Editorial: City purge / The mayor's office comes unhinged

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Two weeks after Mayor Bob O'Connor became hospitalized for brain cancer, it's clear who is running his office. And it's not a pretty sight.

Just as Pittsburgh has probably never seen a mayor as disarmingly enthused about cleaning up the city, so too has it not seen the kind of personnel carnage that was unleashed on Grant Street yesterday.

On July 12 we warned that "it would be wise for Mr. O'Connor to designate a deputy or acting mayor ... so there is no doubt as to who is in charge of the administration when the mayor is laid low by cancer treatments." Instead of a deputy mayor what Pittsburghers got was an office purge.

From his hospital room, the mayor fired chief of staff B.J. Leber, city solicitor Susan Malie and finance director Paul Leger. Ms. Leber had a prior career in management at WQED Multimedia and the Port Authority. Ms. Malie had been a lawyer for the city for 15 years and had even held the city reins for the mayor when he occasionally traveled out of town. Mr. Leger was a former assistant county manager, an expert on municipal reform and a former leader of the Pennsylvania Economy League.

Their offense? Apparently trying to head off the appointment of little-known aide Yarone Zober as deputy mayor. Mr. Zober -- the mayor's policy director, a lawyer and, most important, an ally of Dennis Regan, the mayor's chief of intergovernmental affairs -- was confirmed by City Council Tuesday as the director of General Services. Although the department had been earmarked by the O'Connor administration for elimination, Mr. Zober's short-lived presence as its council-confirmed director would seem to meet the city charter's test for a later appointment as deputy mayor.

Ms. Malie, as solicitor, issued an opinion this week questioning whether council needed to approve such an appointment -- and that, evidently, was the act of perceived disloyalty that triggered yesterday's firings.

Now Mr. Regan, a longtime friend and political aide to Mr. O'Connor, is running the administration and may continue to do so, even if Mr. Zober is named deputy mayor. We can't help but feel that the "B" team is in charge.

Although it may clarify who's in command of the mayor's office, this shake-up is not good for Pittsburgh. When a new, untested administration arrives, the public is eager to see who among the mix of management pros and political careerists will gain the upper hand. Yesterday, because of the unfortunate and untimely illness of the mayor, the city got its answer.

It took only two weeks, with Bob O'Connor sidelined, to see his administration self-destruct. For Pittsburgh to recover, it could take longer than that.



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