Sunday, April 30, 2006

The song remains the same

Bill Steigerwald reminds us that the late Jane Jacobs' classic "The Death and Life of the Great American Cities" remains sadly relevant today, because many of the forces that she opposed continue to wield great power in American cities, and Pittsburgh remains a great example:

As she wrote in a foreword to the 1993 edition of "Death and Life," "Anti-city planning remains amazingly sturdy in American cities. It is still embodied in thousands of regulations, bylaws, and codes, also in bureaucratic timidities owing to accepted practices, and in unexamined public attitudes hardened by time."

Jacobs also said in 1993 she'd love to be able to take credit for ending America's plague of urban-renewal and slum-clearing programs. But it just wasn't true, she said, as proposed Downtown redevelopment schemes in cities like Pittsburgh would soon prove.

We are, it seems, a people doomed to continue to repeat our mistakes.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The monkey on our backs

Back in September, when our politicians last took leave of their senses over rising gas prices, this is what I had to say:

I hate to get all James Kunstler on you, but we once again are reaping the whirlwind of poor development policies, of bad choices about where to live and how to organize our communities. (I'm not even discussing our abyssmal energy policies.) Will we finally be chastened and begin creating walkable, high-density communities, with adequate public transit, or when prices fall back to some reasonable level, will we breathe a sigh of relief and throw up another subdivision? I fear I already know the answer.

I still feel the same. I'm against all these schemes to lower gas prices and to help people afford to buy gasoline. I hope gas prices keep rising until, to paraphrase a line from an Al Pacino movie*, the stink rises all the way to Heaven. As Andrew Sullivan and Charles Krauthammer noted, it's supply and demand, stupid.

*Whoever correctly guesses what film that line comes from will get a year's free subscription to The Conversation. Those who answer incorrectly will get the same thing.

The good fight

Check out the three-part discussion at AntiRust of Jane Jacob's legacy and how it relates to Pittsburgh.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Fair enough

Proud Pittsburgh says hello to me. (See the comment.)

Just say no (to the war on drugs)

When I think of progressive government, Mexico is hardly the first place that comes to mind. But our friends south of the border have just moved a step or two ahead of the United States when it comes to sensible drug policy:

Police will not penalize people for possessing up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25 milligrams of heroin or 500 milligrams of cocaine, under a bill passed by senators late on Thursday and earlier approved by the lower house.

People caught with larger quantities of drugs will be treated as narcotics dealers and face increased jail terms under the plan.

The government says the measure allows police to focus on major drug dealers, and President Fox is expected to sign it into law.

Now, the Mexicans are still going to have to live with the consequences of prohibition--namely, violence and corruption. But they no doubt will save money on the prosecution and incarceration of drug users, who will be free to engage in an activity that should be treated no differently than drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes.

If only American politicians were so enlightened.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Self-indulgence alert

With all the talk recently about promoting residential development in Downtown Pittsburgh, I figured I'd share an article I wrote almost two years ago for the dear, departed Pulp, which is no longer available online. Have at it.

By Jonathan Potts

Tell people he lives Downtown, and Don Carter inevitably hears the same silly question. He’s so used to hearing it that now he answers it before it’s even asked.

“When I need groceries, I get in my car and drive there, same as everyone else,” said Carter, 62, a resident of the Pennsylvanian, the luxury apartment building at the site of the old Union Station at the edge of Downtown.

Carter couldn’t have picked a better day to extol the virtues of Downtown living. The weather is warm and sunny. The streets are teeming with people, many of them--easily identifiable by the name tags that hang from their necks--in town for the United Methodist convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Carter enjoys a leisurely lunch at Tonic, which sits at the Corner of 10th Street and Liberty Avenue, a block from the apartment he shares with his wife, Bea. Someone unaccustomed to spending a Saturday Downtown would be pleasantly surprised to find a place like Tonic a) open and b) relatively crowded.

Seven years ago, their children grown, the Carters moved Downtown from Regent Square, partly to live close to where they both work. “It just didn’t make sense if we both worked Downtown not to be living Downtown,” said Carter, the president of Urban Design Associates, an architectural firm.

To Carter and other advocates of Downtown living, he and his wife are the wave of the future, the force that will revitalize the Golden Triangle where department stores like the now-shuttered Lazarus failed. The logic of housing as an engine of revitalization--that residents will shop in Downtown stores, eat in Downtown restaurants, and keep Downtown vibrant long after commuters have gone home--seems unassailable, and it is that very logic that would explain the failure of the city’s retail redevelopment strategy.

“It’s what activates the center of the city, to have people live Downtown as well as work Downtown. I think the great European cities are vibrant for that very reason. ...I think retail can follow the market of the residents,” Carter said.

Empty-nesters like the Carters represent a key demographic that experts say will be drawn to Downtown housing. Pittsburgh, as we all know, is lousy with empty-nesters. But the rest of the country is graying too, and Carter believes the aging of the Baby Boomers is fueling a demand for downtown housing in several cities.

Another potential market for Downtown housing are young professional singles and couples without children, people like Mark Shannon, 32, an architect who moved from Cheswick into a 24th-floor condominium in Gateway Towers several weeks ago.

Shannon, who works Downtown, traded a 45-minute drive down Route 28 every weekday morning for a 10-minute walk across Market Square. His 940 square-foot condo, with a breath-taking view of Mt. Washington and the Monongahela River, and a living room large enough to accommodate his pool table, is a bachelor’s paradise.

“I don’t cook much, so when I’m coming home from work, I’ll stop, get an appetizer and have a beverage,” Shannon said while dozens of people paraded through his home during a recent Downtown housing tour sponsored by the Downtown Living Initiative. The tour drew almost 300 people.

If others share the Carters’ and Shannon’s motivation for moving Downtown--namely, a desire to live in proximity to where they work--then one could infer that Pittsburgh, despite its ongoing population loss, has an advantage in luring people to live Downtown because of the sheer number of people who work there. Despite all the hand-wringing in recent years over the decline of the Golden Triangle, 10 percent of all jobs in the Pittsburgh region--and the best-paying jobs--are located within the city’s central business district, according to Christopher Briem, a regional economist with the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. That’s a higher concentration than in all but a few metropolitan regions nationwide, Briem said.

But even if demand for Downtown housing is as great as Carter and others say it is, that’s only half the equation. The other side is supply, and that’s where battle lines get drawn. As with the debate over Downtown retail redevelopment, on one side are those who believe that market forces, working through grass-roots organizations and entrepreneurs, should be trusted to revitalize Downtown, with minimal assistance from government. In the other camp are those who believe that Downtown will careen off a cliff without the intervention of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to acquire key properties and subsidize selected developers.

“If the URA goes away, we’re dead,” said Eve Picker, president of no wall productions, which develops loft apartments Downtown.

Over the last seven years, Picker has redeveloped several Downtown buildings into apartments. She claims to have rented some of her apartments sight unseen.

“I’ve literally rented to people who have seen photos (of the apartments) over the Internet,” Picker said.

But developing Downtown housing is no goldmine, according to Picker. She said construction costs in Pittsburgh are the same as in Chicago, but landlords can command only one-third the rents. And because she hasn’t been able to secure enough private financing for some of her projects--commercial banks, Picker said, tend to under-appraise the value of the buildings--she’s has had to rely on loans from the URA to get adequate funding.

“We have so many older buildings here and it costs so much to renovate them, clean them up and get them ready for use, and when you’re talking about residential development, you’re talking about a mostly lower profit margin,” said Patty Burk, the program director for the Downtown Living Initiative, a foundation-funded organization charged with promoting Downtown housing.

As a result, many of the lofts and condominiums available Downtown are pricey. Picker’s Bruno Building, on Liberty Avenue, has her cheapest apartments, ranging from $1,400 to $1,500 a month for a 1,700 square-foot apartment. Most of her apartments go for $1 per square foot and up. A 635 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in the Pennsylvania goes for $850 a month--and that doesn’t include the $125 monthly parking fee.

And while Picker said she plans to make some two-bedroom apartments available, most Downtown apartments and condos are one-bedroom, which means they can be shared only by couples.

What that means is that you’ll never have the diversity needed to make Downtown a truly vibrant urban neighborhood, said Pat Clark, cofounder of the GroundZero Action Network, a grass-roots organization of artists and activists devoted to urban renewal. Clark doubts that Downtown’s current crop of housing is going to provide the critical mass needed to turn the Golden Triangle into a residential neighborhood.

“We already have residents Downtown, but they’re not demonstrably the people who attract other residents,” Clark said.

Although the Cultural District, where a lot of Downtown housing and night life is centered, seems to be growing, the Downtown population is only about 1,700, the same as it was in 1990. (That doesn’t include students, who number about 1,500 Downtown during the academic year.)

Historically, one of Downtown’s largest neighborhoods was in the lower Hill District, where 8,000 to 10,000 people once lived, Briem said. But those homes were bulldozed more than 40 years ago to make way for Mellon Arena.

“There are people living in other downtowns, and my take on it is that a lot of those other cities had a housing stock to regentrify,” Briem said. “What makes us unique is that there is so little housing to redevelop.”

Bernie Lynch, a real estate developer and the former executive director of the Market Square Association, said that the private sector, if left to its own devices, can create the kind of affordable housing that has traditionally been found in cities.

“People used to live Downtown in greater numbers, and where they lived was above the store fronts and in residential buildings. But what has happened over time is that the zoning laws changed to prohibit the occupancy of people above retail stores,” Lynch said.

The good news is that changes to the zoning codes that will take affect later this summer will remove many of the legal barriers to transforming retail and office space into housing, according to Lynch. But the political barriers will remain, said Lynch, who was a member of the Mayor Tom Murphy’s Plan C Task Force, which studied Downtown redevelopment in the wake of the collapse of the mayor’s controversial Marketplace at Fifth and Forbes plan.

Lynch said that long-time property owners are in a better position to create affordable housing than developers like Picker, who must borrow heavily to purchase buildings, then must charge high rents to recoup her investment--which is partially underwritten by the URA.

Existing property owners can draw on the equity from their buildings, renovate without subsidies and charge lower rents, Lynch said. What’s holding them back is the specter of eminent domain that has hung over their heads ever since the URA began acquiring large chunks of Downtown in the mid 1990s. Downtown is actually worse off than it was 10 years ago, Clark said, and he blames the Murphy administration and the URA. Many of the vacant buildings Downtown are owned by the URA.

“Our city has a socialist economy Downtown. We’ve bought property for the sake of ownership by the state,” Clark said.

Picker, on the other hand, dismisses critics of the URA as “ignorant” and said that many Downtown property owners are merely land speculators. To Picker, the Golden Triangle’s deterioration is evidence of the need for the URA to continue its efforts to find the right developers to spark Downtown’s rebirth.

URA Executive Director Mulu Birru, soon to be leaving Pittsburgh for a similar job in Detroit, said nothing is stopping current property owners from converting their buildings into apartments. In defending subsidies to developers like Picker, Birru said that acquisition and renovation costs are too high for residential development to yield a healthy profit without subsidies.

“If it could be done (without subsidies), it would have been done a long time ago,” he said.

Besides, the URA still is trying to find a developer to revamp the Fifth and Forbes commercial corridor. Birru said that housing isn’t always a necessary first ingredient to bring about commercial redevelopment. Sometimes the reverse occurs, and he points to the South Side as evidence.

John Norquist, whose book, “The Wealth of Cities: Revitalizing the Centers of American Life,” chronicled the decline and rebirth of cities during the 20th century, said that government-driven redevelopment projects historically have betrayed contempt for the urban form, with its diversity of building uses and architectural styles. Norquist, who was Milwaukee’s mayor from 1988 to 2003, devoted much of his energies to helping the city recover from failed redevelopment projects, like a downtown mall and a convention center “that dominated everything else around it.” During his tenure, the city added 4,600 housing units downtown, most without subsidies

The problem with subsidies is that they limit the pool of developers to those willing and able to exert political influence to get them. Subsidies also make the city look like a desperate suitor, said Norquist, who is now the president and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

“When somebody offers you a subsidy, you wonder what’s wrong,” he said.

One of the nation’s leading evangelists for urban living, Norquist insists that people will want to live in Downtown Pittsburgh--so long as there are plenty of choices. Lavishing the kind of praise on Pittsburgh that you can only hear from an outsider, Norquist generously refers to the city and its vistas as the “San Francisco of the Midwest.”

“I’m just struck by how beautiful the Downtown is, and one thing I think your mayor’s done that’s really good is all the bike trails down by the river,” Norquist said. “The problem is that Pittsburgh tries too hard. I think they need to relax and realize how beautiful the place is and not try so hard.”

To Clark, the question is not merely whether residential or commercial redevelopment will save Downtown, or whether or not government should subsidize redevelopment. It’s also whether Downtown needs to be redeveloped at all--or, at least, whether it did before the city got involved.

“When I moved here in 1993, one of the reasons I did was because it had a functional Downtown,” said Clark, who came to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C. “It appealed to the people who worked down there, to the black community and the people who had to rely on public transit for shopping. What I’ve talked to people a lot about, I think there is a pretty quick fix. Take it back to the market that it used to serve. That market’s still there.”

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Apparently they go down real easy"

My wife says that every time Artie Bucco enters a scene in "The Sopranos" she cringes. It's an understandable reaction. Bad luck clings to Artie like static, and much of it is of his own making. Between his dumb jokes, the awkward passes he's made at a succession of attractive hostesses, and the liberties he takes in referring to Tony's business (like someone who thinks they can drop the n-word around their black friends) you hold your breath every time he speaks, fearing--knowing--he'll say something incredibly stupid.

Artie loves rubbing elbows with gangsters, but his friendship with Tony clearly costs him more than it yields. In the series' very first episode, Tony torches Artie's restaurant so that Uncle Junior can't whack someone there (Pussy Melanga, a name with which we recently were reacquainted) and ruin the establishment's reputation. Talk about destroying the village to save it. Then, in season four, Artie, against his better judgment, accepts a loan from Tony to invest in what turns out to be a scam. When he realizes he can't pay Tony back, he attempts suicide. And Artie's loyalty to Tony and his lieutenants has caused him no end of grief with his domineering wife, Charmaine.

It is thus understandable that Artie avoided seeking Tony's help when he crossed paths with Benny. The irony is that this was the one time that Tony actually could have done some good. Then again, Tony has an uncanny ability to turn every situation to his own advantage, so who knows how things might have turned out had he gotten more directly involved? In "The Sopranos", as in life, things can always get worse.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

"This never happened to the other fellow"

Writing in Slate, Dan Oko makes the bold claim that George Lazenby, who appeared as James Bond in but one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" turned in the best performance as the British superspy. Oko argues that Lazenby came closest to portraying Bond as the ruthless antihero of the Ian Fleming novels (which I've never read.)

I've only see the film once from beginning to end, though I've caught chunks here and there during the numerous Bond marathons that various cable channels run throughout the year. I'm not quite ready to agree with Oko that Lazenby was the best Bond, but I would concur that he brought a new dimension to what Oko notes had already become a cartoonish role after five Sean Connery films. Lazenby's was a more reflective Bond, who not only fell in love but--gasp--got married, though a doomed marriage it turned out to be.

Connery would return for one more film, "Diamonds are Forever" and then Roger Moore would take over the role. (Connery played Bond in the 1983 film "Never Say Never Again", but this was not an "official" James Bond film, and was largely a remake of "Thunderball.") I enjoyed some of Moore's early efforts, but I grew tired of his glib Bond--plus he stuck with the role far too long--and like Oko would have preferred to have seen Lazenby inherit the franchise. I must, however, take issue with Oko's disparagement of Timothy Dalton. I liked his grim, brooding portrayal of Bond, and I don't necessarily blame him for making his second and final Bond film, "Licence to Kill" one of the worst, if not the worst, in the series.

(For more thoughts on the James Bond series, including the newest Bond, go here.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

China blues

The president, so keen on spreading democracy, is now apologizing for it? As a good friend said, yet another U.S. president sells his soul to China.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Paging Dr. Pangloss

Some people might say that I am too cynical. Actually, many people have said that, but what do they know? I prefer to think of myself as a pragmatist, a realist, who thinks we do the emperor no favor by letting him parade around with his bare ass hanging in the breeze.

But for the sake of argument, let us assume that I am cynical. Much of my cynicism--on this blog, anyway--is directed at Pittsburgh's elected officials and civic leaders who, in my opinion, are trying to revitalize the city by employing the same strategies that have been failing for the past 50 years--the very definition of insanity. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have found my opposite number in the blogosphere, my antithesis, the Bizarro Jonathan, if you will. Via Pittsblog, I discovered Proud Pittsburgh, a blog overflowing with unconditional love for Pittsburgh, and eager to spread the Good News about a city reborn, brimming with possibilities and potential that finally has been tapped. The third Renaissance has arrived, Proud Pittsburgh tells us; we need only open our eyes to witness it.

So in the interest of seeking out viewpoints that challenge my own--a practice I honor more in the breach than in the observance--I plan to read Proud Pittsburgh regularly, and I hope Proud Pittsburgh will pay me the same courtesy. I look forward to a day when Proud Pittsburgh can say to me "I told you so" because deep within his hard heart, every cynic fervently hopes that someone will prove him wrong.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Extra! Extra!

My latest Pittsburgh Business Times missive is here.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tony Soprano, liberal

Pennsylvania's junior senator was immortalized in tonight's "The Sopranos" and I don't know which is funnier--the way Tony butchered his name ("Sanitorium") or that Tony appears to have a more enlightened view of homosexuality. What a fantastic episode.

In non-Sopranos news, this post got a mention at the Trib's Best of the Blogs.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

A rose by any other name

Mike Madison picks up on efforts to rename East Liberty--now that the city is trying to transform it into a yuppie enclave--"Eastside", after the development company that is working to revitalize the area. I've discussed such silliness recently, as has Sam over at AntiRust. Mike asks the right questions:

Does East Liberty need a "reverse" branding initiative so that it remains, proudly, "East Liberty"? Or does the apparent naming confusion follow from a deliberate effort to distance the current neighborhood from what some might think are the negative associations of the past (and to associate the neighborhood with the more upscale Shadyside)? On the one hand, my relative lack of local historical knowledge means that I don't carry around any negative associations for East Liberty. On the other hand, why should I? Is this even worth caring about?

It seems to me that if we've really done such a great job of revitalizing East Liberty, then keeping the name in place provides an even greater contrast between what's there now and what was there before. Imagine someone driving through the neighborhood who hasn't seen it in 20 years. "Wow, this is East Liberty? Things have really changed."

And to whom is this re-labeling supposed to appeal? As Mike notes, if you are not a native, or haven't lived here for a long time, then you probably don't hold any negative associations with East Liberty. If you are a native, then it doesn't matter what you call East Liberty, or the Hill District, or the North Side, or any other troubled neighborhood. If a person is so inclined, they'll give the neighborhood another chance. But I doubt a new name will play any role in their decision. ("East Liberty? There's no way I'm going to live in that cesspool. What, they changed the name to Eastside? Why didn't you say so in the first place?")

As Pittsburghers, we need to stop clinging too tightly to our past. We also need to stop being ashamed of it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The man with the plan

Sam over at Anti-Rust takes aim at Mayor O'Connor for this silliness about changing the name of the Downtown shopping district from Fifth and Forbes. Once again, Pittsburgh officials get hung up on image and perception, rather than the very real and difficult problems we actually face.

And why do I fear that this will end badly? It's nothing against Urban Design Associates. I'm not terribly familiar with their work, but I like Don Carter, who allowed me to interview him two years ago when I was working on a story about Downtown living for the now defunct Pulp. (He lives in the Pennsylvanian.) But planning, as most cities have practiced it, has rarely done much good, and has done much that is bad. Planning gave us Gateway Center and Point State Park. Planning gave us Mellon Arena and the East Liberty pedestrian mall.

Planning too often has sprung from flawed ideas about what makes urban neighborhoods thrive. To wit:

"Everybody agreed we should have a vision, what the streets should look like, what the sidewalks should look like, lighting, where it should be greenspace," the mayor said. "Should we get more greenspace? If the [G.C.] Murphy's building should stay, what should it look like? How does it blend in with the new? ... Also, how does it blend in with the Cultural District?"

Um, why should there be any more greenspace Downtown? We already have Point State Park--useless now but perhaps will serve a purpose when all these alleged residents live Downtown--and plenty of public squares. How much greenspace was there Downtown when twice as many people lived in this city? The notion that a place like Downtown Pittsburgh needs greenspace flows in part from the mistaken assumption that cities fail because they do not look more like suburbs--an idea that I had hoped we had buried when Tom Murphy left office.

We need safe and clean streets. Better schools. Up-to-date infrastructure. The last thing we need in this town are more plans.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A healthy solution?

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney touts his state's landmark health care reform on the conservative op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal. I haven't had time to study the fine print, but it appears not unlike the Swiss system in which individuals are required to purchase health insurance, and those with low incomes will receive subsidies to do so. It also includes a mechanism for automatically enrolling those eligible into Medicaid, because as Romney explains, 20 percent of the 500,000 or so uninsured Massachusetts residents are eligible for Medicaid but are not currently enrolled. It's a good idea, but it makes me wonder if it might make the plan more expensive than Romney lets on.

For Romney, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, it's a smart move politically. The plan is centrist, offering something for everyone--expanded Medicaid coverage and insurance subsidies for liberals, health savings accounts for conservatives. It was passed by a Democratic-controlled Legislature, with the support of a conservative think tank and the backing, it would seem, of at least some of the business community. Granted, die-hard fiscal conservatives and libertarians won't like it, and it falls way, way short of the kind of universal health care favored by much of the left.

Nonetheless, as a Republican, Romney has co-opted what promises to be a major issue for Democrats over the next several years, perhaps allowing the pro-life Mormon to compete for swing voters. The plan may be a disaster, but it will be too soon to know by 2008. This is a good reminder why governors tend to have a clearer path to the White House than senators and House members.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

There will be a quiz

No time for a lecture this morning, class, just some short reading assignments: George Will on McCain here (for a review on McCain, go here) and Bill Steigerwald on why Pittsburgh wishes it had an illegal immigrant problem here.

Any questions?

Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm blushing

Bill Toland at the Post-Gazette included this humble little blog among his favorites in The Morning File column. Thanks.

Come to think of it, several local blogs got mentioned. Maybe it was one of those everyone-who-participates-gets-a-trophy kind of deal.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Let them come

Wal-Mart wants to open stores in blighted urban neighborhoods, and I say, let them. I'm no fan of the megachain's cut-throat business practices and Dickensian employment policies, but I have to think a Wal-Mart, where low-income city residents would have a place to buy groceries, get prescriptions filled and even find a job, is a hell of a lot better than a crumbling, graffiti-covered building or garbage-strewn vacant lot.

Wal-Mart wants to burnish its reputation, and soften opposition, by giving money and other forms of support to businesses in the neighborhoods in which it opens plans to open stores. Good. Inner-city neighborhoods are often starved for private investment. Cities should take whatever Wal-Mart is willing to give.

What city officials must not do is to succumb to the temptation to offer Wal-Mart any kind of subsidy or tax break to entice them to come into urban neighborhoods. Communities across the nation have given the retail giant subsidies and incentives totaling more than $1 billion over the past 20 years, according to at least one study. As I discussed here, government development policies like these are to blame for the loss of our Main Street business districts, not Wal-Mart.

So I, for one, would welcome Wal-Mart into American cities, including Pittsburgh--as long as they are digging into their own wallets, and not reaching, with the help of elected officials, into mine.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A mother's love

I haven't had much chance to blog lately, so there won't be any commentary on this week's "The Sopranos." (Try to mask your disappointment.) However, feel free to start a discussion in the comments section.

"An agent of intolerance"

Paul Krugman explains why John McCain lost my vote--and probably the votes of a lot of other independently minded voters who might have supported him in spite of disagreeing with him on many issues:

...if you choose to make common cause with religious extremists, you are accepting some responsibility for their extremism. By welcoming Mr. Falwell and people like him as members of their party, Republicans are saying that it's O.K. - not necessarily correct, but O.K. - to declare that 9/11 was America's punishment for its tolerance of abortion and homosexuality, that Islam is a terrorist religion, and that Jews can't go to heaven. And voters should judge the Republican Party accordingly.