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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nagging Payne

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2008 at 6:04 PM

Get out your handkerchiefs: Tonya Payne is really really really sorry about nearly botching the historic nomination of August Wilson's childhood home.

Not so sorry, though, that she couldn't fault those who pointed out her failure

While she apologized for dropping the ball on designating the Hill District home of the famous playwright last year, our friends over at the Post-Gazette quote Payne grousing, "Political pettiness has [surrounded] me since the day I got here."

Awwwww. I'd have more sympathy for Ms. Payne if she hadn't brought a lot of that pettiness with her -- beginning with the night she won her office. Let's recall that Payne reportedly celebrated her 2005 victory over incumbent Sala Udin by showing up at his election party uninvited and stealing his cake (as reported originally by the New Pittsburgh Courier.) 

"It said, 'Sala, still the one,'" Payne told the paper. "So we wiped his name off and people ate it." Payne also added another cheap shot: "He had a case of champagne -- he didn't leave that."

Ha, ha, ha. Ha. Ha. 

It was a trivial episode, of course, but the story has stuck with me ever since. Payne's district is badly fractured, and instead of using her election victory as a chance to heal those wounds, Payne chose to rub salt in them. And then to brag about it in the paper.

In fact, this story is one reason I give some weight to claims that Payne did neglect the August Wilson nomination on purpose -- just to stick it to Wilson's relatives (including CP columnist Kim Ellis). Ordinarily, I'm disposed to dismiss that kind of conspiracy theory. (I'm a liberal, so I naturally want to believe the best of everybody.) But sticking it to rivals unnecessarily is how Payne celebrated her win; why would she govern any differently once in office?  

What's sad is that things could have been so much different. Payne was the rare politician who could win the endorsement of both the local Democratic Party and the local chapter of Democracy for America, the Howard Dean-iacs who sought to revitalize the party and the country from the grass roots up. And while it's easy to forget now, a lot of people saw Payne as a reformer, a change from business as usual. Udin, the incumbent, was seen as a patsy for the mayor Tom Murphy. Payne won in part by playing on community suspicion that he who neglected his own district while supporting new sports facilities and other big-ticket development projects.

Stop me if these accusations sound at all familiar, Ms. Payne. And remember that revenge, like a victory cake, is a dish best eaten cold.

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