Sunday, January 30, 2005


Until around seventy years ago, Pittsburgh was a city that could reliably elect a Republican mayor every four years and was a reasonably thriving urban center. Then the Great Depression came along, and Republicans -- especially President Herbert Hoover -- took the hit for all of society's -- and the world's -- ills. Pittsburgh has not elected a Republican since then; for better or for worse (and if you are smart, you will bet on the latter), the city has been in the hands of the Democratic party, which has made for some rather exciting battles for the mayoral nomination in the Spring primaries, but meaningless general elections against token -- if any -- opposition.

Not surprisingly, the city has become a model for contemporary American urban decay. Despite a so-called "Renaissance" era during the 1950s and an attempt at "Renaissance II" thirty years later, the former heart of the American steel industry has steadily transformed from a hard-working modern metropolis into a sick shell of what it once was. Current Mayor Tom Murphy announced plans for an ill-fated Renaissance III that saw the construction of two new sports stadiums across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh using taxpayer money. A few other highly visible developments, mostly along the south shore of the Monongahela River, seem to encourage visitors to spend money in the city rather than encouraging long-term investment and residency. People who go to ball games, hang out at the Hard Rock Cafe, and gorge themselves at the Cheesecake Factory are not the people who live in the local neighborhoods and work for local businesses.

The number one employer in the city is the University of Pittsburgh, which would indicate that Pittsburgh is a well-educated town that attracts some of the finest minds in the world. In truth, however, many students come from out of town to study at Pitt, then leave as soon as they have their diplomas and never look back, taking quite a few locals with them. Those who do stay, by and large, tend to work outside city limits in industrial parks and suburban office buildings. Executives in skyscrapers are the excpetion these days.

An editiorial in today's Tribune-Review, well worth a read, sums up the reasons that Pittsburgh is heading "deeper into the abyss".

Natural selection is at work, and Pittsburgh's gene pool is shrinking.

This sounds like a good candidate for a Darwin Award. But when, exactly, can a city be declared "dead"?

On the principle that craziness will drive even sane people insane if they don't escape the madness, Pittsburghers have and will continue to break out of this hollowing husk.

Institutional craziness leading to insanity? I suspect that lead plumbing might be involved. It would explain why so many Pittsburghers think and act they way they do -- especially the politicians and bureaucrats.

The bulk of Pittsburgh's population is aging and poor. Those who are able, leave the city for greener pastures while still young, and take their incomes with them. How best to serve those who remain: the elderly, the poor, and the starving artists? Raise their taxes, of course. And use your influence with friends in Allegheny County government to make folks in the suburbs contribute as well. But where does all of the money go? Straight into the coffers of municipal employees' unions, particularly the vital police and fire departments:

Despite Act 47 officials' assurances that police and fire contracts would not go for more than a year, five-year deals are on the table, and the oversight board may have to find justice for taxpayers in the courts.

The effect of these long-term contracts would be to hamstring long-range planning necessary to right the city's fiscal ship. The chaos that would ensue: escalating costs, no diminution of Pittsburgh's long-term debt (it might even grow), and the specter of even higher taxes.

For the sake of whom? The ruling class, which includes the unions. No, which is the unions.

In the city of Pittsburgh, the Great Depression lives on. There will be no more Renaissance for this town as long as the power of big labor holds sway. It couldn't save the steel industry, and it will not save the people of a once-proud metropolis.

Is it any wonder that I identify myself as a resident of "Western Pennsylvania" rather than of the Pittsburgh area?

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