Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pittsburgh Isn’t Ready for Peduto

It’s not a sprint race. It’s a marathon.

After reviewing many of the articles and comments in the Burghosphere since Peduto’s withdrawal, I am compelled to offer my perspective. I really respect and understand the let down among those bloggers who’s political hopes Peduto represented in the campaign. How many faults have we found with the Ravenstahl administration and with Ravenstahl himself? And now he may go uncontested and in power until at least 2009? Ugh! When all the sophisticated techniques of campaigning tell you that the town doesn’t want to hear about issues and wants to “give the kid a chance” we learn that Pittsburgh isn’t ready for Peduto. Whether or not we need a Peduto is another question entirely.

But real political change has never come abruptly. Look at the shift in public opinion on the Iraq War in this country. In a town that doesn’t like change this process may take even longer. I say this as an outsider. I’m originally from a place that’s sunny and warm but have come to love Pittsburgh. Though I’ve been in town for quite some time, to a degree, I’ll always feel like an outsider because I wasn’t raised here. Yet the old world political patronage system, Ravenstahl epitomizing its dangers, makes a fisherman who wants to stay in town consider leaving.

Cojones or Brains? Sure, Peduto could have stayed in the race and taken Ravenstahl to task, even going negative. But what happens when you go negative, having your issues defined as tools for political curb appeal, and it backfires? What happens to those issues in the public’s perception when they are raised again by future candidate?

Peduto was asked (by Rick Earle?) during the press conference something about, “don’t the voters deserve an alternative to Ravenstahl”. Peduto replied that he learned that the voters were not interested in Ravenstahl’s positions, they wanted to ‘give the kid a chance’. In the press conference, Peduto must have been referring to internal polling and learned that voters were, in fact, concerned with issues such as public safety, neighborhood revitalization and economic development. But when voters were asked why they were supporting Ravenstahl they replied, ‘give the kid a chance’. Peduto noted the logical disconnect but that red herring still holds up as a belief that drives voter behavior. What do you do with this knowledge? Three options are possible:

  1. Run an honest, issue-based campaign and go ahead with the exercise in futility? The result still remains that Pittsburgh isn’t ready at this time for Peduto.
  2. Run a negative campaign? Risk the issues you care about and appear as a political opportunist with no guarantee that this strategy will result in victory?
  3. Drop out of the primary and reassess strategy on how to push these progressive reform issues into city government? Risk temporarily or permanently alienating some of your base while retaining the option to run again in the future without having the issues you care about dismissed in a race that is not about the issues.

Sure, you can criticize the Peduto campaign. Not having position papers available on its website was one I’ve read. Who was paying attention to the issues, the 20 or so concerned bloggers? It certainly wasn’t the public, the press, or the Ravenstahl campaign. The Burgh Report did a good job of criticizing the PG's role in preventing an issues based campaign.

So we’ll have to wait to see what happens. The issues still remain on the table and bloggers will still hold Ravestahl's feet to the fire. “The battle is not about me, it’s not even about this campaign…it’s about reforming the city”, Peduto said. Since Ravenstahl has a habit of stealing Peduto’s ideas, who knows where this will all go? What is clear for now is that Pittsburgh, for whatever the many reasons, is not ready for Peduto. And how can you blame the guy for recognizing that?