The expressions of InsolvenCity's council members revealed more than did the votes and appointments that set the stage for another year of dysfunction among the City of Pittsburgh's elected leaders.
In quintessential fifth floor fashion, the mayor, his minions, and nine city councilors alienated allies, roiled relationships, and forged faithless allegiances to accomplish not even a feint at progress but instead the maintenance of a mediocre status quo. Another improbable broken-field run places Darlene Harris in the council president's chair, this time leaving an even more broken field. A recipe for a combination of free-for-all and free-fall.
Accepting her colleagues' affirmation, Harris (left, reaching for swearing-in Bible) looked every bit the Bride of Lukenstein she had become, jolted into a tortured approximation of political life by strange applications of power and chemistry. She has her presidency, but is not quite sure how or why it came to creation, and even her flickering faculties sense there is something unnatural and doomed about it.
Patrick Dowd, who bartered his vote for . . . who knows what? Not even a hackneyed horror script could devise a plot lurch in which Dowd received anything worthwhile. On this day, his was the pivotal vote (except in the fantasy world of the Post-Gazette's local political coverage). But his expression indicated that he knew not one of his eight colleagues would ever consider him reliable again. If there was a strategy or benefit associated with this vote, it is known, or perhaps exists, only in the mind of Patrick Dowd.
Ricky Burgess looked like a student whose forged hall pass just fooled one teacher but is not expected to carry him all the way to the parking lot. He has the finance chair, but can not count on anything after today.
Theresa Kail Smith, maid of honor for a day, had the look of an outsider who had maneuvered her way into the "in" crowd, but who realized she would probably be back to her customary level of popularity tomorrow.
Corey O'Connor displayed the genuine smile of someone who was overwhelmed, mostly by good things like inauguration and a marriage proposal, but also by the recognition he was now responsible for voting on public policy despite barely understanding what he had gotten himself into. He looked much like fellow Central Catholic graduate Tino Sunseri in a collapsing pocket, two long seconds after the ball should have been thrown.
Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, and Natalia Rudiak tried but could not hide shell shock. Three faces, one expression, evoking Jon Lovitz in a Saturday Night Live presidential debate as Michael Dukakis, who, when asked to comment on the inane mumbling of Dana Carvey's George Bush (the older, competent one), offered concise rebuttal: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!" Watch:
Daniel Lavelle just looked happy that his first day of this year's council term could not be as face-plant disastrous as his first day one year ago.
We will leave it to others to perform the detailed autopsy on this year's council, a body decomposing less than one hour into its new life. Divided government has its virtues in some circumstances, but this council is too divided to stand or crawl. Two men put Harris back into the president's position; one hates her, the other dislikes her. As of today, those sentiments are shared by the council colleagues who stood by Harris as the mayor attempted to whack her. There is no discernible majority for anything; not for good government, not for mayoral sycophancy, not for ham-handed corruption, not for any identifiable strategy, not for any sensible tactic.
Can InsolvenCity, still failing after a sustained period of decline, afford the year of paralysis precipitated by today's exhibition of fifth floor dysfunction? What spooked the largely intact majority into splintering? Does anyone other than the List-Makers (and, perhaps, Jeff Thomas) stand to benefit from today's events?
Some (such as Trib headline writers in distant counties) may infer that the animation of the Bride of Lukenstein indicates that Mayor Ravenstahl has regained control of the levers of power. But most people forget that the beneficiary of the bride's creation was not Frankenstein but instead Frankenstein's monster. Frankenstein was the guy who threw the switches and pulled the levers -- and that still is not Luke Ravenstahl, not by a long shot. Far more likely, Pittsburgh will spend this year traveling downhill with no one at the wheel. That's right, another horror movie.
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