In the upcoming general election, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl gets a nod, but he does not get a pass from me -- or many others.
Luke enjoys going to expensive golf outings, on plane rides and having other treats. Fine with me, as long as the city Ethics Board says it's within bounds. But don't do those things and then pat yourself on the back when it's time to meet with community members -- especially around issues that will affect the city for the next 30 years.
At an Oct. 11 Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project debate co-sponsored by City Paper, Ravenstahl boasted that he "would be shocked if I ever saw more public participation ... than is occurring right now both in the Hill District and with the casino." The construction of a new casino in the North Side, and a new Penguins arena in the Hill, has prompted demands from many residents (including myself) for lasting Community Benefits Agreements.
If Luke signs on the dotted line for full terms put forth by residents, ministers and other stakeholders, he can undo years of neglect in those communities. Those terms include job training, development, and other public investment around the 28-acre Mellon Arena site. But so far, he seems to think it's enough just talking about it:
"We've gone above and beyond the call of duty to have meetings that didn't have to be scheduled," he said at the debate. "[W]e did so in an effort to make sure that those voices are heard."
Lose the sense of entitlement, already. This is your job. I mean, what choice did you really have about meeting with Hill stakeholders? Or for talking with the North Side about the impact of a new casino? Are you supposed to receive accolades for this? By the way, Pittsburgh, if this has been the most in public participation, you should understand how much you have been shafted in the past.
I suppose that the Republican challenger, Mark DeSantis, is just doing his job, opposing everything Ravenstahl does. Still, I find DeSantis' recent video-documented trip to the Hill District unsettling. I don't know how long he was on the corner of Centre and Kirkpatrick explaining his plan for black entrepreneurs, but he should know that that corner is one of the drug dealers' dens. Further, if he really wants to be taken seriously, a serious meeting is required -- not just popping up and taking advantage of random passersby who shake your hand.
DeSantis has proposed a "micro-loan" program, in which black businessmen could get a $5,000 loan with no collateral. It's not a bad idea. But it is problematic that he cites his inspiration as a report from the Center for Race and Social Problems. That report concludes that African Americans living in this "most livable city" are the most disadvantaged in the nation. After reading this report (or at least the executive summary), DeSantis' financing tops out at $5,000 a pop? Amazing.
If all it takes to sound "progressive" these days is a willingness to meet people on street corners and offer micro-loans for mega-problems, then count me in for the next mayoral race. Sheesh.
A Community Benefits Agreement, meanwhile, is an all-encompassing solution. And despite some of the intra-communal controversies involved in the process, it's also a very real commitment that can change lives and immediately eradicate some of the quality-of-life issues that make Pittsburgh so hard on black men and women.
The black rage is real. But it's not something politicians or other groups should take advantage of.
There are so many young folks getting shot on the North Side that even other neighborhoods are wondering, "What is going on over there?" The mayor lives on the North Side; he's heard about these killings. Unless he's turned a blind eye to the kind of hurt that produces rage, he should expect some hostility -- which is what broke out when he didn't show up for a Sept. 26 meeting on "casino design" in that community.
Something has got to change -- and immediately.
Mayor Ravenstahl (and County Executive Dan Onorato), we need some signatures on some real commitments, and we need them now. Don't forget the vision we shared at the beginning of this journey. We need more than just symbolic meetings.
Dr. Goddess Says: Run, Mayor, Run! Sign!, Mayor, Sign! And don't forget to make it legally bind!