Saturday, December 31, 2005

Good riddance

I don't know what kind of mayor Bob O'Connor will be, but I do know what kind of mayor his predecessor was: a lousy one. And I don't think we need wait for the verdict of history, as this overly complimentary Post-Gazette editorial suggests:

History may be kinder to Tom Murphy than some of his constituents. After 12 years at the helm of Pennsylvania second-largest city, he leaves the mayor's office with a fat sheaf of successes, failures and undiminished pride.

It was Mayor Murphy, after all, who doggedly pursued funding for two new stadiums and a convention center; Mayor Murphy who developed the riverfront, former mill sites and an old slag dump; Mayor Murphy who cut personnel by 32 percent; Mayor Murphy who believed, correctly, that Downtown should be the jewel of the region -- not just a place to work, but a place to live, shop and recreate.

Let's take this in order: I don't believe that public funds should be spent on facilities for professional sports franchises--especially when those teams, as was the case here, end up receiving almost all the revenues for every event that is held in those facilities. They are not engines for economic development. Whatever development is happening on the North Shore is requiring further public investment, and is merely shifting around private resources--not growing new ones. And the convention center is too big, the market for conventions already saturated, and the facility is drowning in debt. Well done, Mayor Murphy.

Tom Murphy does deserve credit for the riverfront trails, which are genuine public assets and make the city more livable. That's about all I can say about that. As for the for former slag dumps and mill sites--we'll, let's just say that perhaps what I said earlier was wrong. Only time will tell whether they will flourish, and more importantly, whether they will flourish without hurting pre-existing retail and residential areas. Spending other people's money is easy, and it doesn't take "vision."

What about the personnel cuts? I don't know much about the mayor's first term, but I'm guessing that most of those cuts came in 2003 and 2004, when the mayor was forced to make layoffs to avoid bankruptcy, a crisis that he--and to be fair, City Council--should have averted earlier. As for Downtown, the mayor may believe that it should be the city's jewel, but his policies hastened its decay.

The PG is not too quick to let Tom Murphy off the hook for his failures, but it does offer him and his successor a little too much wiggle room with this statement:

In fairness to him and other mayors, this is not the best time to be running a post-industrial city. Washington is not sympathetic to urban problems, and the Republican-controlled state Legislature is tone deaf to fiscal ills exacerbated by a heavy concentration of tax-exempt property, a declining population and outmoded tax laws.

Let us no longer countenance the belief that Pittsburgh and other American cities are not responsible for their own problems, or at the very least, that they don't have all the tools to fix those problems at their own disposal. The federal government was never capable of helping cities, even when it wanted to try. We are better off now that it doesn't. And the events of the last few months have proven that the Legislature is capable of doing little save fattening its members' wallets.

Pittsburgh's problems are its own, and no one else's. The fact that other cities may share them is immaterial. No one can solve them but us.


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