Mayors and cartoonists play well together
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Despite Tina Fey's brilliant channeling of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," it was a bad weekend for America.
Hurricane Ike cut a destructive swath through Texas. Lehman Brothers couldn't find a white knight to save it from declaring the biggest case of bankruptcy in American history.
Meanwhile the brilliant David Foster Wallace, author of "Infinite Jest" and "Girl with Curious Hair," committed suicide at 46 after years of battling severe depression.
Yup, the weekend was generally a bummer. Still, I'll look back on it with some fondness because I was a witness to Pittsburgh's three living mayors coming together for a panel discussion sponsored by the ToonSeum at the Children's Museum on the North Side.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and former mayors Tom Murphy and Sophie Masloff proved what good sports they were by sharing the stage with Tim Menees and Rob Rogers, two political cartoonists who have had more than their fair share of fun at mayoral expense.
During a children's news conference minutes before the panel discussion, the mayors were quizzed about their favorite colors and other things that would never occur to a grizzled Grant Street reporter to ask.
Ms. Masloff rasped that she was a fan of white. Mr. Murphy and Mr. Ravenstahl picked green and blue, respectively. No one succumbed to the temptation to pander to the city's sports fans by picking black and gold.
When they were asked to name their favorite superhero, Sophie blurted out "David Lawrence" to big laughs. Playing it straight, her colleagues both answered "Batman." In its own way, the children's press conference was as revelatory as any held at the City-County Building.
Mr. Ravenstahl, who had already informed the ToonSeum he wouldn't be sticking around for the panel discussion, reversed himself and stayed for all but 15 minutes of it.
Mayor Ravenstahl was as playful and relaxed as Ms. Masloff and Mr. Murphy, two wily veterans who know how to work a crowd. Mr. Ravenstahl admitted that contrary to what people think, he, too, enjoys Rob Roger's portrayal of him as a youngster with a juice box.
Startled, Mr. Rogers said that he was reluctant to socialize with the mayors once they were in office because he was afraid of "liking them," a situation that would be detrimental to also mocking them.
Mr. Rogers said he was especially hard on Mr. Murphy because he knew and admired him long before he became mayor.
Turning to Mr. Ravenstahl, Mr. Rogers confessed that now that he's met -- and likes him -- he would probably be "harder" on him in the future. It was all very perverse stuff.
When someone in the audience asked the cartoonists why they didn't "educate" newspaper readers about subjects like hypermiling and other energy conservation efforts, Mr. Menees conceded the point -- but countered with a brilliant defense of his former profession's mandate to be a foil to those in power.
Tom Murphy was positively loquacious during the panel discussion. He was frank about admitting some cartoons bothered him because they operated like snapshots of the moment instead of systematic critiques of the process.
Mr. Murphy said that political cartoonists in Pittsburgh haven't done a good enough job pointing fingers at Harrisburg. Both Tim and Rob agreed that the former mayor made a good point.
It was a fascinating discussion with so much collegial give-and-take that it threatened to become an all-out lovefest. Still, I was honored to have a very small part in the panel as its moderator.
The exhibition "Drawn to the Hive: Cartooning Pittsburgh's Mayors" will hang at the ToonSeum at the Children's Museum until Oct. 13.
The show features work by the legendary Cy Hungerford as well as his successors at the Post-Gazette, including Mr. Rogers and Mr. Menees. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review cartoonist Randy Bish and freelancer Tim Hartman are also featured.
Cartoons featuring the late Mayors Richard Caliguri and Bob O'Connor are also part of the show. Rogers, Menees and Bish, along with the three mayors on the panel, autographed limited-edition prints for sale, with proceeds going to the ToonSeum's capital campaign (see toonseum.com to cough up).
First Published September 16, 2008 12:00 am