Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Mayor and the Challenger ...

Surprisingly, I still want to write (twist the knife in myself) a bit more about the race. The race for Mayor. A brief survey of my feelings about the two candidates.

I am really reluctant for this to be an ABL race: Anyone But Luke. But there are aspects of that to this race. Forget the Mayor’s five year plan with deficits in years four and five. It says more even about the state’s view of us than it says about the Mayor. And lots of things can happen in four years. I am still worried about the future of the city under this Mayor. He talks about a development boom, by which he means new buildings going up and other buildings being rehabbed. Essentially this is a boom for construction and construction workers (reliable democratic voters), but buildings themselves do not equal new or even expanded business. We have seen that over the long haul as retail and office space sits empty downtown and in the neighborhoods, year after year. That means no new tax revenues, no new jobs. But you can bet the Mayor wants to hire more city employees, even though we simply can not afford to, even if the Mayor offers new hires a defined contribution plan (an idea the Mayor stole from DeSantis).

The Mayor’s view towards minority opportunity is as narrow as his view of economic development. He points to African American police and fire chiefs (sorry to any one else who wanted to apply for those jobs, they’re filled). And he says he would like to hire more minorities to the police and fire bureaus. Good paying but dangerous jobs we would like to offer to the city’s African American community.

The Mayor’s relationship with the large non-profits seems weak. Certainly the non profits help in a few high profile ways, like the few million they give the city and the Nordenberg group studying city/county merger. But these groups are not going to leave if pressed a bit harder, indeed they simply can not physically move. It may be time for more of the big non profit corporate residents of Pittsburgh to feel our pain.

Meanwhile the Mayor has stated that the pension issue (at least) is a state issue, that the state has a legal obligation to help distressed city’s with their pensions. But in the last debate he said he would not go to Harrisburg to ask for money, only to tell them about Pittsburgh and its needs. I guess he expects Harrisburg to help us out of the goodness of their hearts.

On the other hand, Mark DeSantis has some troubling notions. There is that spending cap, with what a lot of people would think is a restrictive formula for growth of spending. I don’t think Mark could simply implement it, and I don’t think it will go far either among the electorate or in City Council. DeSantis’ cap would use a simple formula for growth of spending: the CPI plus the rate of growth (or decline) of the city. I think it should be the rate of growth of average income in the city, without the CPI.

I think that Mark should stop talking about the residency requirement. It is a state level issue, and for my money no Mayor will have that much impact in Harrisburg, though I’m sure Harrisdurg would listen politely. But since Mark wants to initiate a hiring freeze, probably the biggest benefit of lifting the residency requirement is lost, the ability to hire from a bigger pool of applicants (from outside the city and well as inside). Although I don’t know how he can get out of his previous statements, he doesn’t need to harp on it continuously.

But I am reasonably impressed with Mark DeSantis’ economic proposals. In giving new small business tax breaks for three years, he maximizes benefits at a reduced cost to the city’s operations. His minority development proposal will cost the city very little (maybe nothing). These are not panaceas, but this is better than what the Mayor has proposed.

So I have reasons for supporting DeSantis over Ravenstahl. And to the extent anyone reads my blog I hope they will think about the Mayor and the Challenger in economic development terms and ask themselves, who would do more for the city.

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