For some, fishing is an art. The object is to present an artificial lure to the fish one is trying to catch as naturally as possible so as to induce the fish to bite. Rich Lord reports on Mayor Ravenstahl's attempt to address the staggering pension debt that the city faces. Ten Pennsylvania mayors will attempt to address their city's pension problems by creating an action plan (a statewide pension fund so that municipalities can opt into sos they don't have to each manage one or more pension funds, according to Lord). Briem gives us quite a perspective on the daunting challenge. Like the mayor said, "it's not going to happen overnight".
"Our goal is to figure out an action plan, moving forward, and try to make, slowly but surely, changes to the pension system that will affect positively Pittsburgh and cities throughout the commonwealth"I'll overlook the need for the mayor to enroll in a grammar course (is that really English?) and I'll sip on a cold one for Pittgirl's "Moving Forward Drinking Game". My thoughts focus on what the mayor 'could' do with the political capital he now has within the city to seriously challenge city unions and reform the political landscape. He failed to do so with the FOP and the moonlighting police surcharge (yes, I am aware he improved on his stance but there are a number of shortcomings, namely, assurances that ALL assignments go through the city's contracting software - the racket itself has not been eliminated). He also has avoided renegotiating the firefighters contract. And how about no-bid contracts? City unions were all behind Ravenstahl in his campaign and I do not believe that he will make a concerted effort to challenge municipal unions. Therefore, the only option he has is to pursue a statewide pension program. I am not informed enough to comment on the merits (though I see this as positive) of such an approach. My point is that he has enough political capital as a leader to push forth with politically unpopular agendas (such as renegotiating the firefighters contract) in the best interest of the city.
William Ascher wrote a book in 1985 entitled "Scheming for the Poor: The Politics of Redistribution in Latin America". We obviously aren't in Latin America and it isn't the 1980's but the navigational processes used by political leaders to pursue unpopular agendas is relevant to the issue at hand. A review by Jeff Frieden in Political Science Quarterly captures the main points in the book as follows:
Ascher concludes, not surprisingly, that "the choice of strategy and tactics makes a difference" (p. 305). Governments committed to redistribution should cultivate allies among the non-poor, use appropriate instruments with competence and an eye to proper timing, avoid presenting maximalist programs, and avoid mobilizing mass support in such a way as to inflame entrenched opposition. Ascher believes that cautious gradualism has been most successful, that "the masters of redistribution prove to be the tacticians rather than the warriors. The best records of redistribution are held by the pragmatic politicians whose familiarity with the policy process enables them to manipulate the political atmosphere to lull, disarm, or intimidate the potential opposition . . . " (p. 18).Ascher noticed that leaders who didn't explicitly campaign on moving unpopular agendas and who approached those agendas with a certain degree of political "craft" were successful in achieving their desired policies. With Ravenstahl's unwarranted popularity, he could, not easily but probably successfully, strike upon a number of needed changes within city politics; pension reform, city contracting policies, real and profitable city-county mergering, creative ways to bolster city finances from large non-profits, and the list goes on. He could get those with deeply embedded interests in the city's political landscape to buy-in to doing what's best for Pittsburgh's long-term health. These interest group coalitions (include the likes of no-bid contracting a la Zappala) that prevent these kinds of reforms could be lured to bite without raising all kinds of hell.
But it takes political will and political craft to accomplish such feats, qualities that are not necessarily developed in a young politician. You've got to fail in life and the mayor is now learning on the job. He hasn't gained the wisdom from working in a number of different capacities to grow as an individual, let alone as a politician. He was, what, an office clerk for a while before becoming a city council member? But he 'could' push for reforming the the political landscape and, if anyone could do it, he 'could' be successful. Well, we'll see what kind of an angler he is as the remainder of this term unfolds.