Proper tribute: The city needs an overall plan to honor officials

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Since 1816, 59 people have served as mayor of Pittsburgh. Ebenezer Denny was the first. Anybody remember him? If a statue had been erected in his honor when he died in 1822, five years after leaving office, would we be more likely to know who he was?

Probably not. Denny Street in Lawrenceville is named for him, which is probably enough in the way of a lasting tribute.

Richard S. Caliguiri served as mayor more recently than Denny, from 1977 until his death in 1988. Two years later, the larger-than-life replica of the slouching, unassuming Caliguiri was installed prominently on the steps of the City-County Building. Already, many of the people who pass it daily do not know his story.

There is a tendency to propose such permanent tributes to officials and dignitaries too soon after their passing, particularly in the case of beloved figures whose memories bring a smile, as can thoughts of late Mayor Bob O'Connor. His son, Councilman Corey O'Connor, said family friends and city officials are planning to raise funds for a statue at the Schenley Park traffic island to honor the elder O'Connor, who was a member of Pittsburgh City Council for a dozen years and mayor for eight months until his death on Sept. 1, 2006.

But civic statues should be installed judiciously. Does each of the 59 mayors deserve one? Or should they be reserved for officials who preside in particularly trying times? Or for long periods? Or who die while in office?

These are questions that should be answered with a comprehensive approach to honoring notable Pittsburghers, something we suggested last year when Allegheny County officials proposed naming a bridge after author and historian David McCullough.

A thorough analysis, and the passage of time, would remove the inevitable bias of being too close to the subjects to appropriately evaluate their position in history.

The golf course in Schenley Park already has been renamed in Mayor O'Connor's honor -- a fitting tribute, given that he favored the spot and was an advocate for its improvement.

If the O'Connor family wishes to raise private funds to erect a statue on a suitable private spot, that's fine. But this is not -- at least not yet -- a public idea whose time has come or for which public funds or space should be allocated.

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