with homey politicians and the attention of national retailers. The vitality of the region is fundamentally based upon the contributions of its citizens, and that's got to be the focus of local leadership.

DeSantis has been criticized for having so many of his policy advisors from the suburbs, a move that I can imagine induced atavistic class reactions and suspicions of past contributions withheld. But I'm wondering if the real breakthrough comes with the leader that draws on the diaspora, that connects Pittsburgh not only with the larger world of ideas, but also with Pittsburgh's broadly disbursed talent?

Anonymous said... 8/30/2007 10:34 PM

I enjoyed Mr. Heath's Tootsie comparison. I would like to reference a cinimatic solution myself, its "The Day The Earth Stood Still". Mr. Carpenter (Michael Rene), upon leaving for home tells earth's top scientists that his people developed robots that take care of all the stuff humans are incapable of handling and if you try bringing your system out into space they will be forced to deal with earthlings in a not so friendly way. Theres a robot factory under the 40th street bridge. I think we could get some robots like that built there and enjoy a much more peaceful and prosperous life.

EdHeath said... 9/03/2007 11:43 AM

"deus ex machina", somewhat literally, anon 10:34pm 8/31/07? Do you favor robots over Ravenstahl? More importantly, would you put out a yard sign for DeSantis?

Anonymous said... 9/03/2007 8:16 PM

Unless Mark D hits the streets like tomorow in a hand shaking, howdy to yunz face campaign he won't get 25% of the vote. Most city voters are not even on the web. So get out on the street now and start selling and educating why this burg needs you !!!!

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates, ThemeLib.com