Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gutter: Juxtaposition as a humor device

The third and final debate was held earlier this week. Channel 11 WPXI/PCNC originally broadcast the debate Monday night and re-aired last night. More or less the debate looked a lot like the previous two, and near the end one of the candidates observed that they have been answering the same questions and arguing about the same topics. Not too much has changed throughout this trio of debates, but I guess that’s to be expected when you have an incumbent who is full of targets and a couple of challengers who are all too willing to take their shots.

Oh yeah, and a city that’s rife with corruption, financial peril, a shrinking population, and all kinds of other good times.

Naturally, the debate saw each candidate issue his or her respective go-to statement, whether it’s the need for transparency and accountability in city government (Patrick Dowd), the importance of understanding that Pittsburgh is a city full of distressed neighborhoods and distressed people who need individual and specific attention (Carmen Robinson), or simply the notion that things are a-okay (Luke Ravenstahl).

And, of course, Ravenstahl’s “things are good and we’ll keep getting them better” claim included the expected reference to Pittsburgh as America’s Most Livable City (Incidentally, if you Google “Most livable city” you come across the website, which bears no mention of Pittsburgh on its front page).

But when I heard Ravenstahl hit on the Most Livable claim during the re-broadcast last night, I got all excited and giddy inside because I remembered that I had just read an article about how this area has the highest rates of vacant properties in the state. “Most livable?” I scoffed. “That’s hard to claim when no one lives here!”

But alas, when I went back and re-read the article today, the high rates of vacancy are limited to Duquesne, Braddock, and Monessen, where more than 25% of the city’s houses are empty.

Unfortunately for my witty, biting, cynical observation, all the high vacancy areas are outside the city of Pittsburgh.

So there goes that one.

But the mention of the Most Livable claim does provide another jumping-off point from which to talk about Carmen Robinson and why she seems to “get it,” certainly more than the Mayor and perhaps even more than Patrick Dowd (or maybe at least more than Dowd has let on). Robinson has made her campaign about dedicating city resources to the tired, huddled masses. Robinson’s campaign is about going to the lowest depths of the city - the areas that could never be described as “Most Livable” by anyone - and starting the revitalization of Pittsburgh there.

On her campaign website, if you click on Politics 101, you get an in-depth discussion on gentrification. And at a time when Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Target are being/have been identified as keys to a rebirth of East Liberty, that seems like a pretty relevant topic.

From the opening statement of the first televised debate, Robinson has hit on the “tale of two cities” theme. Ravenstahl jumped right into the “Most Livable” claim and Robinson fired right back, citing the “two faces” of Pittsburgh, one being the Most Livable/City of Champions, and the other being a distressed city.

“I don’t think our Mayor is being honest with the people,” Robinson said. “We have to look at both sides of the coin.”

More than either of her competitors, Robinson seems to be looking at both sides of the coin.

I think I’ve said before that I hope Robinson ends up serving in city government in some capacity after this election cycle and that it’s a good thing that she has emerged as a relevant public figure. Part of me now wonders if perhaps she overshot the mark by running for mayor. Last I heard, there was an election in District 6, too; Robinson lives in the Hill District, and the incumbent city councilperson certainly has her share of detractors.


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