Pittsburgh is a shot-and-a-beer town and Bobby O'Connor is a shot-and-a-beer guy. Political wags seem to have developed a conventional wisdom about the upcoming Pittsburgh mayor's race: It's Bobby O's to lose.
I am here to puncture that aura of inevitability. Why? That's what asshole journalists do. If we don't create a horse race, no one will pay attention -- or at least that's what we fear. If no one pays attention, why do we exist? Don't answer that.
Why might the clear front-runner be knocked off his pack-leading perch? For one thing, though people usually tell you they like backslapping Bobby O, they wonder about what Bush the First called "the vision thing."
My vision for this city is that it will continue hurtling down the crapper faster than you can say "Are they going to indict Tom Murphy for cutting that deal with the firefighters in exchange for votes?" From the last campaign, all I can deduce about Bob O'Connor's message is that he's not the incompetent free-spending dreamer he claimed Mayor Murphy is/was. But can he run against Mayor Tom when Tom's not running? And is mere alleged managerial competence really a solid platform on which to run?
O'Connor also claimed in the last campaign that he'd be much better at buddying up to Harrisburg and Washington to get more handouts. Since Murphy set new world records in pissing off the powerful, it's safe to say that a ham sandwich would do a better job at getting along with lawmakers. But is Bobby O's one-on-one charm really enough to get boatloads of cash for the 'Burgh? And does that qualify as an inspiring vision for the city's future?
Of course you could argue vision doesn't matter. There's no money to blow stuff up and build new stuff in its place any more. Perhaps mere managerial competence is enough. But it's a pretty lackluster message to inspire voters.
Even if O'Connor can still run against Murphy the way Bush II ran against Clinton (restoring honor and dignity to the White House by sending youngsters to their death for no good reason), what about Bobby O's stewardship during his years as a city councilor and council president?
One city-hall insider summed it up nicely: "He voted for every budget. That's a big, giant turd, and he's going to have to eat it." Maybe all the councilors who are possible candidates -- including Sala Udin, Gene Ricciardi and Bill Peduto -- will have to eat that turd too.
Controller Tom Flaherty is no turd-muncher, having bitched to high heaven about the city's finances early and often. Another potential candidate, Michael "what the hell's a prothonotary?" Lamb, can claim "not my fault" status as well.
In any event, there's a good case to be made that Bobby O was at or near the epicenter of power for many years, fiddling while city finances were burning.
Bob's shot-and-a-beer charm is both a blessing and a curse. Some people wonder whether he's smart enough to be mayor. Bob will tell you he's savvy at minimum, a good decision-maker, and besides, you can hire plenty of smart guys. But the silver-haired devil is not especially silver-tongued, and an articulate opponent may drive that point home -- and that stake through Bobby O's heart, or at least his campaign's. Finally, there may be a feeling that it's time for new blood.
On the other hand, if you think the current administration focused on grandiose stadium and development schemes, and that what we really need is someone who cares about cleaning streets, plowing snow, kissing babies and cheerleading us into the future, Bob's your man. And maybe with no money to blow stuff up and build new stuff, that's all the next guy will be able to do anyway.
But I'll bet you a shot and a beer this will be a close election. Bobby's campaign may come in like a lion, but be snuffed out by a Lamb. Or somebody. I just thought that sounded good.