Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Race for Mayor: Get regional, or die -- BUT -- Michael LAMB's camp IS doing just that.

The Race for Mayor: Get regional, or die The city generates $6.6 billion in earnings for suburban workers who commute into the city. While the city's population has been shrinking, these earnings still account for more than one-third of all commuter earnings in Allegheny County. It is time, now or never, to not only think like a region, but to act like a region.

There is an iron curtin around the city on many different levels. I hate the one that keeps the school sports teams in an isolated league and not within the W.P.I.A.L. But, there are others.

Generally, there is a huge gulf -- not golf (but that's a different difference) -- between city resident as a voter and the suburban voter. People in the burbs need to care more about politics in the city. People in general need to care more about politics as well.

However, in this primary, I've been most impressed by Mike Lamb's ability to galvanize a group of supporters to help him in the city in the mayor's race. When I encounter a Lamb for Mayor supporter, I always ask, "Where do you live?"

Lamb friends turned out at the Dem Party Endorsment Sunday at the IBEW Hall, at the St. Pat's Parade, at some of the debates / forum, and elsewhere.

They live in Plum, Mt. Lebo, Dormont, Ross, etc. Some are from the city too. Generally, four out of five Lamb supporters are from the suburban sectors. That number is my guess. I've not done REAL data collection. More as a hunch. But, the upside is that I have been most impressed by the LAMB suburban outreach.

Lamb's county wide play, I guess, comes from his row office past. Those campaigns have been wider than the city's borders. Perhaps Lamb's reach comes from his father's past political career that stretched into the burbs too. Plus, Lamb has Catholic school buddies and law connections too.

Perhaps some of the reach generates from the people that cruise GRANDVIEW Ave, Lamb's street in Mt. Washington. Who knows? How do you explain it?

Years ago I pondered a "way-out-there formula" that would have changed the city's charter. It called for some type of representation from those who don't live in the city. Many who don't live and vote in the city pay dearly to the city. Fines, fees (parking tax, tickets, property taxes, wage taxes), RAD tax and other streams come to the city, despite what Mayor Murphy harps about. Taxation without representation is wrong. But we got it throughout the city.

I don't think it is wise to give everyone in the county a vote in the city's mayor election. But, it might make some sense to allow the suburban folks to have a vote for an at-large member of city council.

How about if a suburban interest candidate would be elected county wide to sit on city council?

Too bad the County Controller didn't do more to monitor the city's condition over the years. The County Controller could help a great deal in these efforts in the city. Too bad the city's own controller was not forceful and effective enough to keep the city away from its crisis state.

Nonetheless, there are many ways those in the burbs can help with the city's political landscape. And, those efforts are generally new efforts, not done already.

One of the big reasons I'm running for the PA Senate, 42nd district, is to answer the call to take down the iron curtin that splits the city and the burbs. The state senate race has given me opportunities to bridge connections with those in Green Tree, Carnegie, and Castle Shannon -- among other venues.


Anonymous said...

The Race for Mayor: Get regional, or die
The next mayor must think beyond the city limits, says Jerry Paytas, or we're all sunk

Sunday, April 17, 2005

There is a serious challenge awaiting the next mayor.

Jerry Paytas is director of the Carnegie Mellon Center for Economic Development (

The Race for Mayor
This is part of a series of Forum essays about the 2005 Pittsburgh mayoral campaign. The primary election will be held on May 17 and the general election on Nov. 8.

Previous installments
What about the team?

A recent study from the Pittsburgh office of RAND Corp. documented our interdependence. The city generates $6.6 billion in earnings for suburban workers who commute into the city. While the city's population has been shrinking, these earnings still account for more than one-third of all commuter earnings in Allegheny County. It is time, now or never, to not only think like a region, but to act like a region.

The RAND study is too recent to have made an impact yet, but it is not clear what it will take to overcome the pervasive denials of our interdependence. Recently, at an event outside the city, some in the audience asked why people in other counties should care about the city's bankruptcy -- or why they should be concerned with the fate of US Airways. In order to vent their frustration, the board of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission had threatened to block the transfer of highway funds to the Port Authority, a move that would have punished the elderly, the needy and suburban workers. Can you hear the wake-up call, Mr. Mayor?

If the city collapses, much of the earnings it exports will go with it and it will be decades before the suburban communities can fill that gap. Furthermore, these suburbs will have to replace those earnings while they also confront new challenges driven by sustainability and global economic competition.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 1999 report, "Now Is the Time: Places Left Behind in the New Economy," found that the problems that have plagued central cities throughout the nation are beginning to seep into the suburbs, especially the older, adjacent suburbs. Will our "urban problems" remain contained in the city when it lacks the resources and services to address them? More likely those "urban problems" will be exported to the suburbs, just as earnings are now exported. Can you smell the coffee, Madam Supervisor?

If these reasons aren't enough, there is plenty of practical and academic evidence that supports the need for regionally based development. The competition for businesses and residents that pits one community against another has polarized the metropolitan economy -- one community's gain is another's loss so that the region as a whole is not better off. Across the nation there is an emerging recognition that the communities within a region are in the same boat, even if they are on different decks. Development and growth are not confined to the political boundaries we drew 50 or even 100 years ago. The choices made by one locality affect its neighbors. One community may get the new big box retailer, but the surrounding communities get the traffic and storm runoff, without the tax revenues from the new development. These development spillovers reveal the need to work on a regional basis to resolve, or even better, to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place.

But folks around here are not likely to be swayed by academic arguments. Regional efforts in southwestern Pennsylvania are often criticized for focusing on the city to the exclusion of the rest of the region, or worse, expecting the region to support the needs and goals of the city.

They have a point. It is hypocritical to ask for regional tax dollars to support projects in Pittsburgh while we oppose vital projects outside the city and demonize the movement of city dwellers to the suburbs.

But it is also unfair and shortsighted for those same suburbanites to oppose transit subsidies while they live in communities that receive police, fire and health services from the state that are subsidized in part by city taxpayers. Not to mention the investment in roads and sewers funded by the taxes of a prior generation of city residents.

The point is not to adjust the balance sheet. Playing "My Fair Share" is a fool's game. The city is a gateway and magnet for the region. Part of its function is to attract new residents and generate new ideas for the benefit of the region. It is also a primary source of jobs for people around the region. That does not mean however, that the city is the only source of ideas and growth and our new mayor must have the humility to recognize the innovators next door. Our new mayor must signal that the city is ready to embrace the rest of the region and that the city is a part of the region and the region a part of the city. All municipalities in the region have to view each other as equal partners and recognize that everyone shares the benefits and costs of growth.

So please, Mr. Mayor, embrace the region and with perseverance, the region will embrace us.

Anonymous said...

Lamb can have all the support of people from the burbs that he wants too, it doesn't matter because they can't vote for him!