It's an ugly chapter in what has so far been a great Pittsburgh story.
Many people never get to achieve their dreams. Bob O'Connor ran for mayor three times, finally succeeding in the last election. There was some doubt about his abilities about whether he was too much of a regular guy to tackle some of the more complex problems facing the city. But Bobby O has street smarts and an unbelievable reservoir of energy, and he managed to hit the ground running.
He exceeded the expectations of many by appointing the ever-professional B.J. Leber as chief of staff. He was obsessed with cleaning up the city, or "redding" it up, as the old-school 'Burghers say. And while this may not be a Nobel Prize-winning brainstorm, it is a meat-and-potatoes major problem that has plagued this city for decades.
Mayor Bob took some grief for developing a plan to offer homeless people shelter during the All-Star game to keep them out of sight. But while I heard legitimate criticism from homeless advocates who insist on long-term solutions, I haven't heard reports of heavy-handed police officers forcing anyone to do anything.
Moreover, a garbage strike was looming as the All-Star game approached. Bob intervened personally, spending more than three hours in negotiations, and was praised by the union after the two sides reached a tentative agreement. It's unclear whether Mayor Bob was instrumental or just greased the skids, but clearly, it didn't hurt. A settlement was reached and the city didn't stink when the world came to the 'Burgh.
I don't know what the newly redeveloped Fifth and Forbes corridor is going to look like when all the plans are hashed out and the construction is over. That's years away. But there has been progress in taking our rather moribund Downtown and making it into something special. And progress in that area has been mighty slow.
In other words, it's too soon to say Mayor Bob is a great mayor, but he got off to an excellent start.
And now this.
As JFK once observed, "Life is unfair." So I guess it's dumb to ask why nice guys doing important work get cancer. That's like saying only worthless slackers should get potentially terminal diseases, and the rest of us should go skipping down the boulevard.
And it's also dumb, I suppose, to say Bob shouldn't get cancer because he's a nice guy. Cancer shows up out of the blue whether you help little old ladies across the street, or con them out of their life savings.
It's not even all that smart to say that Mayor Bob's a fighter. A lot of callers on radio talk shows were saying just that, and that O'Connor's chances of recovery were therefore better but I heard a woman caller the other day who was in tears. Her husband, she said, had died from cancer and he fought until the end. If it's your time, she said, it's your time.
I don't know whether she's right, but I'm choosing optimism. I'm choosing to believe in Super Bob, as I jokingly nicknamed O'Connor when he started showing up at crime scenes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make. Mayor Bob was due to perform my marriage ceremony in late August. He's never done a wedding ceremony before. Even if he recovers fully, he may be a little too busy with chemo and running the city to perform a relatively trivial function like this.
But Mayor, if you're feeling up to it, we'd love to see you. I'm redding up the Renaissance Hotel in your honor. Your spokesman, Dick Skrinjar, says Aquaman and Wonder Woman have been called in to supplant your superhero powers during the recovery phase. So not to worry.
What Bob needs, what this city needs, is a Hollywood ending to a pure Pittsburgh story. My money's on Super Bob.