Sunday, October 18, 2009


Posted By on Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 7:49 AM

That tearing sound you just heard? It was bloggers, campaign aides, and political progressives tearing their hair out after they reached page B-2 of today's Post-Gazette.

The Post-Gazette endorsed Luke Ravenstahl today.

Sure, there were some caveats:

After three years as mayor, he has yet to articulate a vision for the future. He does not have a reputation for working with the state legislative delegation. And he needs to put some distance between himself and the party machine, to generate independent thinking for Pittsburgh's growth and progress.

Still, the paper credits him for imposing fiscal discipline, favoring city-county consolidation and building on the city's "green" reputation.

All of that could be argued -- given that the state is governed by two state financial-oversight boards, for example, it's not like a mayor has a choice about imposing financial discipline. But the part that really has to gall the opposition is the shout-out to Yarone Zober:

Mr. Ravenstahl has been well served by various aides in his administration, including a capable chief of staff.

That squishy, pulpy sound you just heard? The sound of numerous frontal lobes exploding. 

As for challengers Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin, the P-G hands out some Miss Congeniality awards, but largely writes them off in a single sentence:

[I]t's hard to argue that either has a shot at winning the mayor's office and the ability to take charge of the city's $453 million budget and 3,500 employees.

It's not like a P-G endorsement would have made a difference. The paper endorsed Republican Mark DeSantis back in 2007. It endorsed Patrick Dowd in this year's primary. We know how those races turned out.

But that track record raises a question: What has Ravenstahl done to earn the P-G's respect? Back in 2007, the P-G fretted over the fact that

Mayor Ravenstahl began treating the city to a series of well-publicized disappointments, embarrassments and outrages, and he was slow to accept responsibility for some of his actions.

Whereas this time around, the P-G gives Ravenstahl credit for growing in the job:

Despite a bumpy start including a few ethical lapses after taking office upon the death of Bob O'Connor, the Summer Hill resident has proved that a smart staff can focus an administration on key priorities.

I won't argue that Ravenstahl has matured -- I've said as much before, as recently as yesterday. But it's a strange argument for the P-G to make. Because when it endorsed Dowd just five months ago, it did so by arguing

Pittsburgh doesn't have time to wait for Mr. Ravenstahl, 29, of Summer Hill, to gradually evolve toward more sound positions. The city needs a stronger, forward-looking mayor who can move Pittsburgh ahead now.

For Democrats in the May 19 primary, Patrick Dowd is ready, even though his tenure on City Council has not been long

So ... back in May, we didn't have time to wait for Ravenstahl to grow up. But in the five months since, Ravenstahl matured faster than he did between 2007 and this past spring?

Of course, it's a fool that looks for consistency in a newspaper's editorial page. Reading this thing over, I really think the argument just boils down to "well, neither Harris nor Acklin has a prayer, so we may as well get behind the incumbent and hope for the best."

No doubt this, too, will cause some rending of garments: The Pittsburgh Comet just argued yesterday that the media focuses too much on challengers' dim prospects for victory, and not enough on what they are actually saying. By extension, if a newspaper doesn't take campaigns seriously, how can it criticize those candidates for not having a serious shot?

What does any of this matter? Editorials don't sway votes, true. But they can confer a philosophical legitimacy to a challenger, and make them feel not quite so alone. After all, it's often hard for challengers to see tangible backing anywhere else. It's a little easier to knock on Esplen's doors when you feel like you've got a major daily behind you. Tomorrow, Acklin and Harris set out on their own once again.

UPDATE: Since I posted this at around 9 or 9:30 this morning, there has been one reaction apiece from each of the 2 political junkies, both very much in the gnashing-of-teeth mode. And indeed, the praise for Zober does seem to be the part that rankles over at the Comet as well.



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