Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ready, Fire, Aim

I had to cogitate on this one a few hours.

Most readers here probably saw Mike’s piece on the PG’s Next Page summarizing some of his thoughts on Pittsburgh’s revitalization. It was just a part of his 10 part series he has been producing over the last couple months.

Today’s PG had a ‘rebuttal’ of sorts from an unlikely vector. What was it rebutting? It seems former Republican county commissioner Bob Cranmer took issue with Mike’s passing mention of former mayor of Tom Murphy in a less than enthusiastic light. I'm not even going to touch the subtitle: "Pittsburgh's Debt to Tom Murphy". Mike himself has already responded to Bob's piece.

Where to start parsing all of that? The better part of valor may be to just let it all go. Give Bob a moment to vent and we can all forget it. But I figure he won’t be reading this since he must never have noticed Mike’s 10 part series until parts 1 and 2 were reprinted in the Post Gazette months after they were online. Poor Mike had to go to Amsterdam to redeliver his thoughts only to have them make it to print here at home… and then incurring the Bob Cranmer’s wrath along the way. Mike came to town in the mid 1990’s I believe. Mike might not have recognized who Bob was before today?

First off you have to believe Bob has had most of that pent up in him for some time. He just needed something to set it off. The strangest thing about it all is is that Mikes very very glancing (by Bob's own admission) mention of Tom Murphy was lukewarm at best in describing the former mayor's legacy… it nonetheless represents the only thing not entirely critical of Murphy’s tenure in office that has made it to ink in years. Granted I have suggested the renaming of the Hot Metal pedestrian bridge for the former mayor, but those thoughts have remained in the ether. Tom M. has few public friends these days and aiming all of that at Mike of all people was just a tad reactionary... it was certainly counterproductive. Kind of explains why Tom remains in the public's proverbial dog-house:  with friends like these......

Must be hard being a former pol.

Cranmer is of course a former county commissioner. Possibly more important to local history than most anyone can really believe. It was Bob’s upset election as the third county commissioner in 1995 that lead to the historic change in party control of Allegheny County. With him there was a majority of 2 Republicans to 1 Democrat and thus Republicans took control of the county apparachniki for the first time in decades. It appeared to be the godsend for all those who hoped and prayed for an end to ‘one party’ rule by Democrats of local government.

Didn’t quite turn out that way. Cranmer’s election really put the top Republican, Larry Dunn, into power and the results were quite dramatic. Taxes were slashed with no plan for cutting expenditures and the county's budget quickly became a shambles. Bond ratings went down and even the grass in county parks went unmowed (seriously, look it up).  Then to top things off he fired all of the county property assessors. Didn’t need them of course since he suspended property assessments. I quote the pair in the Guiness commercials. The result was almost predictable and the inevitable lawsuit came before Judge Wettick who ruled that the county not only must commence assessments, but must conduct the first in decades ( or ‘ever’ one could argue) mass assessment of properties in Allegheny County.

Cranmer would soon see how bad things were going and flipped his allegiances and supported Democrat Mike Dawida midway through their term. That coalition would be in charge of the county for a couple years, but the damage was done to the careers of all three. Dunn's was clearly self inflicted.  Cranmer can't escape association with Dunn and poor Dawida can be blamed for letting the other two get elected.  Disatisfaction with county governance resulting from the brief circus was enough to push the nearly 50-50 referendum on a county Home Rule charter and the elimination of the 3 commissioner system altogether. Dunn and Cranmer would barely be seen in the political space ever again. Dawida would lose in the primary to Cyril Wecht for the new office of County Chief Executive which would be won by Jim Roddy.

Roll that all back by induction and what do you get?? If Cranmer had not eeked out an upset in the normally quiescent election for county commissioner…. No Dunn… no assessment lawsuit… no mass reassessment, no Sabre system… no assessment lawsuit today and there would likely have been no new home rule charter and no position of county chief executive created. The butterfly says Dan O. would likely not be running for governor and who knows what would be happening with the city.

So… going back to Mike’s piece… if you read all of Mikes postings, or even the summary the summary in the PG you really have to wonder what set off Bob Cranmer so. Why was all that was aimed at Mike and how the brief and incidental line on Murphy (which Mike could have eliminated without impacting his message an iota) is kind of a mystery. I take he feels some kindred spirit with Murphy as another passed over pol not getting his proper due. If I knew Tom, which I don’t for the record, I’d rephrase the Bentsen quote. 

Make no mistake… Cranmer makes some good points and I myself have argued that the unhistory writing Murphy out of all history is at best odd. But Cranmer's piece was sort of like the entire Murphy legacy: even the messages that made sense were delivered so obnoxiously that you just don’t have any sympathy for them in the end. Thus when all is said and done, Cranmer did far more harm than good than for any case at rehabilitating Murphy’s place in history. But the 'rebuttal' reminded us of his.


Blogger smallstreams said...

Cranmer doesn't give sufficient credit to the Masloff administration for Herr's Island/Washinton's Landing. And I have no idea what the Veteran's Bridge comment is about.

I also don't think anyone should get credit for forcing us to face budget realities and putting the state in charge of the budget. Hindsight is 20/20 but plenty of people could have told the Murphy administration the trajectory of the budget.

I also wish someone could run the numbers on URA investments, plus TIF deals. Shiny new buildings and stadiums come with plenty of legacies, debt being one of them. When one can take risks without acknowledging the consequences, that's called a moral hazard (cf. The Pittsburgh International Airport).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 9:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Foxhole Buddy said...

Wow. Guess we know who's got Mike's back.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 8:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that Prof. Madison might be a too-easy target--came to Pgh in the mid-90s, lives in Mt. Leb, and is a law professor, yet sees fit to tell Pittsburgh and Pittsburghers what's good for them.

So Bob got a little heated at an "ivory tower" type. Mike can take it. Bob got less than 500 words, about 50 of which were directed at Mike. Mike got a full PG page, not to mention his 10-parter. I think the professor could probably stand a bit more push back, actually.

Funny that Cranmer seems to have a knack for injecting himself into issues and situations at key moments. I don't think it's intentional, he just goes with his gut. So while we blog and comment about the possibility that maybe Murphy is misunderstood and not being given his due, Bob goes and makes a strong public statement in Murphy's defense that could well mark a turning point in the public's perception of Murphy. It just seems to be coming at the right time, really, post-G-20 and Luke about to start his first full term and all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 9:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Murphy was elected there was a general sense that to get anything done you needed to be a CEO, not a politician. With the national economy roaring, Pittsburgh needed to get out of the doldrums. Murphy and John Thompson were given mandates to do what it took to get the city in a competitive position in the region. The ACCD was prodded awake by CMU to get involved in modernizing the regional economy. Allegheny County government was replaced. These were big changes, and there was a lot of support for change to happen.

I think since then civic leadership has become much more conscious of the political implications of change, and has frankly backed off of much of the agenda. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to see the leadership of the city and region in the context of the times.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 9:26:00 AM  
Blogger n'at said...

Cranmer did nothing more than what the script kiddies in online forums call "trollin'." When politicos do it, it's divide and conquer by the lowest common denominator.

Of all the items to debate, Cranmer chose a fleeting statement about Murphy, which was a sum zero character description. He had failures... AND successes.

The silliest part is that this statement isn't the point Madison is attempting to make: Murphy's dogged determination to make Pittsburgh a better place and the anemia which has followed. Debate that!

But, Cranmer only reinforces Madison's point: all of the pluses (and the minuses) you see today are because of Murphy and no one since then has attempted to chart new pathes, let alone travel down them...

I guess the stock at Cranmerica Industries is dropping, and needs a PR boost. I wonder how many of his letter have not been published?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 9:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Bob Cranmer said...

I'm happy to say that the P.G. has published every article and letter I've given them, thank you very much. I think my stock is doing quite well too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 9:04:00 PM  
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