A long transition
Far be it from us to downplay the importance of a November general election, and we always encourage our readers to vote, but barring some unforeseen scandal or monumental public relations blunder, Pittsburgh probably elected its next mayor and city council last week.
Councilman Bill Peduto from District 8, which includes parts of Squirrel Hill Shadyside, Point Breeze and Regent Square, cruised to an easy win over challengers Jack Wagner, Jake Wheatley and A.J. Richardson.
In an interesting tidbit of news, Council President Darlene Harris switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent that same week, fanning the possibility that Peduto could face another challenger this fall in addition to Republican Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill. We shall see.
Even if that happens, Peduto remains the odds on favorite to prevail in November.
That doesn’t mean the Point Breeze resident should stop running and start coasting. To the contrary, Peduto is in an interesting position to mix campaigning with transitioning to take office.
We’d like to see fewer debates and attack ads going to November (actually, no attack ads), and more town halls — a proactive effort to show the voters what the next city government will look like, how it will work and what it will pursue in its first 100 days in office.
That would be a switch.
Voter turnout was abysmal last week. Historically, few Pittsburghers bother to go to the polls in off-year elections. Still, we must ask ourselves, why? City politics, after all, have the quickest, most direct impact on our own lives.
There are probably several reasons why: Pittsburgh is a one-party town; voters are fed up with business-as-usual; the candidates are not inspiring, etc.
Peduto and company should use this interim period to address that voter apathy, and involve the public in an anticipated transition. If one has a stake in the process, one is more likely to influence it.
We know, Peduto and company still have a general election to win, and it’s a fool who underestimates his or her opponents. We also know it’s a rare politician who says or does more than needed in a campaign to simply win an election.
So why can’t everyone who runs for mayor or city and county council this fall do the same thing? Let each candidate assume he or she has won, and treat the election like a transition. No political attacks; the other candidates aren’t there. They should give the voters specifics of their programs, maybe discuss who they like for high-level appointments in their administrations, and hold town halls where they talk less and listen more.
And here’s a radical proposal: Forget debates. Too often, they become forums for political mudslinging at the expense of substantial conversation.
If everyone running this fall treats the process more like a long transition and less like a routine campaign, it could reinvigorate what has become for Pittsburgh a rubber stamp election about which few people care. Voting is a right that millions around the globe can’t exercise. Anything that would make the process more meaningful should at least be considered.