A lot of people thought Tom Murphy was a mean prick, and that's why the last mayor's race was so juicy: Bob O' Connor's crew wanted to take out the man they saw as that smug little pantywaist once and for all.
This time, though, we appear to have three pretty nice fellas running. That's why it's boring the shit out of me.
Of course the purpose of the mayor's race isn't to entertain moi. It's to select some sucker to act as caretaker for the next few years, doing what little he can with what little the city's got. Bobby O is back as the front-runner, prothonotary Michael Lamb as "that other guy" -- and City Councilor Bill Peduto, as the Beaver.
Now there's a theory going around that Peduto is the Ralph Nader of this race, because Lamb hasn't got a shot if Peduto siphons off too many anti-Bob votes. That theory is being spread by the Lambies, many of whom are current Murphyites. (Mind you, Billy hasn't tossed his East End beret into the ring yet. But he will.)
My question is: Does it bother you that Bill will be running for both the mayor's office and his in his artsy-fartsy council district this year?
To me, that makes him a weasel. But he wouldn't be the first or last weasel in politics. Democratic senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Lloyd Bentsen of Texas both ran for vice president and their U.S. Senate seats simultaneously. Consequently, when their candidates didn't make it (in Bentsen's case because Mike Dukakis was a lame-o candidate; in Lieberman's case because William Rehnquist runs a court full of partisan political hacks) they still had actual government jobs to occupy their time.
And so will Bill Peduto. At least that's the conventional wisdom. The wise convention people, whoever they are, think Peduto doesn't have a prayer in the mayor's race. Maybe Peduto thinks he can't win either, hence his decision.
For the record, Peduto denies he's a weasel. In a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred interview on WPTT radio (I have never barred a hold once) I confronted the East End councilor about being the weasel that he is. Remarkably, he denied it.
Peduto, using a clever Orwellian double-think strategy -- or at least some nonsensical logic that confused the crap out of me -- claims that the proof that he is not a weasel is that, by running for both offices, he's giving a potential council opponent a great issue to run on. So he's not a weasel, he claims: He's a courageous man willing to be vulnerable both citywide and in his home district. "I'm putting that seat into play by people using the weasel excuse" to run against him, he says.
Billy-boy also wants to put to rest the notion that he's just running to increase his name recognition for some future endeavor. "It's not about trying to get name recognition," he says. "Down the road I'm going to run for a job outside of politics."
In the interest of full disclosure, I once spoke at a Peduto 40th birthday-party roast fund-raiser for free. Then, to my surprise, he sent me a check for $100. I cashed the son of a bitch. So color me compromised. I have also attended at least two Bob O'Connor fund-raisers where I harassed his supporters to kill time on my old TV talk show. And once I met Michael Lamb. He is one charismatic prothonotary ... not.
Anyway, I like Peduto but I'm overwhelmed by the number of people who think he can't possibly win. Here's Bill's strategy. He said the five wards in his Shadyside-Oakland-Point Breeze district produced 28 percent of the vote in recent primaries. He thinks if he can bump voter participation up to 33 percent in his home area, "We can win this thing outright." He says Bobby O didn't do that well in those wards when Bob narrowly lost to Murphy in 2001.
Given the presence of two financial oversight boards looking over the mayor's shoulder, would a Pittsburgh mayor just be a caretaker? "People in Pittsburgh want so much more than that," Peduto says. "Stop looking at doing major developments, start concentrating on neighborhoods."
I'm predicting few if any inspiring messages from any of these guys. I'm predicting a relatively lackluster campaign. I predicted Murphy in a squeaker last time. This time, I'm going with Bobby O in a snoozer.