Before I weigh in on last night's mayoral debate, a bit of disclosure. I don't have cable -- in order to understand the average Pittsburgh voter, I'm still viewing TV the way 84-year-old shut-ins do it. And while I've lived in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, WTAE has never come in very well in any of them. Nor does digital TV help matters -- instead of getting static, images sort of pixelize, looking like the last couple minutes of The Matrix or something.
Based on what I did see, though, the biggest surprise in this debate is that Bram is apparently still using a VCR. I would have sworn all you bloggers had TiVO.
So yes, the promise of digital television is overstated (if it can't deliver a steady, uninterrupted flow of images of Eva Longoria, what use is it?) And so were the hopes that this debate would deliver a knockout blow. A draw goes to the incumbent, and I think even hostile bloggers are marking this up as a wash.
As a candidate with no previous political experience, Carmen Robinson had the most to prove, and acquitted herself well for the most part. I was a bit mystified by her desire to extend the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program to middle-school, though. A scholarship program is supposed to keep 13-year-olds on the straight and narrow? How many middle-school kids anywhere are thinking about their college plans at all?
Patrick Dowd got in a flurry of digs, and he's gotten better at delivering his message. He had an especially good line about the city budget -- saying it was balanced only in the sense that your household budget is "balanced," if you take your money from your grandparents and your kids. That pulled together Dowd's concerns about looming deficits and his initiative to deliver more tax relief to seniors ... and it bundled it in a good metaphor.
Ravenstahl's response, though less artful, was also good: Don't take my word for the city's fiscal situation, he said -- ask the city's financial overseers. Frankly, I wouldn't trust the city's financial overseers to validate my parking ... but we're just discussing the talking points here.
It's like I've said before: Ravenstahl does fine in debates. He's prepared, and he doesn't get ruffled.
It was also interesting that Ravenstahl admitted, straight up, that he wasn't ready for the job when he first took it. Like I've said elsewhere, Ravenstahl's most telegenic screw-ups -- like the midnight plane to New York -- took place early in his tenure, before the 2007 election he won in a walk. 'Fessing up to "youthful indiscretions" now not only makes you look humble; it also helps innoculate you against the accusations of your rivals.
Finally, I see that both newspapers say Ravenstahl is backing a raft of reform proposals councilor Bill Peduto put forward earlier in the day. Ravenstahl must have delivered this message during one of the black-outs in my TV reception, and I was surprised by it. But if it turns out to be true -- and Ravenstahl really and truly follows through -- just remember: You read it here first.