"I'm not personally excited about getting all these jobs back," says Mark Rauterkus about the 731 recent layoffs in the city. "As volunteers, we can do things."
The one-time mayoral candidate and perpetual South Side organizer led two public venting and protest prep sessions last week attended by a total of about 70 city people.
"I think this is huge," Rauterkus says. "You add a whole new layer of citizenship. There are some people who are upset and furious and engaged who haven't been there before. I heard, 'We just need to take our kids out and march them on Grant Street.' And I said, 'Well, we've got to talk about this.'"
While the group chose Aug. 18 at 5 p.m. to let the children lead them to the steps of the City-County Building (see photo), a member of city council President Gene Ricciardi's office pointed out that no one would be there to see them. So the group added Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. so they could take their protest to council.
"So now we've got dueling protests for kids," Rauterkus laments. "It's building [but it's] going all which ways." Massing children just as police and emergency medical personnel have gathered may not be the best protest strategy, he says. "We should have a chalk coloring protest on the steps of the City-County Building. We ought to hang 'Extinction: Murphy' signs on the dinosaurs in town. If Murphy says our kids are human pawns in a game with Harrisburg, we ought to play a game of human chess" with them.
The group's evolving plans for a revived Great Race are meeting with a mixed reaction from city officials and the remaining employees, Rauterkus reports. Unionized and longtime city workers may not relish seeing someone else take over their tasks for free, Rauterkus theorizes: "If volunteers can run the Great Race, why the hell do we need these employees anyway?"
He dismisses the city's worries about liability (private recreation programs have long acquired insurance) and public safety. "We're closing facilities and putting kids out on the streets and then we're taking away police officers," he says.
Rauterkus has long been involved in an effort to reopen the South Side's closed Neville Ice Rink on the South Side, which is city-owned. "I offered years ago to run the Oliver Bath House," he adds. "There's going to be a big struggle and tug of war to allow other entities to use these facilities. We've got to be a little more creative now." He suggests the city partner with local colleges, for instance, whose pools are perhaps little used in the summer. He suggests City Paper print the dos and don'ts for being a volunteer crossing guard -- and print an orange flag for them to cut out. "I would like to see the whole [Urban Redevelopment Authority] office move to Mellon Park and run the tennis bubble," he says.
Evoking the rhetoric of his mayoral campaign, Rauterkus concludes: "Humpty isn't going to look the same. And I don't think re-building and healing can occur with Mayor [Tom] Murphy in office."