Dowd for mayor: The councilman has the drive to make the city work
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The string of youthful missteps that marked Luke Ravenstahl's first months in office have evaporated and the mayor has matured in the job, but Pittsburgh still lacks a leader with a broad, deep vision for the city's future.
You don't lead by arguing that there is nothing wrong with city contracting practices, even if -- in the face of numerous examples of pay-to-play politics and an approaching election -- you eventually order a long-needed ban on most no-bid professional contracts.
You don't lead by announcing good intentions, as the mayor has done in backing city-county consolidation efforts, but then doing little to pressure legislators to support them.
And you don't lead by mixing politics with the provision of government services, as Mayor Ravenstahl did when he reopened a city police station in the West End, which didn't make sense given the zone's relatively low call volume.
With its shrinking population, impending contract negotiations with city unions and growing pension and debt problems, Pittsburgh doesn't have time to wait for Mr. Ravenstahl, 29, of Summer Hill, to gradually evolve toward more sound positions. The city needs a stronger, forward-looking mayor who can move Pittsburgh ahead now.
For Democrats in the May 19 primary, Patrick Dowd is ready, even though his tenure on City Council has not been long.
In 2003 -- the same year Mr. Ravenstahl beat an incumbent to win a seat on council -- Mr. Dowd also upset an incumbent for a seat on the city school board. In 2007, the same year Mr. Ravenstahl won a two-year term as mayor after inheriting the office from the late Bob O'Connor in 2006, Mr. Dowd was elected to council.
In both of those successful campaigns, Mr. Dowd organized grass-roots efforts and beat well-known incumbents. The former private-school teacher, who has a Ph.D. in European intellectual history, faces even longer odds this time, but voters will make a mistake if they discount his fitness for the office.
His optimistic campaign is driven by an ambitious agenda for the city. Mr. Dowd, 41, of Highland Park believes city government must deliver the best service at the lowest cost and must do so away from the reach of cronyism and friendly side deals.
He would start with a top-down reform of city practices, replacing managers who aren't doing the right things and imposing clear, measurable goals for future performance. As a model, he points to the contract the school board devised for Superintendent Mark Roosevelt while Mr. Dowd was a member of that body.
He would employ the best practices and give city residents detailed information about schedules for street paving, snow removal, tree planting and other services. He'd start by making his own schedule public so people know what he's doing.
It is in his loftier goals that Mr. Dowd rises above his competitors -- both the incumbent and Carmen Robinson, a 40-year-old lawyer, former police officer and bright, enthusiastic candidate whose exuberance for the city makes her worth watching in the future.
Mr. Dowd believes it is the mayor's duty to fight harder to stop job loss in the city. Further, he promises to focus city resources to end violence among Pittsburgh's young people. Tackling such broad, tough, social problems won't be easy but, as he asked, "What's the point of being in office if you are not going to make that the goal?"
The Post-Gazette endorses Patrick Dowd for the Democratic nomination for mayor on May 19.
First Published May 10, 2009 12:00 am