On Wednesday of this week, I was lucky enough to get an interview with Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields. It was a rushed, last minute thing. Selena, Shield's Chief of Staff, told me he had a thing to do at 5:30 and as the earliest I could get over there was 5, I knew it was sure to be a quick interview. One that I was lucky to get, being as I am an humble unpaid lowly blogger scribe.
As I made my way through the City-County building's security (my belt-buckle always beeps the metal detector) up to the fifth floor, where both the Mayor's office and the council chambers reside, I worked and reworked how I would play it. I knew that Shields is a very approachable guy, a teensy bit eccentric, but that's not a bad thing at all. Furthermore, he loves to talk. That being the case, I figured I'd just drop a few questions on him and let the interview run it's own course.
I'm not Mike Wallace, you know.
I made it to the inner sactum, the room smelled faintly of Fabrize and there was an empty cigarette box on his almost messy desk. Not saying those things are connected, just that I noticed them at the same time.
We all shook hands and Shields hung up my jacket in the closet (inside out, by the way, not that he noticed) and we got down to business. Turned out, the conversation was much longer than I could have hoped for. We had a lengthy conversation about his campaign for City Controller (which I'll write up separately).
But first things first I asked, "What the heck happened today?"
And I got another lesson in the realities of city-level politics.
Shields pointed out repeatedly how difficult a mayoral candidacy is - especially for someone challenging an incumbent. A mayoral campaign is "one long day after another. There's never enough time and time moves slowly. It's a paradox"
He said that when he was Bob O'Connor's Chief of Staff, he was involved in a number of losing efforts at running for mayor. First time out in 1997 they came within 12 percentage points. Second time out in 2001, they lost by just 699 votes. A swing of little more than 350 votes would have won them the Mayor's office.
Shields remarked at how that election win for Murphy was a pyrrhic (yea, it's a word - go look it up) victory. Had they won that election, instead of Murphy, they would have had to preside over with the bankruptcy of city finances that bubbled over in 2003.
"You do these things, you learn." He said. "I tip my hat to anyone who gets into a mayoral race."
On Peduto's Withdrawal Wednesday
Shields started by saying that Bill Peduto was behind in the race. So far behind that the first advice from someone in "Campaign 101" class would have been to go negative. "And Bill just didn't want to do that." he said.
What was missing in this election, he added, was a "dragon to slay" as there was little to campaign against. The media was focussed on what Shields regarded as the "distractions" of Heinz field handcuffs and midnight plane trips to NYC and not the issues Peduto wanted to address.
Shields added that had things progressed further down the road, Peduto might have done more damage to his reputation and career. But Bill's a good councilman who works for his constituency, he said.
On an Independent Run by Peduto
"I take it at face value that he's withdrawn from the race." Shields said. Though it's certainly the case that no politician would ever close a door/shut himself off from an option. Anything's possible, but as far as he's concerned, Peduto's out of the race.
But if there's a lesson to be learned from Shields' own history of running campaigns for Bob O'Connor (and I am not saying he offered this up as a lesson - this is my assessment), that Peduto's withdrawal yesterday may have saved him for a better run in the future. O'Connor lost in 2001 and then (and these are Shields' words) the city "went down the toilet in 2003"
under Mayor Murphy's watch. Perhaps the Heinz field handcuffs and latenight trips to NYC are only the tip of the iceberg for our young Luke.
Tomorrow is another day, Scarlett.
Tonight I'll start writing up Shields' assessment of his own campaign for Controller (here's a hint: he says it's going very well).