I was standing in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on March 4, shortly after it was announced that the great majority of the Democratic party machine -- sheep who have the power to endorse candidates in upcoming races -- had voted for incumbent mayor Opie (Luke Ravenstahl) over Mr. Peduto-head (Councilor/mayoral candidate Bill Peduto).
Though it may prove to be insignificant, the defeat made all the Peduto-heads look like Opie just shot their puppies. My old friend Dianna Wentz, campaign manager for Cyril Wecht when he ran for county executive in 1999, heard the results and shook her head. Peduto-head, she said, "will have to go negative."
That's the classic conventional wisdom. Getting your ass kicked? There's one way out: Go negative. But it also carries big risks -- especially if people like your opponent.
I don't know if Mr. Peduto-head has formally adopted this tactic. Contrary to popular belief (and despite the fact that I am a blatant Peduto-head), we don't consult on campaign tactics. But there he was just days later, claiming Opie should be taking a bigger role in the negotiations to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Tom Murphy, reasoned Mr. Peduto-head, led the way in the building of the other stadiums.
This is a potentially dangerous statement. Murphy did lead ... and a lot of people hated him for it. Then again, Peduto could have discovered a brilliant new strategy. Murphy was a grownup's grownup, especially compared to Opie.
I believe Mario Lemieux, the whining millionaire, is bluffing when he threatens to leave town. If so, and the Pens stay, Opie will emerge victorious ... and Mr. Peduto-head will have set himself up for defeat.
On the other hand, Mr. Peduto-head has to start mixing it up. The nice-guy stuff just ain't workin'. Saying things like "Ravenstahl will be a great mayor -- in 10 years," is a polite way to make the point, but it's not bowling anybody over.
I have made this George W. Bush/Opie analogy before. It's a bit of a stretch, yet I believe it has some validity. Both Opie and Bush have the same impetuousness. The same periodic deer-in-the-headlights quality. The same frat-boyishness. And didn't you have the sense, early on, pre-9/11, that this cat just wasn't up to the gig?
Opie's not either. As I've beaten to death, his nomination of Denny Regan, a guy with no qualifications, to be boss of the cops, and his demotion of a police-commander whistleblower, were dopey Opie rookie mistakes. They will cost the city thousands in settlement money.
Pittsburghers are forgiving. "Jesus," they're saying, "give the poor kid a chance!" I despise the notion that we should tolerate bad decisions because "for golly sakes, he's only a young man." That's the point, people.
But should Mr. Peduto-head start punching like Muhammad Ali? "Down goes Opie, down goes Opie." Or would doing so backfire, by making him look like such a mean, mean man picking on a nice little boy?
Beats the crap out of me. Who am I, Chris freaking Matthews? But it is my sincere hope that Mr. Peduto-head does start swinging. Because frankly, few are paying attention to this campaign. And that's because it's boring. It's polite. It's pedestrian. And while it's certainly a gamble to get a little crazy, the only chance you have to make an impression is to get people to pay attention. People can decry mudslinging all they want, but everybody watches a good fight.
This race is Opie's to lose, but he's fully capable of losing it. If he doesn't screw up much between now and then, he could totally skate, and go on to be a helluva-mediocre-at-best mayor.
Mr. Peduto-head has said his experience makes him the superior alternative, but he hasn't said it with passion. What this campaign definitely lacks is passion. Two not-particularly-charismatic white guys in suits won't make anyone's heart go pitter-pat.
Mr. Peduto-head has assets: experience, knowledge and a youthful demeanor -- despite the fact that compared to Opie, he's the Old Man in the Sea. (Opie is 27; Peduto-head, 42). The councilman from the East End is no slouch.
But something he does or says or spews or ad-libs has to set this town on fire. Or come close. Because this election isn't entertaining.
Wanna cut through? Be entertaining. Sad but true.