Sign of principle: City-owned property is not a political billboard

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In the name of integrity, Bill Peduto is on to a good thing.

In his first executive order, Pittsburgh’s new mayor has banned the display of elected officials’ names on city property and ordered the removal of previous officeholders’ names.

So say goodbye to the name of the old mayor, and don’t look for the name of the new one, on recycling barrels, vehicles and other city property. Similarly, don’t expect the return of any personality-driven, folksy labels on city trash cans — “For Pete’s Sake,” during the Flaherty administration in the 1970s, and “Sophie’s Choice” during the Masloff years. People know where to put their litter without any help from the biggest names on Grant Street.

It’s not about stripping humor from public services or depersonalizing government, but about upholding a fundamental principle. As the mayor said in his order, “the city’s physical assets should not be a platform for elected officials to promote themselves or their political careers.”

Yet it’s become common practice by public officials, not just Pittsburgh mayors, to brand public offices and public services with their names and faces to enhance their political advantage as incumbents.

A classic example was “Attorney General Mike Fisher’s Do Not Call List,” which state residents encountered in 2002 when the Republican, now a U.S. appellate court judge, was running for governor. To keep pesky telemarketers at bay, Pennsylvanians could register their phone number with “Attorney General Mike Fisher’s Do Not Call List” online, where his name and photo would show up. The list, which still exists, wasn’t Mr. Fisher’s or any other attorney general’s, of course, but is funded by the taxpayers and maintained by the office’s employees.

Same goes for city property and services, none of which should be used as political billboards either.

Now, if only those big signs at the state’s borders could say “Welcome to Pennsylvania” without plugging the name of the latest governor.


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