You were wondering, weren't you, about what Richard Florida thought of our recent mayoral election? Since Mayor Luke Ravenstahl won by nearly two-to-one, everyone's been asking: "What did Richard Florida, the former CMU prof and 'creative class' guru, make of this election while pontificating about knowledge workers from Toronto?"
I regret to say he was saddened. "[T]he political machine continues to hold sway," he laments on his blog, http://creativeclass.com. The Republican candidate, Mark DeSantis, was "the change-agent Pittsburgh needed to galvanize the region's forward motion. ... He believes in markets, innovation and diversity -- a true 3T thinker and doer."
That sound you just heard was city voters slapping their foreheads. "A 3T thinker and doer? Damn! We could have totally galvanized our region's forward motion!"
I single out Florida because he offers an (admittedly tinny) echo of what a lot of people are saying. On talk radio, in online debates, and the occasional City Paper column, the verdict is the same:
City-dwellers are resistant to change and hidebound by tradition. Pittsburgh could be such a great city -- if it weren't for all the damn Pittsburghers.
But maybe the ones who need a change agent are the change agents themselves. What, after all, has changed since the last mayoral election in 2005?
DeSantis ran a campaign much like the one City Councilor Bill Peduto -- another favorite of Florida and college-educated "progressives" -- conducted that year. DeSantis, too, touted issues like city-county consolidation with an earnestness offset by a technocratic, diffident campaign style. (One of the angriest zingers I saw DeSantis deliver, for example, concerned the Request For Proposals process.)
So like Peduto, DeSantis polled best in affluent East End communities, and got trounced everywhere else -- especially in black neighborhoods, where DeSantis lost by margins approaching 10-to-one.
Which is no surprise. The DeSantis campaign didn't really start until September. His party has scapegoated African-Americans on the national level, and ignored them on the local level, for decades. Why would those voters trust him? This isn't the first time a white guy has shown up in the Hill District, making promises before an election.
DeSantis did his best. But it would be the height of arrogance -- an arrogance I'm pretty sure DeSantis never felt -- to think he could overcome that history on his own.
The sad part, actually, is that DeSantis' campaign may have been the year's bright spot for Allegheny County Republicans. The GOP didn't even run candidates for county chief executive or for three other countywide seats. The winner of its designated at-large county council seat, attorney Charles McCullough, is under a cloud of allegations surrounding his use of the money in a client's estate.
No one, you'll notice, is rolling their eyes about the corroded "machine" that gave us McCullough.
So the "change agent" facing Ravenstahl in 2009 will have to be a Democrat. Some reformers put their hopes in Peduto, who called off a run against Ravenstahl earlier this year, or in City Councilor-elect Patrick Dowd, who bested another political scion, Len Bodack, in racially and economically diverse District 7. Personally, I think it's too soon for Dowd -- and too late for Peduto, whose abortive run disheartened many supporters.
I'd love to see a liberal, African-American female as the reform candidate, but county Recorder of Deeds Valerie McDonald Roberts no longer lives in the city. So the best bet may be city controller-elect Michael Lamb. When he ran for mayor in 2005, Lamb beat Peduto and the late Bob O'Connor in some southern neighborhoods. The North Side belongs to Ravenstahl. But East End voters, I'm guessing, will support Lamb sooner than South Hills voters will support Peduto.
But in a way, the candidate matters less than the people rallying behind him (or her). For two elections now, local "progressives" have waited impatiently for the city to catch up with their own beliefs. A lot of progressives I know have little trouble crossing party lines. They have a harder time crossing the East End's borders and finding out why, for example, city-county consolidation doesn't set everyone's hearts aflutter.
I make no excuses for Ravenstahl: In some quarters he was probably helped by his indifference (at best) to women and GLBT issues. That's reason enough to challenge him. But let's not make excuses for ourselves, either. Because as long as we do, the whining about "dumb yinzers" will be just one more thing that never changes around here.