In Rebuttal: Pittsburgh's debt to Tom Murphy

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As I read The Next Page on Oct. 4 ("The Story Behind Pittsburgh's Revitalization"), I couldn't help but shake my head in dismay as yet another ivory-tower academic pontificated as to what has to be done to improve metropolitan Pittsburgh.

After Pittsburgh has been recognized by the world as the example of how to do things right, University of Pittsburgh law professor Michael J. Madison has to tell us how things aren't as good as they seem.

But what disturbed me the most was his glancing reference to Tom Murphy -- as a mayor with a "progress" agenda, accredited with spectacular "failures" and then ultimately rejected. Well, as I regained my composure, I thought that I should inform the professor that the few failures Mr. Murphy did have could never compare with the multibillion-dollar renaissance he created, a renaissance that culminated with the publicity Pittsburgh received during the G-20. There has never been an individual who poured more of himself into the future of Pittsburgh than Tom Murphy, and without him there would have been no G-20 summit.

What's his legacy? Visit the overlook of Mount Washington or drive across the Veterans Bridge and you'll see it. Look at our world-class convention center, the PNC, Mellon, Alcoa and Del Monte buildings. Don't miss the best baseball park in America or the stadium that draws the attention of millions during Monday Night Football. Look at Carson Street where J&L used to be or the riverfront bike trails, Herr's Island or Summerset at Frick Park. Yes, all of it results from Tom Murphy's vision.

After the stunning corporate losses of the 1980s, he worked to secure Pittsburgh's business base and thousands of good-paying jobs. He also made Pittsburgh the "safest" city in America. And, last but not least, understand this: without Tom Murphy, Pittsburgh wouldn't have its coveted Penguins, wouldn't have the Pirates and probably not even the Steelers.

Yes, you owe it to this man whose name is rarely mentioned.

Admittedly, Tom Murphy did leave office in a financial crisis, but he forced that crisis to expose the endemic problems of the city's cost-tax structure. Decades in the making, he forced the city down a path of fiscal stability. His effort to stimulate Downtown development didn't work as designed, but in the end his effort did spawn the current wave of activity.

Tom Murphy believed Pittsburgh could "grow" out of its financial issues. The only mistake he made was in estimating how long it would take for that growth to occur. In the decades to come, as Pittsburgh does in fact "grow," I hope some will appreciate the determination and relentless doggedness of a mayor who believed in making things happen.

He believed that Pittsburgh could be that "shining city on a hill," and ultimately a city the world would admire.


Bob Cranmer, a former Republican Allegheny County commissioner, is president and CEO of Cranmer Consultants ( bob@cranmerconsultants.com ).


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