Friday, March 16, 2007

A few thoughts on the Mayor and the campaign

The divide between Mayor Ravenstahl and what I know of the blogging community in Pittsburgh (the part that apparently calls itself the Burghosphere – spelling?) seems to be widening. With the exception of a very polite and reasonable individual going by Matt H, Pittsburgh bloggers seem uniformly to find the find the mayor lacking. There is also a fair amount of half hearted support for Bill Peduto. There are several anonymous posters who support the mayor. I have run a little sideshow here because of my support for Pat Dowd, and there is an anonymous commenter who has challenged my support here and a few other places.

It has been pointed out that the MSM (main street media) has largely ignored the issues battles that have gone on in the Burgosphere. I would argue that the Burgosphere’s battles are genuine ones, questions about finances and ethics. Yet they may be the sorts of things that only policy wonks are interested in. The debates almost resemble something that college students might do, argue over various political issues over a dining hall table. The dining table, I might point out, has a fairly unlimited number of seats, but the participants have a limited attention span, and scrolling through twenty comments gets fairly tiring (especially if the commenters are as long winded as me). You have to be someone who enjoys hearing yourself talk, but you have to be self aware and literate enough to make interesting comments. Rude and stupid comments will be ridiculed as such.

So the Burgosphere is at once democratic and moderately elite. As was pointed out at The People’s Republic of Pittsburgh recently, the MSM is not picking up, or barely acknowledging the issues making the rounds round here. As long as that continues to be the case, I expect the democratic machine will also continue to ignore the Burgosphere.

Mayor Ravenstahl’s campaign has actually set up a fairly significant web site. With streaming video and actually only a few pictures, it is fairly slick. Of course, I would argue that streaming video is a way of avoiding providing actual content, but then so few elections seem to be about content (or policy).

If you look carefully at the non-political blogs, such as The Burgh Blog, while the author mocks the Mayor fairly often, the comments about Ravenstahl seem genuinely split between support and dislike. A recent barrage of comments included several people expressing their support because the Mayor is young, and therefore has “new ideas”. Between the Democrat Committee endorsement, the positive press the Mayor has received and the aversion of the crisis with the Penguins, I personally think the Mayor is a shoe-in in the Primary, and thus in the election.

But ever since the massacre when Bob O’Connor fired BJ Leiber (Lieber?) and two other staffers over the phone (in what I thought was strange circumstances), I think the city has been moving in a dark direction. Denny Regan *may* be out, but ever since O’Connor went into the hospital, city government has been collectively engaged in massive power grabs, thinly veiled as the city "moving forward after tragedy". Mayor Ravenstahl has been in the thick of it, using his position to control the spin as best he can. But lets be clear, I don’t think this Mayor has been particularly good at this. Between the clumsy effort to put his picture on literally every city surface to his obvious pandering to the police union over cost recovery to his refusal to debate Peduto because he (Ravenstahl) is too busy to his demotion of Catherine McNeilly (spelling?) to his initial denials and later tortured story about what happened to him at Heinz Field, this Mayor has shown a lack of experience and sophistication about politics.

Now, I’m not a politician, so I don’t know how much pressure Mayor Ravenstahl is under, and I don’t know the man. He may well be a great guy, a policy wonk, or whatever. But I gotta go with my impression, and my impression is that this is not the Mayor for a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy (a place where we will be for years if not decades to come). What’s interesting to me is that Peduto (and yes, Dowd) also have web sites, arguably with more content, and clearly are darlings (well, Peduto anyway) of the Burgosphere. I mean, the bloggers would turn on them in a heartbeat if they were in office and made a mis-step, but for now as the under-dogs, many mistakes can be forgiven. This may drive a wedge between the official party and the blogging community. But I think the democratic nature of blogging and commenting is also a part of the future for the party, a wave of new political involvement with a heavy emphasis on policy. I think we are all democrats here, but this particualr primary has indications that the democrats will try to eat their young (love that metaphor).


Richmond K. Turner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richmond K. Turner said...

What a fantastic post, Ed. I have to join with you in anticipating a Ravenstahl victory. I can't predict how large of a victory it is likely to be, but after talking to a few "everyday" people who don't care to do any research and typically vote for whomever the party tells them to, the pattern is clear.

The story might be different if Peduto really came out swinging. But even if he did, I'm not convinced that the media would do much coverage of his efforts. And he doesn't have the money to wage an advertising campaign.

I haven't totally given up hope, as it were, but I tend to be realistic about these things. Wonky people like myself see the icebergs clearly in the distance. But most of the passengers just seem happy that the captain is such a "nice young man".

But regardless of what happens in May, it remains important to hold Luke Ravenstahl accountable for his ever-widening circle of mistakes. If we just stop talking about them, and the media doesn't give a damn, we are just going to keep streaming toward the icebergs even faster.

So I still see a role for me in all of this. I'm not really out to change the results of the election. I would if I could, of course, but it will be what it will be. I just want to make sure that somebody is pointing out that the icebergs are still there.

EdHeath said...

Well thanks for the comment Admiral, I think you are too kind.

I will say this, I am impressed with how fast things are moving in the Burgosphere. Stories are moving at an incredible speed, and the Burgosphere seems to be evolving very quickly too, maybe because it is campaign season. I feel like the political extremes are becoming less important compared to the calls of reformers. There even seems to be a place for Matt H to talk to the Burghosphere, maybe debate some policy (if he has time after defending the Mayor).

I started blogging back at the end of last summer as a way to get my thoughts about national policy out of my head, but I have gotten sucked into local politics. So I claim no real perspective or sense of history. Still, I am impressed that John McIntire was able to break a story that the MSM had allowed to remain under the public’s radar. Your efforts have given the cost recovery story at least some traction. And with the photo issue and the couple of lawsuits being settled… Bob Mayo or even Jon Delano might provide the bridge to expand the impact of the Burghoshpere.

I don’t know what it all means, but even with my cynicism, I will say that the role of the blogs *may* surprise us.

I think it is time to get the chicken suit out. We know at least one debate will happen, because even Pittsburghers will want to see one debate. Seriously. It might be on QED Sunday at 6:00 am, but it will be on. Here’s the thing, the blogs have captured so much material on this interim Mayor, we (they? you?) have to try to get information to the reporters who will ask the questions, try to ask the Mayor about his record. Maybe all it will be is Bush and Gore in 2000, lots of sighs, but maybe it will be more.

So yeah, I am still secretly hopeful that something may be accomplished before the primary, hopeful but not optimistic. Past that, I wonder how the local democratic party is going to approach bloggers. I think they have to, but I don't know what form it will take.

ASW watches at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar? Holy crap, Admiral! Frigates? Destroyers? Not that it’s any of my business.

Matt H said...

Thanks for the mentions guys.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Ed... isn't it clearly obvious that I served on a cruiser? (Disclaimer: maybe not that particular cruiser, of course!) The best part of Gibralter was the Navy's insistence about running north-south legs directly across the shipping lanes. It was like playing "Frogger" with 8,500 tons of frog. The CO slept on the bridge for four days. I never even saw him go below to relieve himself. Although he simply must have done so at some point.