Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Peak: A good reason to run

Photo: Post-Gazette

In the past few weeks of blogging about next week’s Democratic primary, I think I’ve been pretty up-front about my opinions regarding the three candidates for the party’s mayoral nomination: Luke Ravenstahl, Patrick Dowd, and Carmen Robinson.

Not surprisingly, I’m pretty firmly in Dowd’s camp for a number of reasons. But lately I’ve been thinking back to the first time I met the District 7 councilman. It was back in January at one of his Council-to-Go meetings, which provide a unique opportunity to interact with the councilman in a localized small-group setting.

The Council-to-Go I attended was in Polish Hill. I was living in Lawrenceville at the time, but I couldn’t find any info about a meeting in my neighborhood so I decided to crash the party. At the time, speculation was running rampant that Dowd would be announcing a candidacy for the Democratic mayoral nomination so I figured I’d head up to Polish Hill and see if he’d say anything about that.

Naturally the Council-to-Go meetings are more geared toward the voicing of local concerns, and the Polish Hill gathering was very much in that vein. But at one point in the evening, a resident somewhat off-handedly remarked "So I hear you're running for mayor." A quiet, almost uncomfortable chuckle came from the group, but Dowd didn’t shy away from the question.

“We’re talking about it,” he said. “It’s about frustration, and maybe that’s not a good reason to run.”

That really caught my attention. Was frustration a sound reason to seek public office? That was the question I asked myself from time to time over the next month until Dowd officially announced his candidacy.

And as the campaign went on, I kept thinking back to that night in Polish Hill. After attending the meeting I began writing a blog post that never made it online, but here’s part of what I wrote/thought:

Is frustration a good motivational tool?

I’m really not sure. I think that running out of frustration is somewhat different from running in the interest of change/progress, and even if the two overlap and intersect in a number of ways, there are still some distinctions that could affect the end results.
And I tossed these questions around throughout March and April. But in the past few weeks, as I’ve watched the three candidates debate and I’ve read their comments in the press and observed their actions, I’ve come to believe that not only is frustration a good motivational tool, it could be the most appropriate cause for running in this election.

Frustration is - or at least should be - a major part of next Tuesday’s primary. For progressive, reform-minded voters and candidates, frustration is the driving force behind everything that will happen at the polls next week. With each new item of indiscretion and each new thwarting of responsibility that comes to light, the danger of Luke Ravenstahl and his administration becomes more and more threatening.

But it’s not just the threat of Ravenstahl that creates the frustration; it’s the complete and utter lack of - and disregard for - accountability and leadership that has led this city into its current state. And because the Mayor and his administration refuse to accept responsibility or even answer the queries about their actions of the past three years, the city’s residents grow frustrated.

And that frustration is the bond that links us - all of us, regardless of socioeconomic status - to Patrick Dowd, he of the doctorate in European intellectual history.

I didn’t get this at first. But slowly, Dowd’s frustration has come more and more to the forefront. I remember during the WPXI debate (can’t find any video to post) when the topic of trash cans came up, Ravenstahl famously accused Dowd of being on “three sides of an issue,” attempting to cloud Dowd’s accusations by juxtaposing the purchase of $1,000 trash cans with Dowd’s request for trash cans in his district.

The Mayor’s “logic” - at least as he stated it - said that, since Dowd requested trash cans, then he couldn’t criticize the Mayor for the purchase of $1,000 trash cans in the South Side. Obviously the rub is that Dowd likely never intended for his requested trash cans to cost $1,000, but it almost feels silly to point out how ridiculous Ravenstahl’s claims were, so I’ll leave to it The Radical Middle who summed up the situation pretty well:

Mr. Dowd again attacked Mr. Ravenstahl for buying $250,000 worth of garbage cans, and the mayor again noted that the councilman's office had requested the cans before twice criticizing their price tag.

"Mr. Flip-flop over there," the mayor called Mr. Dowd. "That's pretty creative. I didn't know you could be on three sides of an issue."

The Mayor is not that stupid. No one could possibly be that stupid. But he could, of course, be that disingenuous.
Okay, I’ll go with disingenuous. That makes the point.

But what was most interesting to me was that, as Ravenstahl was spewing this disingenuousness (which is actually a word), you could feel Dowd’s blood boiling. Hell, my blood was boiling. And as Ravenstahl spoke - with confidence, I might add - the “three sides of an issue” nonsense, Dowd was heard off-camera uttering the sarcastic laugh of a man who is debating with someone who is relying on twists of logic that few would actually believe.

It was the kind of laugh that you emit when you’re trying to avoid saying the words that are surging up your throat and into your mouth. Sometimes when you feel like you might throw up, a few hearty spits can do the trick to bed it back down temporarily, and that was the kind of laugh that came from Dowd.

Anyone who has ever been in a discussion/argument/debate with someone who is using poor logic and ridiculous miscontructions (not a word) of reason knows what Dowd was experiencing at that moment.

It was frustration.

And to further the dicussion of frustration, we have this (courtesy of The Pittsburgh Comet):

About halfway through, Dowd starts getting fired up, and by the end, he’s as animated as we’ve seen him in this election.

And I think it’s fantastic. Dowd is allowing the frustration - his original reason for running and perhaps the purest reason for running - to become his dominant emotion. He’s letting it all out, asking us all why we are sitting by and allowing these improprieties and illicit acts and everything else that has happened under this Mayor’s watch. He’s fed up with it, he doesn’t want it to go on any longer, and he believes that Pittsburgh should be in better hands.

Are his hands the best to do the job? Maybe. He seems to have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.

But best of all, he has looked at the current situation and he is frustrated by it. That’s where he and I and hopefully many others share common ground.


Mark Rauterkus said...

It was stated, in part: "Council-to-Go meetings are more geared toward the voicing of local concerns" -- wrong.

Council to go meetings are where the council gets to sit on stage and face the audience and cameras. Meanwhile, the citizens have their backs to the cameras and public. Who is the spotlight for?

Council to go meetings are a way to put wind in the sails of those on council. The meeting is but a governmentmental "pep rally."

Now, back to your major points.....

Peaks and Gutters said...

Dowd's Council-to-Go is not what you're describing. The meeting I attended was very informal, with a group of 12 or 15 people sitting around in a small room in the Polish Hill Civic Association. No cameras. No podium. No stage. Everyone sitting on the same level talking about the issues and concerns of the citizens.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Dowd started doing the Council-to-Go's in place of renting an office in the district. He decided to head out to the community once a month - stopping at the PHCA in Polish Hill, Perk Me Up coffee shop in Lawrenceville, Tazza D'Oro in Highland Park, and the Farmers' Market in Bloomfield, to name a few - and let the citizens speak to him directly on their own turf.

I believe you're thinking of something else Mark. There's not a lot of grandstanding, or at least there wasn't at the Council-to-Go I attended.

And I got the distinct impression that the citizens are actually getting results out of the Council-to-Go meetings. Dowd's assistant took pretty dilligent notes on the concerns and they followed up on previously-voiced concerns.

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