Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: Davey Lawrence sees his dreams fulfilled

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David L. Lawrence would be 125 years old this month if he hadn't died in 1966, assuming something else didn't claim him in the ensuing 48 years.

I suppose this knowledge is why the legendary former governor and four-term mayor appeared in my dream the other night. It started out better than most, since at least I was wearing all my clothes and hadn't forgotten about studying for some important test.

It was a dream in which the gifted politician who grew from humble roots wanted a tour of modern-day Pittsburgh, and I was the only one available to offer it. He was courteous enough to act unfazed that someone more notable wasn't taking him around.

Since the Three Rivers Arts Festival is coming up in an area he played a key role in redeveloping, we started at Point State Park. .

"It's a lot cleaner and greener than I remember," he said. "And what a fountain!"

"Yes, you should be proud. And look at these benches. There's room for a couple hundred people to sit on them, but if any one of them tries to lie down like some lazy vagrant, his body bangs into this metal railing and he can't do it. Nifty, huh?"

"I don't know about that," this man of the people said. "I feel sorry for a young couple on a date who can't enjoy a nice moment leaning on one another on a park bench."

"They can still sit and hold hands, like those two fellows over there."

"Yes, but -- wait, did you say fellows? You're right, those two men do seem very cozy. What's going on here?"

"Things have changed since you left, Mr. Lawrence. Marriages between two men or two women just became legal in Pennsylvania, as in many other states. Everyone's a lot more tolerant of one another's differences now... at least officially."

The great old man mulled this a bit before acknowledging, "I guess that's a good thing. We were already headed down that road in my day in various ways, giving better treatment to the women and blacks and such."

"It's been a slow and bumpy road full of potholes, Mr. Lawrence, but that's the Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania way."

He strolled over to the Allegheny River and gazed across, eyes fixed on one big structure.

"So that's where the Steelers and Pirates play now, eh? There was talk about that new stadium for years before I departed."

"Uh, no sir. That's Heinz Field, where the Steelers play. Over to the right is where the Pirates have their own ballpark. You must be thinking of Three Rivers Stadium, which lasted about 30 years before they got rid of it."

He frowned. "Thirty years, eh? That's not much payback when you're talking about all the public money involved. I had a Buick that lasted almost that long."

"Yes, well, at least there were a lot of fond memories on the North Shore from what happened in that stadium."

"North Shore -- what's that?"

"Oh, they renamed part of the North Side to make it sound nicer, now that it's got all those trails attracting joggers and bikers."

"Hrmpf, next you'll tell me they renamed part of East Liberty to make it sound more like Shadyside so it's more la-de-da for people."

"Well, as a matter of fact..."

The old Democratic pol offered a look that shushed me. He just wanted to take it all in, this great city he had loved and improved, working with Republicans in a spirit of compromise that seems unthinkable today. His eyes focused up the Allegheny River on an odd-looking building with a sweeping roof line.

"That's the convention center, a marvel of environmental engineering," I told him. "It's the David L. Lawrence Convention Center."

He said nothing, but his lips revealed a trace of a smile. He looked at the canoeists on the Allegheny, the children cavorting around the fountain, the new Downtown dwellers walking their dogs. He and those who came after him, in their own fumbling way, had all contributed to making this the kind of city people love to live in and visit, especially at this time of year.

"Horne's and Gimbels and Kaufmann's still doing well Downtown?" he asked.

I shook my head. Not everything can change for the better, or even stay the same. He understood. He always had a broad view.

"I have just one more question," he said.

"Yes, sir?"

"Why aren't you wearing any pants now?"

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.

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