What Fresh Hell Is This?

May 15, 2013

David Conrad Disagrees With The P-G's Wagner Endorsement

While we usually don't have "guest bloggers" here at 2PJ, when a friend of the blog emails in (unsolicited, by the way) such a powerful commentary, the idea of just leaving it sit in my in-box unread by anyone else just doesn't seem right.

Ladies and Gentlemen, David Conrad:
The Post Gazette endorsed Jack Wagner for two reasons that I want to refute:
  1. Bill Peduto's too compromised by his position on City Council. In the paper's eyes, Council is irredeemable and Bill's got too many enemies, fatwas, and blood feuds running there to work with them if he becomes Mayor.
  2. Bill is, on the other hand, too cosy with our county executive Rich Fitzgerald. The PG doesn't want that kind of concentrated power running Allegheny county. Otherwise the PG calls Peduto hardworking, progressive, inspired, uncorrupted, and an all around decent guy who's partnered with them - the PG itself - to promote particular projects in Pittsburgh.
Reminds me of the joke about the producer and the scriptwriter, "We love this, we're behind you, we believe in you and we want to be a part of this. So we're gonna pass."

This schizophrenia in Pittsburgh's paper of note comes from the cold war between its owners, the Block family, and its managing editors. In other words between the money and the people on the ground. But more on that later.


Bill's been swimming with Council's sharks for more than a decade and there hasn't been a single corruption charge against him. If anything his time on Council has made him MORE progressive. He's turned away from the mad infighting to national and international sources of urban growth, studied them and tried to bring pieces of their programs to Pgh. He's not fighting for kickback dollars on building projects, or trying to settle Ward scores. He's not looking ahead to a seat on the board of Duquesne Light.

More importantly, Murphy's and Ravenstahl's administrations each in their own way demonstrated that a Mayor doesn't need to be beholden to or lovey dovey with Council to get stuff done. In fact he can ignore them half the time. If he's a driven powerhouse of a man like Murphy or the late Dick Caligiuri he can do amazing things, if he's a morally compromised teenager like Luke R he can ....well blacken the name of an entire political organization and hopefully go to jail.

What I'm saying is that there's no absolute power to corrupt anyone absolutely in any part of Pgh city government. The measure of the man determines how he'll use it. I think Bill's shown himself to be finely drawn. You can't buy him. He's a political creature. That's what he wants, the power, the work, not the payoff which could follow.

Jack Wagner's a machine politician. He has connections in Harrisburg that could smooth certain processes between our city and the capital but...how smooth do we want things between Corbett's Harrisburg and City Hall? Do you want drilling concessions at the city border which, if you've forgotten is, going roughly clockwise - Swissvale, just East of Banksville and North of Washington's landing?

Where Jack's been doing his work is probably more unsavory and just as dirty as Bill's backyard. Which is our backyard. I'd rather have someone who knows it and the bullies within that need a lesson.

Plain and simple, Luke's campaign money went to Jack. He accepted it. More importantly, the Dem powers that be - and if you think they don't exist I'm not a conspiracy theorist and you're a dreamer - they said, Yes Luke you can move that money to back Jack. Ipso facto Jack's their new man. Luke was their old one. Jack will have to owe them. Anyone humming a Who tune?


The plain fact of the matter is Pittsburgh will never be a great city...let me rephrase that...it will never have the political intelligence and might commensurate to its greatness until the day comes when the city IS the county. You've all read the numbers down the decades how we've gone from 600,000 to what is it now 307, 488? (Although I think we've just started to add a few, if only in Lawrenceville.)  Point is, Pittsburgh isn't a city. It's a city-state. It's a heartland of sorts to the Steeler nation and it stretches spiritually almost to the Ohio and West Virginia borders, up 79 to the fields of Meadville and as far East on the turnpike till DVE dies.

Okay maybe I'm exaggerating.

But Pittsburgh as a force and as a physical entity should shed its political borders. Philadelphia did, Buffalo did, Indianapolis has, Portland will...melt the city into the county, save all that municipal waste the suburbs complain about - while they live off the shoulder of the city like pilot fish - and at the same become a regional power to rival Philly in size.

What makes Pittsburgh truly "small", what is making it smaller is its small ambitions and its petty crimes. We have a political culture that fights over what it perceives are limited resources. We horde power and money in line offices that shouldn't exist, we hold fast to doctrines both laborite and managerial which sound respectively proud and real politic but eventually lead to paralysis, we sell out for payoffs that wouldn't pay off the balance of a car.

Redefine the pie. Get out of the engine room, as my dad used to say, and realize there's a ship to sail. Insert your own metaphor.

On a practical level, I hope the Mayor and the County Exec DO work hand in hand. I hope they get along like David Lawrence and (an elected) Richard Mellon, or Dick Caliguiri and Henry Hillman (or Elsie). We NEED to move as a body that's at least county wide and these guys are our chance to do it. They're not, neither of them and even their enemies couldn't pin it on them, they're not crooks. They're decent men who've arrived at just the right time.

Because in 5 years Pittsburgh's going to blow up on the national scene. We're going to have even more powerful health care, university and resource based industries, we're going to alter the map on urban farming and urban redevelopment. We're going to be a culinary, printmaking, bookmaking, beer making, and town making model for the entire country. You're gonna be flying to Portland Oregon to drink boutique coffee a decade late or Austin Texas to see SouthXSouthwest and you're gonna take out the airline magazine of your choice and there's gonna be an article about Pittsburgh, the phoenix from the industrial flameout, the emerald city risen from the brownfields, the gem of the Appalachians  that held fast against fracking (okay Brian, maybe The Paris..), and you're going to laugh. And hopefully turn around. Or have your head turned around when you get back and arrive where we first started and know the place for the first time.

And if we don't have the political vision to run alongside that urban assault, to assist and guide it, to check and delay it, we're going to be a war zone. Libertarians in the Cranberrys of their minds vs the radicals of Greater Homestead. We'll fracture even more and fight over smaller and smaller pieces of Pittsburgh's pie while the foundations despair and the drilling, banking and insurance companies chuckle.

Don't let it happen. You vote for Jack Wagner you vote for the past. Which needs to stop happening in Pittsburgh over and over again.

Listen to the PG's editors writing BETWEEN the lines of the editorial their owner demanded. Listen to the backlash.

Pick a good man not a party.


Unknown said...

Thank you David Conrad.
A great, thoughtful, and active citizen.

plntpolice said...

A second BRAVO! David Conrad speaks with the voice of a man who, having risen above the local scene to national prominence, came back to his roots bringing an objective outsider's perspective and a yinzer's heart.