and/or, the Puzzle of Polarized Pittsburgh
Everybody was right. (BR, Comet, MR, PG)
Ravenstahl won with about 63% of the vote to DeSantis’s 35%.
On the one hand, it was a historic degree of success for a Republican mayoral candidate, unequaled in more than 40 years.
On the other, Luke didn’t need to break a sweat.
Although voter identification with Democrats was as high as to be expected in Pittsburgh, it should be noted that DeSantis managed this feat against a backdrop as ugly for the Republicans as ever existed.
The Iraq War. Torture. Katrina. Let’s not forget Santorum! DeSantis might well have been more successful running on the Vampire Child Molester ticket, than with the GOP.
Yet for all that, more than one in three Pittsburghers were happy to pledge allegiance to the House of Dubya, rather than the House of Luke.
But let’s not go nuts.
Ravenstahl triumphed with a 28 point margin. He debated an opponent on seven occasions, and got to drop balloons at the end of it all. He emerges from this with more political capital than he started, at least among the general population, which counts for something.
Problem is, we had been working so hard and for so long to raise the roof, it was impossible for us in the final moments to somehow slam the brakes, establishing a reasonable level of expectations.
I would be remiss if I did not thank all the bloggers, in the Burghosphere that is our wonderful city — and you created a thriving and vital online community in this city, and I thank you for that.
— DeSantis concession speech (AS)
It was all downhill from there.
First came the predictable recriminations on the Burgh Report. Not to mention a few dismissive comments by on-air pundits. Then came the City Paper analysis. And the Brian O’Neill piece. We even picked up on a bit of blog-on-blog violence on Null Space.
We the bloggers have been exposed as frauds and fools! Out of touch! An echo-chamber! Elitist! Negative! So much hot air!
That last part, unfortunately, has had more than a kernel of truth to it as of late. For you see — and this will come as a shock to many of you — several among us were cynically crafting our messages in order to engineer favorable results for the challenger.
Actually, we should not make light of it. The Comet maintains in all sincerity that we never told any fibs, nor wrote anything we did not mean, or would desire to take back. Nor did we read anything like that elsewhere.
However, it was clear that more than a few of us were willfully engaging in spin, acting as surrogates, swashbuckling with the paid politicos, and discovering what muscles we had to flex.
After some unexpected victories in the primary election, it was a tempting prospect. And it was fun while it lasted!
As it happened, we discovered that although blogs maintain a certain modest power to drive issues and generate buzz, we are fundamentally ill-suited for strategic public relations. Thank goodness. The world has enough problems.
The strength of the bloggers, at their best, lies in unadulterated authenticity — real human voices, each one unique — often desperate for some reason, but usually with humor, and admirably sincere.
What were the voices of the Burghosphere trying to say? That we needed to keep the heat on. That we weren’t done yet. That we wanted everybody to stay focused on local government, in between Bill Peduto’s withdrawal, and the birth of the new City Council.
And that we did not quite trust the powers-that-be during the interlude.
We were also saying that we meant it back in May when we said we desired reform. That we are cognizant of the city’s finances, and are mistrustful of half-measures. That we are interested in big ideas, and uninterested in old ones. That we are tired of government by-the-employees, for-the-employees.
That we like to see the rules both enforced and observed for their own sake.
And most especially, with a few major decisions on the horizon that will shape Pittsburgh for decades to come, it was no time to take a time-out.
A minor example — not our favorite, but a clear one — from the first debate:
Mr. DeSantis said he would mandate that both the new casino on the North Side and the new arena in the Lower Hill meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s criteria for environmental certification, known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Mr. Ravenstahl said the casino, being built by Don Barden, is not using public money and “he is not compelled to build a green building.” (Ann Belser, P-G)
Since then, Ravenstahl and his development czar Pat Ford have taken a more strident tone with Mr. Barden, suggesting they may in fact use the City Planning process to compel LEED certification. We shall see.
What we’re saying is — if there’s a degree to which we all used Mark DeSantis (and we do not except the MSM in this!) to keep pressure on the current mayor and the whole political apparatus, and to keep Pittsburgh focusing on Pittsburgh long enough that it can actually learn something about itself — we are guessing he was a more-than-willing accomplice. Well played.
Speaking of learning something about Pittsburgh — and speaking of eschewing public relations in favor of unabashed sincerity — we made a request of the gentleman from Null Space, that he make one alteration to his already-famous 2007 Mayoral General Election map, in order to make it fully perfect:
Now you understand everything. There is Blue Pittsburgh — affluent, educated, well-informed, liberal, and small.
And there is Red Pittsburgh — not as much any of those things.
We have even learned that Red Pittsburgh enjoys country music to a degree that Blue Pittsburgh does not relate.
There is just one detail that distinguishes polarized Pittsburgh from our polarized republic at large: the black communities hereabouts are decidedly red. Is this an opportunity for Blue Pittsburgh?
Surely, the progressives (or the liberals or reformers or whatever you want to call them) must naturally believe that underprivileged, disenfranchised minorities stand to gain much more under their way of running government. If they would just listen!
We now know beyond a shadow of any doubt that such an endeavor requires extensive dues-paying and ground work. That it requires more than a few outdoor press conferences in the months prior to an election. That you can expect some serious, in-your-face backlash before you gain any traction.
Maybe it’s not worth it.
Maybe Blue Pittsburgh needs to navigate around the black communities, down the riverbanks, through Lawrenceville to the North Shore, and also down the South Side Flats, where the pickings all seem easier. Once the liberals gain power, they can demonstrate the effectiveness of their ideas to the black population.
Because they’re so good at alleviating poverty, having done it successfully a million times.
Maybe there’s a simpler answer to all this. Maybe Blue Pittsburgh just needs a strong political athlete, equipped with both a killer instinct and a natural charisma.
(Maybe we’d better keep looking at the map.)