Friday, June 21, 2013

Reason #293: Participation

A few months ago, I did something I'd never done before: I volunteered for a political candidate.

Bill Peduto, my longtime city councilor, was running in the Democratic primary for mayor of Pittsburgh. Because no Republican has won a mayoral race here since 1934, the primary essentially is the election--whoever wins that, wins in November.

Having followed Peduto's exploits in city government for several years, I was already impressed with his track record for getting business development and infrastructure projects to actually, y'know, happen, and his general orientation in favor of small arts organizations (read: he's aware of their existence), and combined with the fact that he and Pittsburgh's current sleazypants "boy mayor" Luke Ravenstahl have never gotten along, I knew he'd have my vote the second he got into the race.

Now that it's all over but the coronation, Peduto is starting to talk in more detail about plans for his administration, including increased cooperation between the city and county when it comes to development funding, with the hope of turning downtown Pittsburgh--the hub, indeed, of the entire county--into a "mini-Manhattan"; not only a bustling business and office center but a living, breathing neighborhood, with grocery stores, apartments, and the kind of unique mom-and-pop retailers that were chased out of downtown ages ago by the usual bland national chains.

Even more importantly--especially in you work in downtown Pittsburgh like I do--Peduto wants to change the way downtown transportation works, introducing a robust shuttle loop system to ferry people between downtown locations as opposed to the current system of every single bus on the planet driving straight through the middle of downtown every five minutes. He's also a friend of bicyclists, and has gone on record as wanting to see bikes comprise as much as ten percent of all city transportation (compared to their pathetic current rate of 1.6 percent).

Of course, great as all that is, Peduto is still a politician, and in a city that's around three-quarter Democratic, it's easy to become cynical about any one person really standing that far ahead of the pack. What's more, the field of candidates looked very different when I first started working for the Peduto campaign, and there was every reason to think he didn't have a chance. So why did I, once an ardent supporter of both John Edwards and Anthony Weiner, finally make the leap and volunteer for Bill Peduto?

I was mulling that over in the campaign office one day, and I happened to recall an old Mitch Hedberg joke that explained it perfectly: "I bought a $7 pen because I always lose pens and I got sick of not caring." Peduto, I realized, was my $7 pen; for once, win or lose, I just wanted some damned skin in the game.

Further Reading

Bill Peduto, Rising Urbanist Star, Wins Pittsburgh Mayoral Primary

Bill Peduto looks for county's help in creating a 'mini-Manhattan' in Downtown Pittsburgh

Wikiquote - Mitch Hedberg

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