Political Gamble | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Political Gamble

In the post-season, an unusual transformation takes place: The trivial becomes sacrosanct, and the significant becomes inconsequential. The Terrible Towel-toting astronaut (anon.nasa-global.edgesuite.net/anon.nasa-global/ccvideos/steelers.asx) and the towel-twirling armchair-nut can wave to one another as they drift from opposite poles onto the same plane of Americana.

But no tradition is more routine -- or routinely strange -- than the mayoral wager, when otherwise (presumably) busy officials push aside their to-do piles to lay down some action with their counterparts in other cities.

The stakes are usually low and locally focused: a particularly popular local delicacy, or an easily identifiable regional product. Even losing, then, is a kind of victory -- an advertisement for the city to people who live elsewhere.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has proved a shrewd gambler. During his tenure, the Steelers are 2-1 in their playoff matches. Their lone loss came last year, when the Jacksonville Jaguars knocked the Steelers out in the first round. Even then, the mayor had nothing publicly riding on the game; he seemed to be hedging in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that quoted him as being "cautiously optimistic" about the game's outcome.

When Pittsburgh bested the San Diego Chargers this year, no food was on the line, but Ravenstahl did get San Diego's Mayor Jerry Sanders to pose for pictures in the penguin exhibit at Sea World San Diego. Sanders was decked out in Steelers garb.

Even in defeat, however, Sanders managed to hit us where it hurts: our thermometers.

"[I] am proud to be an honorary Steelers fan for a day," he said in a Jan. 16 release, "though I can't say I was sorry to walk back outside into a typical San Diego winter day -- sunny and 75."

Prior to the Steelers-Ravens AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields and his Baltimore counterpart, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, announced a charitable wager over the game: The loser had to make contributions to both the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Baltimore's St. Vincent de Paul "Empty Bowls" fundraiser.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said that she and her fellow council members are in the process of honoring that bet.

Mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven says that, to her knowledge, no mayor has ever welched on a bet with Pittsburgh. But there have been incidents.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory got snippy with former Mayor Bob O'Connor when Mallory accused the Pittsburgh office of "ducking Cincinnati" back in 2006. The two mayors had bet on the Bengals-Steelers playoff game that year; the loser was to tour the winner's city, and Mallory said O'Connor's office was not returning his phone calls after the Bengals were beaten.

Things settled down by September, when Mallory finally took his trip to Pittsburgh. And the Cincinnati mayor even paid tribute to O'Connor after his death from brain cancer. In a press release, Mallory said O'Connor "was truly proud of Pittsburgh and his beloved Steelers. He understood how to have fun and promote his city at the same time."

As this issue went to press, Doven said officials were in the process of placing a bet with officials in Arizona.

Don't expect anything too outrageous, however. According to The Arizona Republic, the NFC Championship game wager between Elaine Scruggs, the mayor of Glendale (where the Cardinals play), and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter merely involved locally made candy.

If it's not too late, here's CP's unsolicited bet suggestion for a city that claims to be the "antique capital" of Arizona: Fabergé eggs and jeweled scepters.

click to enlarge San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders pays the ultimate price.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders pays the ultimate price.

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