"I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" That was Revolutionary War orator Patrick Henry in 1775, referring to British rule of the American colonies.
"Somebody has to fight in defense of the city, the city residents, and the city taxpayers. They are under attack from this oversight board!" That was City Councilor Sala Udin, at the May 18 council meeting, referring to the Harrisburg-appointed fiscal oversight board.
Udin's defiant stance occurred as council was considering a resolution urging the board to reject a deficit-ridden five-year plan that Mayor Tom Murphy submitted. Some councilors argued that an unbalanced budget was a violation of the state law that created the oversight board. Udin countered that a balanced budget would raise taxes on existing residents to unacceptable heights, slash spending beyond the bone, or both.
"I think the [oversight] legislation is bad law, and when you create bad law, it creates bad policy," said Udin, a possible mayoral candidate in 2005, as cameras rolled. "We have to reject that, and fight for the rights of this city to have a quality of life, not just a balanced budget!"
Or, as Patrick Henry said, "If this be treason, make the most of it!"
One Republican board member, former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey, has reportedly floated proposals to disband council and eliminate the mayor. Board Chairman Bill Lieberman, another Republican, wants to melt the Democrat-dominated city into Allegheny County within seven years.
"They are reaching to try to reconstruct city government, to dissolve city council, to dissolve the office of the mayor," Udin said. "Roddey got beat 4-to-1 in the City of Pittsburgh [in the 2003 executive's race], and now he's trying to dictate city policy through the oversight board." (Actually, Roddey lost the city by a 2.5-to-1 margin to Democrat Dan Onorato.) "You don't challenge it by surrender and submission!"
Henry's early calls for sedition were ignored, and so was Udin. "Pick your fights carefully," council Finance Chair Alan Hertzberg suggested. "I don't think this is the one to pick with those people at this time." Council condemned Murphy's budget by a 6-2 vote, with Udin and Len Bodack voting no, and Twanda Carlisle abstaining.
What does Henry's tale suggest about Udin's prospects? Well, Henry helped throw off the yoke of British rule by 1781. But six years later, the new country's leaders met in secret and ratified a document Henry considered nearly as tyrannical as British colonialism. It's called the Constitution.