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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May primary postgame analysis starts here, in district 7

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Gonna do some numbers-crunching on last night's election results throughout the day. I'll start with one of last night's bigger surprises (at least for me): Patrick Dowd's thorough schooling (a 64.5 percent majority!) of Tony Ceoffe.

On paper, this should have been a great match-up. When Dowd was elected back in 2007, he had plenty of support from progressives -- who were promptly disappointed by his refusal to line up alongside city councilor Bill Peduto and other reformers on a variety of issues. You might have thought thought that this time around, some disenchantment might have set in with Dowd's original supporters.

Meanwhile, he was up against the son of a key neighborhood leader, onetime Lawrenceville United head, and current district justice, Tony Ceoffe. One would have expected Ceoffe the Younger to capitalize on that base and maximize district tensions, pitting Lawrenceville's up-and-coming scruffiness against the leafy environs of Highland Park, from which Dowd hails. 

Didn't turn out that way. By my somewhat sleep-deprived count, out of the 47 precincts that make up city council district 7, Dowd won all but 7. Even in ward 6 -- the part of Lawrenceville in which two of the committeepeople have the last name "Ceoffe" (ADDED: and, duh!, in which Ceoffe himself is the ward chair) -- Dowd won by a 52-48 percent margin. True, Dowd did do better in the eastern-most portions of the district. He won by nearly 69 percent in wards 10 and 11. But any margin of victory on your rival's home turf is impressive ... and Dowd even triumphed in one of the precincts (ward 6, district 1) where a Ceoffe is the committeperson.

Two years ago, when Ceoffe's father ran for the district justice seat he currently holds, he squared off against rival Susan Banahasky in 15 of the same precincts his son was fighting over last night. Ceoffe the Elder won 14 of those precints. Of those 14, Ceoffe the Younger lost all but four.

Even in Pittsburgh, it seems, family ties only get you so far. Ask Mark Patrick Flaherty.

In fact, it seems to me that there's some similarity the county exec race and this district 7 match-up. In both cases, the margin of victory was surprisingly wide. And in both cases, the winner seemed to show a lot more hustle. 

Time and again, and as recently as last night, I've heard party insiders say that Rich Fitzgerald simply wanted to be the county executive more. Fitzgerald had a problem raising money early on, as we now know. But he came out of the gate with a slew of endorsements from other elected officials. Flaherty, by contrast, struck many Dems I've talked to as being aloof. (Maybe this is a family trait? Flaherty's uncle, Pete Flaherty, became mayor by announcing he was "nobody's boy" ... even if it meant ending up with nobody as his ally.) 

Similarly, in District 7 it sometimes seemed that Ceoffe was running as the incumbent. Not once was there a public face-to-face debate between the two candidates. Ordinarily, you'd expect the challenger to be pushing for those -- trying to shame the incumbent into a series of community discussions which, if nothing else, serve to elevate the challenger's profile. That's what Dowd did when he won the seat back in 2007 -- if memory serves, he even got somebody to wear a duck costume and shadow incumbent Len Bodack, complaining that Bodcak was ducking debates. 

Not only did Bodack not adopt the tactic ... but Dowd actually used it on him. At one point, he invited Ceoffe to a series of four community forums (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was to moderate). Ceoffe declined to go along with Dowd's schedule, which is perfectly understandable -- that's part of the game too. But while he suggested some alternate date might be found, it never happened. 

Was Dowd engaged in election-season gamesmanship? No doubt. But the point here is that this is usually the game the challenger plays.

And that wasn't the only opportunity Ceoffe missed. I mean, Dowd has served on the board of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority during its embarrassingly botched handling of a line-insurance program. You had residents outraged by a mysterious charge showing up on their bills, and allegations of backroom deals. How do you not use that issue to question Dowd's governance?

In any case, Dowd has proven himself to be a pugnacious campaigner -- and it has served him well both as a challenger and as an incumbent. 

What does last night's Distrct 7 result mean? Well, for one thing it means more aggravation for elected officials on both sides of the City County Building's fifth floor. Both Luke Ravenstahl and the council majority that oppose him have been flummoxed by Dowd's tendency to go his own way. And it seems likely to continue. Dowd pledged to maintain his independence last night, and why not? His constituents have just handed him a whopping mandate to keep doing what he's been doing.  

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