Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bear with me, this analogy is going to get a little strained ….

Bear with me, this analogy is going to get a little strained ….

I guess a political campaign is a bit like an extended job interview process. Job interviews might seem more rational; you don’t hire from a pool of only two applicants, and you don’t automatically choose an applicant just because they wear a blue suit instead of a gray suit. But then most managers get less information about their job applicants than we get for candidates, and most managers have no better skills at assessing people than any one else.

Anyway, we have the two applicants, Ravenstahl and DeSantis. We know a lot, by now, about Luke Ravenstahl, although only a few of us have voted for him, and at the time of that vote the biggest factor was his familiar name, and the fact that he is a democrat. We know next to nothing about Mark DeSantis, few of us have met him, and few of us know what he stands for.

If you haven’t gone to Mark DeSantis’ website, I urge you to do so. He tells us what he wants to do about the city’s problems. Now, we only have his word that this is what he will try, but when do we have anything more from any new politician or job applicant?

You can look at Luke Ravenstahl’s website as well, but unless something has changed in the last week, it has not changed since April, since Peduto dropped out of the primary. In fact, the Mayor has said publicly that he wants to lay low for the next few weeks. He is taking your vote for granted, he does not feel he should have to work any harder to convenience you to vote for him. UPDATE: the Mayor's campaign site has been updated. It *looks* like it has the same little movies as his policy content, when I get a chance I will look.

In terms of resumes, obviously Mark DeSantis has a longer one, with work at the White House level. It is reasonable to point out, though, that he has never held elected office. Ironically, Interim Mayor Ravenstahl has a year’s worth of OJT, that really should count for something. Technically not the incumbent, he nevertheless has been doing the job. Do you think, if he had run for Mayor in 2005, he would have surpassed Bob O’Connor, Bill Peduto, or Michael Lamb in the primary? But now, by accident, by virtue of being a compromise Council president, he is the Mayor of Pittsburgh.

I don't want to go through a litany of the Mayor's adventures. In my opinion, most don’t rise to the level of much more than errors in judgment, but as Doug Shields said, voters “have” to reflect on them as character issues. There was the $85,000 whistleblower payout to Commander McNeilly, and a Homeland Security grant may be in danger. But look, the Oakmont Golf thing (for example), with Tiger Woods, could have involved an embarrassing call to the Oakmont police for trespass. The airplane ride with Ron Burkle could involve a future call of a “I already scratched your back, now scratch mine” variety. The Mayor recently said he wanted to be able to do the kinds of things 27 year olds do. You don’t often hear someone, in what amounts to an extended job interview, tell their future potential boss(es) they intend to commit youthful indiscretions. That is a fair interpretation, although not the only one, of the Mayor’s statement. It's important to remember that this Mayor has come to the notion of honestly answering questions only recently and reluctently. He is on record as not wanting to diviledge personal financial information, and he seems to separate sporting event tickets from the notion of ethics. How the Mayor handles the ongoing parking tax fiasco will be a decent barometer of his progress towards maturity.

Mark DeSantis did take a long time to start running for the job. As I said, he’s never run before, and also sometimes it seems he is oscillating between just trying to make a good showing and trying to win. But he has mentioned (to me, at least) the promises he made to his board and his employees as part of the reason for the slow start. He appears not to divide his loyalties easily, which is both heartening and a little disturbing. Heartening because it shows depth of commitment, disturbing because at some levels politicians need to be a little slippery, especially a republican in a democrat town.

My personal take on Mark DeSantis is that he is big on symbols and symbolic government, which I suppose might relate him to the late Milton Friedman (because of Friedman’s study of expectations). That's not his only quality, by any stretch, but I find it intersting. His proposed reduction of wage and business taxes in a couple of years are pretty small, more symbols of the city's commitment to becoming more business friendly. But he also seems to have plans that actually and concretely tackle issues like attracting new businesses, unlike anything I have heard from Ravenstahl. I think a Pittsburgh with Mark DeSantis as Mayor and Pat Dowd on council (2 PhD’s!) would be one that would start to lumber toward modernity, embrace computing as it as not yet done and try to find some smart, long term solutions. My comparison point for Mark DeSantis is Michel Bloomberg, who is an actual democrat who ran as a republican. I think both men are smart technocrats who seek solutions, not slogans. Well , not many slogans for DeSantis, anyway.

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