Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why Is Patrick Dowd Running?

A question frequently asked from nearly every spot along the local political spectrum: Why is Patrick Dowd running for mayor?

Council member Dowd is relatively new to the political scene and consequently lacks the type of name recognition, fundraising base and record that would constitute the foundation of a solid run at a well-known, well-funded incumbent. The boy mayor has plenty of faults -- little experience (in any respect), mediocre education, no apparent intellectual curiosity, nothing above-average in any respect, serious ethical blind spots, poor staff, a series of publicized mistakes -- but none is likely to trouble the greatly diluted pool that constitutes today's City of Pittsburgh electorate. (To the contrary, Mr. Ravenstahl's lack of a high-falutin' education, his ethical haziness and that striking deer-in-the-headlights response to complexity probably endear the incumbent to plenty of today's city voters.)

Dr. Dowd, with early interpersonal missteps on council, alienated several natural allies -- Bill Peduto and certain unions most prominent among them -- that might have helped him build a substantial challenge. Few who are not cogs of the machines -- the traditional city Democratic committee machine and the feed-at-the-Ravenstahl-trough machine -- have worked for Mr. Ravenstahl, but coolness among those expected to lean toward a progressive, smart challenger has been enough to deny Dr. Dowd necessary traction.

Against that background, the question is reasonable: Why is Patrick Dowd running?

I suspect the answer has several parts:

Dr. Dowd probably believed, at the outset, that Mr. Ravenstahl was a relatively soft target. Dr. Dowd's experience-based faith in door-to-door campaigning, his awareness of Mr. Ravenstahl's obvious weakness, his expectation that anti-Ravenstahl forces would coalesce around him . . . these factors likely generated optimism. It seems likely, however, that the realities of fundraising, the campaign grind, some expected support that never emerged and even cancelled debates have caused Dr. Dowd to sense that his original optimism was overstated. Perhaps he believes he has traveled too far to quit, or perhaps other factors incline him to continue.

Dr. Dowd might be acting on a perception that Pittsburgh, a failing city, can't afford a full term of Mr. Ravenstahl's performance as mayor. Just as physicians will try longshot measures to save a near-death patient, Dr. Dowd might have been railing against the odds to try to rescue a Pittsburgh in distress. This wouldn't be enough to cause a sensible person to undertake a campaign, but it might have tipped a wavering scale.

A more influential point might be the cultivation of name recognition. Pittsburgh lacks big-name politicians, to the point at which the entitlement to plaster a name on wastecans, gasoline pumps and dog license paperwork currently is a major issue. The deaths of Tom Murphy (figurative) and Bob O'Connor (literal) created a void yet to be filled; the city's elected officials are unknowns and lightweights, puppets manipulated easily and profitably by those who contract with and/or need approvals from government. Dr. Dowd might perceive an opportunity to accelerate his trajectory from promising newcomer to prominent figure in a wide-open political arena.

Or, Dr. Dowd -- whose academic field was history, I believe -- might be positioning himself to apply the obvious lessons of Pittsburgh's politics. How did the likes of Sophie Masloff, Dick Caligiuri, and Luke Ravenstahl ascend? Brilliant insight? Compelling leadership? Remarkable accomplishments? (If you aren't laughing by now, I gather you wagered a few bucks that the Pirates would win the Series this season.) Instead, each was in the right place when someone ahead stumbled, died or otherwise left office.

In a broad sense, Patrick Dowd might be running for council president by running for mayor. Or Dr. Dowd might have placed a relatively inexpensive bet that Mayor Ravenstahl would falter -- succumb to a scandal, or be indicted -- and positioned himself to be the beneficiary. Cliff Levine's apparent indecisiveness has enabled Mary Beth Buchanan to remain in the United States Attorney's office for longer than one reasonably could have expected. Curiously, Mrs. Buchanan's extended stay might be operating as a shield for Mr. Ravenstahl, because Mrs. Buchanan's misguided and one-sided performance appears to have made her a prosecutorial eunuch, at least with respect to prosecuting Democrats. Arrival of a Democratic U.S. Attorney could be bad news for the Ravenstahl adminstration. Mr. Ravenstahl also has experienced a lull in the scandal department -- of course, his original pace was unsustainable for any human not named Blogojevich.

No one, including Dr. Dowd, could have expected to enter April with Mary Beth Buchanan still in office and Mr. Ravenstahl enjoying such a substantial breather from scandal. Dr. Dowd also probably did not expect Mr. Peduto, the unions and other expected allies to maintain their distance throughout the campaign. Dr. Dowd likely has been surprised by the difficulties associated with raising money, assembling a campaign structure and landing shots against an incumbent in a largely comatose town. In a sense, nearly everything that could have gone against Dr. Dowd has -- yet it nonetheless might have been smart to have conducted the campaign, because of the likelihood that he will raise his profile, benefit from the experience of the campaign's grind, and position himself as prospective heir should the mayor be disabled, sooner or later, by career-killing scandal or indictment.

If there is a better explanation for Patrick Dowd's run, I would welcome enlightenment.


Mark Rauterkus said...

On paper, Dowd is a better candidate, by far. In the real world, they are equally good and bad, to me, IMNSHO.

Dowd is going to lean more on the congnative, rational decision. So, of course he sees life that way. Of course he knows he must run.

Another part of the reason, might be, the same as when I have run in the past -- out of a sense of 'duty.'

Giving people a 'free pass' without any opposition is no ideal for a great city and shared political landscape. We can't let these politicians go unopposed. We need some accountability.

We need is used in a greater sense more than I or Patrick or some other Joe Sixpack needs it. Our kids need a vibrant sense of self-determination. These deeds are more for the next generation and the hope that our kids and their peers will find Pittsburgh a place to stay themselves.

We care. Some do.

We love and have a passion for improving the mess we find throughout and around our city.

And we seek open and honest battles about public policy in the marketplace of ideas.

Motivations of free people who stand for office can be questioned. But to ridicule the hope of the vision is to champion the status quo.

EdHeath said...

I think your initial question is the correct one, but your late paragraph stating that no one could have expected Luke Ravenstahl not to have had a crippling scandal by now is too optimistic by far. As long as Luke does not harm an individual, I think he will be largely immune to any consequences of his actions. Further, I think the practice he has recently adopted of using campaign funds to pay for part or all of his trips further insulates him from consequences.

Two things come to mind about Pat Dowd. First, despite his considerable effort in campaigning for his Council seat and Len Bodack's lack luster efforts in that race, Dowd only won by 88 votes. I don’t know why, perhaps the John Thompson thing, or perhaps Pittsburghers usually prefer an incumbent. Second, when Dowd came on to Council, he got involved (as you say) in some inexplicable squabbles. I think his support from the progressive East End (and progressives in general) is now going to be lukewarm at best. And he seems to have burned or at least heavily singed bridges on Council. Ricky Burgess seems to have authored the bill requiring Council to find cuts for any revenue they reduce particularly to block Dowd’s efforts concerning Act 77.

Dowd might still become the Democratic candidate for Mayor. But that’s not really the way to bet, is it?

Anonymous said...

Luke is weak. Look how he handled the police shooting. Pittsburgh needs a good leader. Not some city council compromise president lackey. He got lucky. Now it's time to go.

Bram Reichbaum said...

The run-as-table-setter theory would make sense, except for HOW Dowd is running. He seems -- and I mean this is the best sense of the word -- desperate. Incredulous, outraged and desperate. Not the profile of someone who's not actually trying to sink a full-court shot.

Anonymous said...

This is why we need Dowd: