Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Activist Strategic Incompetence

The Pittsburgh mayoral race has already been decided. It was decided in the May Democratic Primary, and it was actually decided a little bit earlier when the only major and organized challenger, Bill Peduto, decided to drop out and give the incumbent mayor, Luke Ravenstahl two more years of rope to hang himself. The Republicans within the city have a range of support from 22% to about 30% of the electorate and minor party candidates can usually turn out their spouses, kids and a few neighbors. Now Mayor Ravenstahl has minor national political junky celebrity as the youngest mayor of a major city as he is 27 years old.

He became mayor as the former elected Mayor, Bob O'Connor died from a rare form of brain cancer about nine months into his first term. At the time Ravenstahl was City Council president which is the first official in line of succession. He was the Council president because he was a political hack from a Democratic machine family and a 24 year old non-entity and the factions in Council thought he would be a push-over.

And since he has been Mayor, he has been an ethical nightmare and a policy non-entity. His policies have been continued infighting with the old guard, shunting aside experienced people and installing his cronies and watchers throughout the city bureaucracy. His plans to merge the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Planning Department will create a mess as these two organizations do dissimiliar work, with significant funding and unionization status problems in the pipeline. Ethically he has seen nothing wrong with using police vehicles for personal use, promoting police officers with domestic abuse incidents on their records, and taking free golfing trips and NYC stays from major entities with massive business before the city.

And this is the stuff that has been verified and reported. I have been hearing solid B+/A- quality rumors that suggest that if he and President Bush got together, both of them could share some great knee slappers about being 'young and irresponsible' in their 20s.

So I can see why progressive and liberal activists want to stay away from him. He is not progessive, and he is a walking wrecking ball. However there has been a good deal of buzz through several liberal and progressive grapevines about activist support for the Republican candidate DeSantis. This is strategic incompetence at the worst level.

Right now the Pittsburgh progressive activist community can play hardball within Democratic primaries. It has a proven ability to push marginal candidates to dominant candidates and election winners such as Katherine Hans Greco for Judge. It has the ability to mobilize and aggressively door knock for favored candidates. Its candidate can win tight Democratic primary elections such as the Dowd and Kraus City Council seats. Finally it has proven an ability to play with the rest of the Democratic team such as the massive anti-Santorum effort. Progressive political viability is built on being both a marginal decider and early adaptors of campaigns and candidates.

Throwing in significant progressive support to a candidate who will beat historical trends if he gets 33% of the vote in the general election AND who will not support progressive ends on a consistent is folly. It throws away significant credibility of being team players and electoral reliability, and marginalizes the perception of impact and power of the progressive activist base if DeSantis performs to near normal GOP performance within city limits.

I can easily understand not wanting to vote for Ravenstahl, I am glad that I am no longer a city resident as I live 200 yards east of the border. However in this case, strategic competence suggests many actions other than public and ineffectual defection --- 1) Finding a different race to work with as there are a couple of good progressive City Council seats up for election this November, and PA-18 is starting to heat up at the Congressional Level.
2) Be productively unproductive --- eat both campaigns' cookies, make a couple of appearances and do very little.
3) Enjoy the sanctity of a secret ballot and vote your conscience
4) Support a challenge against Ravenstahl from the left

If a group is going to defect and fail to achieve any meaningful impact on anything, then it should not be surprised when it is marginalized in the future.