G20, the new convention center, and the unhistory of Pittsburgh

Nothing unique about this article; it reflects most media coverage I have seen and popular sentiment I suspect. Take a look at the story today in the Trib about the convention center. What isn't mentioned in even the briefest passing syllable is a word about the person singularly responsible for getting it built. Up until the moment the G20 thing was announced he was more often than not derided for it.

I was going to leave it at that and not fill in the blank. But at this point I know there are already folks who have no idea who I am talking about, so thoroughly has he been ostracized from local history.

Love him, hate him, or somehow be indifferent toward him, but how can you write about the history of the new convention center without talking about Tom Murphy? It may be an inconvenient history for some, but it is hard to imagine there being a new convention center without him. For what is an awfully honest discussion on the topic.. see a panel discussion on this this topic at NY's New School including the former mayor and others from a few years ago. The line asking about him how the stadia and the convention center were build despite the overwhelming defeat of the Regional Renaissance Initiative (RRI) some years reads: "We sort of said we’re going to do it anyway. " When it was being attacked, most in town would have argued the 'we' could have been written in the singular.


6 Responses to "G20, the new convention center, and the unhistory of Pittsburgh"

Schultz said... 6/14/2009 9:02 AM

I think it is time for Murphy to receive his due. He not only brought Pittsburgh the convention center but he was also the chief architect of downtown's turnaround, even with the failures with the big department stores and lack of action on the fifth-forbes corridor. The current administration, or at least the current mayor, was at odds with mayor Murphy, so I doubt you'll see any recognition for Murphy coming from that group, but it is ironic how the mayor is now a champion of downtown, just like Murphy was.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/14/2009 12:58 PM

Interesting to see this post today. I was recently given a short "history lesson" on how the semi-organized political opposition we find arrayed against today's Mayor is actually the semi-conscious forces of Tom Murphy seeking to reconstitute itself.

C. Briem said... 6/14/2009 11:44 PM

that’s more than a bit revisionist. In sheer number of votes, Murphy’s core support was all through the North Side and Lawrenceville; the same votes that LR gets in his core. So sure, near the end the Murphy support net of that is the same Shadyside/Squirrel Hill ABL vote, but to try and define that as a reconstitution of anything resembling the scale of Murphy support even in his last election is hard to support. The original Murphy coalition was a strong North Side base, that east end support plus even those opposed to Wagner in the south. Add that up and you see how he beat Jack Wagner 68-27 when first running for mayor. And Wagner was the sitting City Council president at the time to boot.

It’s ironic to tie the ABL vote to Murphy supporters. Might be true, but those same neighborhoods (Shadyside/Squirrel Hill) are the core Peduto support as well. Yet Bill was one of the harshest critics of Murphy when they were both in office. Time does weird thing to politics.

Shultz and I may be in rare agreement that there isn’t much prospect of official support for any Murphy rehabilitation coming from Downtown.. but not for the reason he suggests. I doubt LR’s past opposition to Murphy policies matters much at all at this point. To extend the wisdom of Tip O’Neill, all politics is personal and you just need to look at who Murphy defeated when he first was elected to the state house.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/15/2009 11:51 AM

Can't say if you're political analysis is spot-on. It's one thing to talk about elections, it's another thing to talk about commanding government once the players are in-place. If there were a Murphy clique on the 5th floor, that could seriously mess up an executive who was a vocal Murphy critic from getting things done.

However, your point about Peduto is well taken, and Doug Shields after all was a staffer for O'Connor, who ran against Murphy twice. So this all begins to sound more like Payne's expressed thoughts about the House of Udin.

If folks of the 5th floor are known to annoyingly complain that certain things used to be run better "before", or "in the past" -- that is during the most recent decade -- I can see how that could be mistaken on occasion for fealty to Thomas Delano Murphy.

MH said... 6/15/2009 8:55 PM

"We sort of said we’re going to do it anyway. "

I've voted against a stadium levy in another city. That levy also failed and they built the thing anyway. I'm sort of hoping for some half-assed, semi-random, Prop 13 type reform in PA. It's much too blunt an axe, but at least seems to irk the elected, but unaccountable class.

Infinonymous said... 6/16/2009 12:30 AM

Murphy nearly wrecked the city. The convention center? Some trophy. A wrong-sized, stranded subsidy magnet.

It seems to be less egregious than PNC Park, the Pirates, Lazarus-Lord & Taylor and Heinz Field as grotesque public policy failures go, though (assuming all or most of the shoddy construction issues have been revealed and resolved). So if you're saying the convention center was one of his lesser mistakes, I'll concur.

I read that panel transcript. I saw Newsome undercutting Murphy's argument, Murphy admitting (belatedly) that his football stadium was an economic loser for the public, Murphy indicating that the best economic generator for a city (arena) was the one he didn't accomplish, and Murphy continuing to be dumb or disingenuous enough to argue that the Pirates and Steelers would have left town. Did I miss the part that doesn't paint Murphy with disfavor?

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

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