The NYTimes on Ravenstahl

If the New York Times sometimes carries so much Pittsburgh news that it seems like the Pittsburgh Times, then the reason may be Sean Hamill, a veteran journalist who lives here and who feeds well-written story after well-written story to the paper. Today's Pittstory is tomorrow's mayoral primary, and it includes one (not particularly insightful, but pithy) quotation from me. (Saturday's Pittstory was about the Frederickstown ferry, which is named Fred.)

Interviews like that one are almost always more interesting for the material that doesn't make the cut than for the material that does. What didn't make the cut was this: Even though I don't live in the City of Pittsburgh, the primary election has disappointed me, because neither of the two main candidates (Ravenstahl and Dowd) has used his media time to point aggressively to things that matter to the people of the region. One is a sustainable economic model, or what does Pittsburgh do when it really dawns on everyone that higher education, medical care, and high tech startups aren't enough in the long run to stabilize the post-steel economy? Two is what we might call the Great Allegheny Divide, or the problem that I once labeled Third World Pittsburgh, between the stable and properous neighborhoods and suburbs that give Pittsburgh its modestly glamorous modern media image, on the one hand, and the neighborhoods and communities that suffer ever grimmer levels of crime and poverty, on the other hand.

Carmen Robinson, to her credit, has nodded in the direction of the latter issue, but let's be real: In this primary, no issue has traction unless Luke bothers to talk about it. (Gary Rotstein's column this morning isn't far from the truth.) And Luke doesn't bother to talk about much (the child who kills his parents and pleads for mercy because he's an orphan, Luke complains that no one is talking about issues). Patrick Dowd's signature issue has been public corruption -- which is important, but which is neither the first priority for the incoming administration nor enough to galvanize a somnolent electorate.

Ravenstahl, who has learned a thing or two as mayor, has the gall to point out that arguing about his corruption makes Pittsburgh look bad.

Well, of course, it makes Pittsburgh look bad, because Ravenstahl all but admits that his administration is corrupt. And outside of the passionate Dowdiac community and some bloggers I know, just about no one cares.

No one cares because the mayor's race and the future of Pittsburgh aren't about what happens on Grant Street. The public doesn't care about billboards and bag men. The public is facing high taxes, mediocre public services, and a grey economic future. Anyone who wants to dislodge Ravenstahl and the machine that backs him has to take a long running start and has to make the campaign about the people of Pittsburgh. The issue is: How can the mayor make their lives better?

It's not clear that any Pittsburgh mayor can do that these days, because the finances of the city are in a serious ditch. Still, a mayor can make people believe (Bob O'Connor, anyone?). If any of the current candidates has the ability to inspire, none has put it on display. If you want to inspire in Pittsburgh these days, maybe the best thing you can do is carry a stick and skate with a number 87 on your back. Get out there and chant "Let's Go Pens." It won't help much. But it's a start.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, 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.

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