Politically Savvy Friends

Sunday, May 24, 2009

March 11, 2009: Forty Days & Forty Nights

Dear Politically Savvy Friends,

Thanks for all the kind comments to my last PSF, the first e-newsletter I have penned in quite awhile. I really do appreciate the feedback, especially if you have an inside political 'scoop' or comment to share, always off-the-record. From your comments, I gather some of you may have had difficulty emailing me back. In the future, just use delano.jon@gmail.com, and your communication should get to me.

Curiously, my little rant about Washington's Birthday, the legal and official name for what some misguided marketers, media, and presidents incorrectly call "Presidents Day," elicited some interesting comments. A number of you thought the 1968 change that moved the federal holiday from Washington's birth date, February 22, and made it the third Monday in the month was designed to consolidate two federal holidays, one for George Washington and one for Abraham Lincoln. Nope. Believe it or not, there never has been a federal holiday for Lincoln, as southern congressmen blocked that long ago. While some northern states celebrated Lincoln's birthday as a state holiday on February 12, the reason for moving Washington's Birthday was solely to create a 3-day weekend. While some purists might dislike that move, my 'bitch' is with what we call the day and the fact that so many sheep so blindly followed Richard Nixon's silly attempt to rename the holiday so he could be included.

Your other comments were much more policy-directed, and I really welcome those. I am truly a "flaming moderate" and that often means that both those on the hard left and hard right will take issue with my characterization of events. That's fine. My goal is mostly to provide information that you may miss in the mainstream media, provoke some conversation, and have some fun in the process!

If you want to scroll around, you'll see I've touched on everything from Obama to Rooney, from Specter & Toomey to Onorato & Cunningham, and Luke-Patrick-Franco. As always, I welcome your comments. Of course, if you think this is spam, there's a button below to get off my Politically Savvy Friends' list!


Obama Tries to Deliver on Campaign Promises:

Forty days and forty nights in the White House is hardly enough to draw many conclusions about President Obama, but one thing seems crystal clear to me - this guy intends to shake up the status quo in Washington, just as he promised during his campaign. Unlike his Inaugural Address, which I thought was uninspired, Obama's speech to the Congress and nation last month was a home run. In an address that even got Republicans to their feet on many occasions, the president made it clear that he was in charge and that he had a plan to not only revive the economy but also to restore America's superiority in energy independence, health care delivery, and educational opportunity.

Right after that address, the CNN/Opinion Research Poll found 88% of Americans believe Obama's policies will move the country in the "right direction," up from 71% the week before. And an astounding 85% of Americans said they are "optimistic" about the future of the country under this president. Gallup found that the president's speech boosted his job approval from 59% to 67%, near his high point of 69% during his first couple days of office.

In my view, a lot of this support was wishful thinking from an electorate that is yearning for better times, likes the strength and good talk of this president, but really doesn't understand exactly what he is proposing as part of the "change" he was elected to deliver.

The most recent early March polls show some slippage. Obama's favorability is down to 57% in the Cook/RT Strategies poll, 58% in the most recent Newsweek poll, and 59% in the Quinnipiac poll.

The president's release of a $3.6 trillion 2010 federal budget has given opponents plenty of grist with which to attack him, but I was impressed with how the president is using his popularity to deliver on many of his campaign themes. Some commentators have noted that this budget, if enacted, would end the generally laissez-faire approach to national problems that characterized much of the Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush era in American politics. No doubt the belief that lower taxes on the wealthy and a government hands-off approach would "solve" problems is obviously being cast aside as a failure.

Instead, President Obama intends to spend dramatically to move the country to energy independence, to deliver health care insurance to every American, and to increase both the quality of and access to American education. And he will pay for some of it by raising taxes on the top 5% of Americans, while cutting the taxes of everyone else. It's an ambitious agenda that will require Democrats in Congress, and perhaps a Republican or two, to buy into the program.

In the end, the president is not going to get everything he wants. But he has laid down a very high marker and is essentially daring everyone to come up with something better. Because so many special interests are affected, you can be sure that lobbyists are swarming Capitol Hill, where they enjoy incredible clout among both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Even when it comes to a popular president versus powerful special interests that fund congressional campaigns, I suspect we know who wins out in the fine print of public policy.

Republicans Search for a Response:

For a party that seems remarkably united in its opposition to President Obama's plans to stimulate the economy, the Republican Party is having a hard time finding a singular message that resonates with the public. Certainly Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was, by almost all accounts, unable to deliver a formal response to the president's speech that anyone took seriously.

And the recent brouhaha between GOP chairman Michael Steele and conservative talk radio entrepreneur Rush Limbaugh over who really speaks for Republicans gave Democrats a perfect chance to sow more division. Obviously, Steele is the elected leader of the National Republican Party and obviously Limbaugh is a clever entertainer who knows how to keep his name out there. But Steele's rather bold attack on Limbaugh for saying he hopes Obama fails (he meant Obama's policies fail) and then quick apology and suck-up to the powerful conservative voice left one wondering who really was in charge.

Fundamentally, the problem for Republicans, as Gov. Mitt Romney said cogently at the convention of the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, is that it's not enough to just oppose something - you need concrete plans on how you would do things better. While Republican credibility on the Wall Street mess and the economy in general is about as low as it can go, Republicans need to start thinking creatively about how they would get health insurance to every American, how they would get America off its energy dependence on foreign oil, and how they would improve American schools and make higher education affordable to everyone. Whether his plans are good ones or not, Obama at least has ideas, and it's not clear - certainly it wasn't from Jindal - what the G.O.P. alternatives are.

Accusing the president of being a "socialist" or ranting on about "class warfare" will be no more effective against Obama than it was against Franklin D. Roosevelt 75 years ago. Indeed, income disparities seem just as bad today as they were in the 1930s, and reports of bankers and other corporate high-rollers giving themselves million dollar bonuses (and more) while their company's stock plummets and workers are laid off only helps Obama against such puerile attacks. When the president said, "I get it," he was speaking to the 95% of Americans who don't want another dime going to overpaid executives. The question for Republicans who voted against Obama's stimulus plan and oppose his budget is, do they "get it" too?

Don't Tax Me, Tax the Guy Behind That Tree:

Right after the election, I commented on how, in Pennsylvania, Obama won every income category (according to exit polls) except one. Those with family incomes between $100,000 and $150,000 voted for John McCain. But some 57% of those with incomes between $150,000 and $200,000 voted for Obama over McCain, and 58% of those with incomes over $200,000 voted for Obama. Given candidate Obama's frequently repeated message that those in the latter category could expect higher taxes, nobody can be surprised by his 2010 tax proposals.

In a nutshell, Obama will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the two highest tax brackets in 2011, reinstating the Clinton tax rates of the 1990s. That means that for individuals who earn more than $200,000 and couples with more than $250,000 tax rates will go up from 33% to 36%, while taxes for those with incomes over $357,000 will rise from 35% to 39.6%. To be absolutely clear, taxes on the wealthy will not go up in 2009 or 2010, but be put off until 2011 when, presumably, the economy will have recovered.

For those who make less than $200,000 ($250,000 a couple), the president will make permanent the lower Bush tax rates, and he wants to make permanent the additional tax reductions ($400 per worker, $800 per couple) that are part of the stimulus bill for 2009 & 2010. In other words, for most Americans, Obama cuts income taxes.

Ironically, this is not some radical tax-the-rich scheme, as some conservative commentators charge. For the well-off, this just restores tax rates to where they were before George W. Bush came along, and the top rate is well below the 70% top tax rate in effect with Ronald Reagan became president. However, Obama has proposed a more controversial limiting of tax deductions for those in these high income brackets. Instead of getting the full value of these deductions, deductions would be capped as if they were at a 28% tax level.

Charities that depend on philanthropic giving from the wealthy are already expressing some concern about the impact of these limits on deductions, fearing the wealthy won't donate as much. I suspect this is one proposal that will see some modification in Congress.

The administration also wants to correct one tax loophole that the Wall Street high rollers enjoyed in recent years. Instead of paying normal income taxes like the rest of us, many executives at hedge funds and other venture capital and equity firms got to treat their portion of the firm's profit as if it were a capital gain and not ordinary income. That meant paying taxes at a 15% tax rate, instead of what normal people of their income would pay.

On the capital gains tax itself, Obama will keep it the same reduced rate introduced by his predecessor, but he proposes raising it from 15% to 20% for those in the highest two income brackets. That actually is still below what it was during the Clinton years.

On the federal estate tax, the president sounds somewhat Republican. In 2011, the amount of an estate subject to federal tax was supposed to drop back down to $1 million. In other words, the heirs of anyone with an estate over $1 million would pay federal taxes on the amount above that dollar level. Obama proposes freezing the current $3.5 million exemption, allowing a lot more (but not all) wealthy families to escape this tax. Most Americans don't worry about this kind of stuff - are you leaving more than $3.5 million to your kids? - but some Republicans denounce even these high exclusions, saying there should be no "death taxes at all" on multi-million or multi-billion dollar estates.

"There will be overwhelming opposition from the American people" to these tax changes, the third-ranking House Republican, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana predicted last month. Somehow I doubt it. Those under $200,000 ($250,000 a couple) will actually see their taxes go down under Obama, so opponents are going to have to make middle class Americans care that the wealthy are going to pay what they did under Clinton. It will be interesting to see who wins the "spin" in this important battle. Stay tuned.

Rooney Hopes for the Luck of the Irish:

Over the last couple of months, I have done several stories on Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney's special relationship with President Obama and the possibility that Rooney could become the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. While there is no official word from the White House, the speculation is growing that Rooney is number one on a short list of candidates for this job. Traditionally, this appointment is announced around St. Patrick's Day and, coincidentally, Rooney will be in Washington next Monday to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Ireland Fund (which he co-founded decades ago). On Tuesday, Rooney will be at the White House for a special St. Patrick's Day reception with Obama and the Irish Prime Minister.

Last April, Rooney broke ranks with members of his own family and the political establishment of both the region and state to endorse Barack Obama. At the time, no one of his stature had embraced Obama from Pennsylvania. (U.S. Sen. Bob Casey endorsed Obama shortly thereafter). After that, Rooney campaigned hard for Obama, raised money for him, and hosted Michelle Obama at his North Side home. Talk to the president, you quickly learn that this is a mutual admiration society.

In my view (and, admittedly I'm biased because I am a big Rooney fan), Dan has not only earned the ambassadorship the traditional political way, but he is also uniquely qualified to be ambassador because of the work he has done for so many years to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland. If you want to learn more, check out these stories, including a Jan. 17 interview I did with Dan wherein he said he would serve in any position the President wants. http://kdka.com/video/?id=54536@kdka.dayport.com ; uncut interview http://kdka.com/video/?id=51971@kdka.dayport.com


Can Anyone Stop Onorato for Governor?

It's still more than a year until the 2010 Pennsylvania primary when voters pick the nominees for Pennsylvania's highest office. But everyone knows that these campaigns for governor cannot wait until 2010 to get started. On the Democratic side, Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato, who has a whopping $4 million in his war chest already, would like everyone to believe that he is the strongest Democrat in the field to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell, a term-limited Philadelphia Democrat.

Truth is Onorato is right. At this stage, he has got to be considered the front-runner. Even if he didn't have all this money, he has a bigger political base than any of the other candidates, and the conservative Pittsburgh Democrat arguably may be best placed to break the 50 year jinx that dictates the Republicans win the governor's mansion after eight years of Rendell.

But don't tell that to Lehigh County executive Don Cunningham, who thinks he can give Onorato a run for all that money. I had the chance to sit down with Cunningham not long ago, and he makes a case that he can raise the money and has the issues to out-flank Onorato within the more liberal Democratic Party.

Ironically, on many levels, Onorato and Cunningham are similar - both 40-somethings come from working class backgrounds, an Italian Catholic versus an Irish Catholic. Cunningham was a young mayor of Bethlehem when Bethlehem Steel shut its doors, and he says now his region is the fastest-growing part of Pennsylvania. Both are committed to practical approaches to economic development, and can point to examples of success. Indeed, they sound a lot alike when they talk about growth.

But on one social issue, there's a big difference. While Onorato is pro-life, Cunningham is pro-choice, and within the Democratic Party that could be a defining issue for some. However, Cunningham is not about to change Pennsylvania's already tough anti-abortion law (neither did pro-choice Rendell) while Onorato is hardly pushing to make the law tougher.

If that issue neutralizes for Onorato, Cunningham has no problem going after Onorato on the drink tax, the ten percent (now seven percent) levy on poured alcohol in Allegheny County. Onorato backed that tax to give public transit a dedicated source of revenue, necessary to receive federal matching dollars. The tax is unpopular among many, and Cunningham took aim at it during a recent visit to Pittsburgh, calling the tax "one of the highest, if not the highest, in Allegheny County history." No surprise, the anti-drink tax folks hosted a fund-raiser for Cunningham.

Here's my quick story on his visit: http://kdka.com/video/?id=53616@kdka.dayport.com and if you want to watch the full 18-minute interview, just click on this: http://kdka.com/video/?id=53604@kdka.dayport.com

Can Cunningham really give Onorato a run? Of course, he can, if - and it's a big if - he is able to raise enough money to get an alternative message out there. Right now, Cunningham is up for reelection as county executive in Lehigh County, and that could drain some resources. Still, in my view, it won't hurt Onorato to have some competition next spring. Many political analysts believe that's what helped Ed Rendell the most in 2002 - running against Bob Casey in the Democratic primary and forcing Rendell to campaign all over the state. By the end of that primary, everyone knew Rendell, while his Republican opponent, Attorney General Mike Fisher, was still a relatively unknown state official.

Can Anyone Beat Arlen?

After U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter voted to enact the Obama stimulus plan, Specter's arch-enemies on the right promised to take him out, politically speaking, in next spring's primary. Their biggest challenge was finding a candidate to do that, and they just might have done that.

As I opined in my last PSF, former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, the conservative Republican who nearly took Specter down in 2004, has always been the most popular choice among the conservative party faithful. The cum laude graduate of Harvard is now president of the Club for Growth, a conservative economic think tank that opposes President Obama's economic policies. Toomey, at first, was not inclined to take Specter on again, preferring a run for governor instead. But that seems to have changed, in part, because the outcry against Specter for supporting President Obama's recovery plan has reached pandemic proportions nationwide among Republican conservatives and their talk show allies (yes, Rush).

Toomey has some advantages in 2010 that he did not enjoy in 2004, not the least of which is Specter himself. While I've never seen a 79-year old with as much vigor and political acuity as Arlen Specter, particularly given what life has thrown at him, time has taken a toll on him, as it has on all of us. Still, Pennsylvania is an "older" state, and like our neighbors in West Virginia (who will never not reelect Robert Byrd) Specter's 80-something age next year won't be a negative as long as he keeps up that feisty campaign style that belies his age.

No, what Specter's greatest problem among Republicans is not his age but the wide-spread perception that he is not a "reliable" Republican - that he "blows with the wind" on issues important to many Republicans. What the general public sees as Specter's independent voting style, many GOPers see as a betrayal of core party principles. The senator's support for Obama's recovery plan, while certainly popular in Pennsylvania as a whole, has become a political lightening rod for the base of Specter's party.

And, arguably, it's a base that has become more conservative over the years, even in this state where moderate Republicans like Scranton, Thornburgh, and Ridge held court for so many years. Some pundits have talked about the loss moderate Rs to Ds in 2008 in order to vote in the Democratic presidential primary, and certainly that happened. It's also true that Limbaugh and others encouraged conservative Rs to do the same to play havoc with the Democrats. My guess is all this party-switching stuff is over-stated. Most voters don't think this strategically when they join a political party.

A bigger problem for Specter is that he will no longer have two powerful incumbent politicians on his side - President Bush and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Many believe, and I am one of them, that Bush and Santorum's support for Specter delivered the 17,000 votes that made the difference in the 2004 primary. I can't tell you the number of people I met that year who told me they were "holding their noses and voting for Specter" because Rick told them to do that. Today, Santorum has politely declined to indicate whether he still backs Specter over Toomey, but it wouldn't matter much if Rick still likes Arlen. Out of office for more than two years, Santorum no longer lives in Pennsylvania and his cadre of fervent supporters are not going to listen to him a second time anyways.

Now none of this means it's hopeless for Specter to win renomination. He should have plenty of money, and he still gets plaudits for "bringing home the bacon" to key constituencies in the state. And Specter knows how to go on offense, like his charge yesterday that Toomey was partially responsible for the Wall Street mess. In his very early years, Toomey worked for investment firms in New York City and Hong Kong.

"He's been totally in favor of deregulation, letting Wall Street run its own affairs, which has been a tremendous factor in bringing us into this current mess," Specter charged on a radio talk show in Wilkes-Barre. "So, on the basis of what he did in Congress, I think he's part of the problem." Zing. Zap.

And for some Republicans, Specter is their only hope of keeping Pennsylvania in the Republican column. With 1.1 million more Democrats than Republicans, the conservative Toomey will have to leapfrog to the middle to win a general election in the state. Of course, it's hard to handicap the 2010 general without knowing the Democrat. A Philadelphia liberal as the Dem nominee might give Toomey a fighting chance to win statewide.

But first he'll have to defeat Specter and that could get a little more complicated with the entry of Peg Luksik, the conservative pro-life activist who says she's also going to run in the Republican primary next year. The 53-year old Johnstown native, fresh off a stint as campaign manager for William Russell who lost to U.S. Rep. John Murtha, made political history in 1990 when she got 45% of the vote against then Republican state treasurer Barbara Hafer in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Four years later, she ran as an Independent for governor, garnering 13% of the vote which still stands as a record for an independent candidate.

All in all, the 2010 Senate race will be as much fun as the governor's race to watch.

Statewide Elections Are All Black Robes:

It's only natural to zoom ahead to 2010 because the 2009 off-year election, at least statewide, strikes many as boring. Voters this year will elect one member of the state Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created when Chief Justice Ralph Cappy retired, three members of the state Superior Court, and one member of the Commonwealth Court.

I daresay most voters will not have a clue who to vote for in either the May primary or the November general election. But in Pennsylvania, where judges are elected and run under the party label, which party controls the courts, particularly the highest court, can matter, particularly in redistricting and election-related matters. Right now, the state Supreme Court is controlled by the Democrats, 4-to-3. The Superior Court is controlled by the Republicans, 10-to-5, and the Republicans also control the Commonwealth Court, 5-to-4.

With the deadline for filing nominating petitions on March 10, we are beginning to get a picture of who's running for what. On the Democratic side, only one candidate appears to be running for the state Supreme Court - Superior Court Judge Jack Panella. Panella has been on this state court for five years, after serving 12 years on the Northampton Court of Common Pleas.

While the Dems seem to have united behind Panella, it looks like a true free-for-all on the Republican side. At least four candidates have filed for the Republican nomination, including three Superior Court colleagues, all women, and all from Allegheny County: Superior Court Judges Cheryl Allen, Joan Orie Melvin, and Jacqueline Shogan. The only male on the ballot is Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto.

Melvin was endorsed by the state Republican Party, which comes as no surprise since her sister is Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie. Melvin has the longest judicial service, serving more than 20 years as a municipal, county, and statewide judge. But that has hardly deterred Allen, the first African American elected to the Superior Court, or Shogan, a nurse of 12 years who went back to law school (Duke) and graduated with high honors. Panepinto has served 19 years on the Philadelphia court, where the Widener law grad is in charge of complex litigation cases.

Feel Free to Buy Your Judge:

In Pennsylvania, judicial candidates can accept contributions of any amount from individuals or political committees. In addition, outside organizations have been known to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to defeat or elect their preferred candidates. This is all quite legal, which is why the case of Caperton v. Massey Coal, argued recently before the U.S. Supreme Court, is so important. When a candidate is elected judge, at what point must he recuse himself from the cases involving those who have contributed to his campaign? Right now, it is left entirely up to the judge, some of whom appear to have no problem sitting on cases that involve their contributors.

To his credit, former Chief Justice John P. Flaherty of Pennsylvania joined 27 former chief justices and justices of 19 state supreme courts in filing a "friend of the court" brief in the Caperton case. They argued, correctly, that "substantial financial support of a judicial candidate - whether contributions to the judge's campaign committee or independent expenditures - can influence a judge's future decisions, both consciously and unconsciously." The solution is automatic recusal to protect the due process rights of the litigants who did not contribute to the judge and to avoid any appearance of impropriety. It seems obvious to me. Let's hope the U.S. Supreme Court makes the right decision.


Luke Ravenstahl Asks for Four More Years:

If it sometimes seems like Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is in one perpetual election cycle, you can be forgiven. He has been. Propelled into office at the untimely death of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor on September 1, 2006, Ravenstahl had a primary election in May 2007 (that's the race that Councilman Bill Peduto withdrew from) and a competitive general election in 2007 (against Republican challenger Mark DeSantis). Having won that special election, Ravenstahl is now running for a full four-year term as Pittsburgh's mayor.

Now age 29, Ravenstahl ought to be a shoo-in for reelection. He has amassed a sizeable campaign war chest. He is one of the most recognized political figures in the area, and, after some stupid mistakes early on, he seems to have settled down. While he is the master of the photo op [yesterday it was "Miss Smiling Irish Eyes" & today it's "Fixing Pittsburgh's Potholes"] like most mayors, he has learned to be substantive, too.

I have known Luke since he first ran for city council - just months after graduating from Washington & Jefferson College in December 2002. I think I was the first, or at least one of the first, reporters to put him on TV right after he defeated incumbent Councilwoman Barbara Burns in May 2003 enroute to election to city council that November. I have always been intrigued and admired his political acumen in a man so young and, frankly, I have always liked Luke on a personal level, although I won't let that interfere with reporting and analyzing his actions in an honest, objective manner.

The biggest knock on Ravenstahl, it seems to me, is that he often appears to be a "caretaker" - not a vision maker for a city that is rapidly losing its population and its tax base. Feel good national news stories that rank Pittsburgh positively on some levels do not solve the city's underlying financial woes or reverse some long-term trends that began long before Ravenstahl was born in 1980. To his credit, the mayor and his aides now appear more on top of some of these issues than they did a year ago, but the failure of the first couple years - aided and abetted by youth, inexperience, and the stupid stuff - has left an opening for Ravenstahl's critics.

Patrick Dowd Tries to Shake Up the Democrats:

Enter Councilman Patrick Dowd, a 40-year old Highland Park resident, who thinks he can defeat Ravenstahl in the May 19 Democratic primary. None of the political punditocracy thinks he can do that, but Dowd has always upended expectations, defeating incumbents first for the School Board and then for City Council. [He lost his first race against PA Rep. Joe Preston].

Dowd is a quintessential outsider, and he has won elections through a grassroots campaign, rather than the political clout of a Democratic organization. With less than 10 weeks to go, Dowd's challenge is whether he has enough time to reach thousands of city Democrats who have no clue who he is.

With both a Masters degree and Ph.D. in history from the University of Pittsburgh, Dowd can be sharp, analytical, and direct. Even some of his colleagues on city council who would be his natural allies against Ravenstahl are not likely to endorse him because he's too much of a loner and not a team player, they say.

In this campaign, Dowd has attacked Ravenstahl for both lacking vision for the future and for being, as some have described the mayor, the youngest old-school machine politician in America. When he announced his candidacy, Dowd compared himself to the late Mayor Pete Flaherty, who also ran - and beat - the Democratic machine forty years ago by characterizing himself as "Nobody's Boy." But Flaherty was much better known as a council member when he ran than Dowd is today, in part because back then members of council were elected at-large, not by district.

Right now, I think Dowd will be lucky to get 40% of the Democratic primary vote and could get much less because of the entry of attorney Carmen Robinson, a former city police sergeant, into the race. Still, his candidacy forces Ravenstahl to deal with the "vision thing" - to wit, the mayor's effort to create a Renaissance III plan on Monday. And that's good for the city.

Could Dowd upset Ravenstahl in May? Of course, everything's possible in politics. But in early March, time is on the mayor's side. As the campaign develops, I'd welcome the insights of any city dwellers. To get a better glimpse of Dowd, you can check out these stories on his candidacy: http://kdka.com/video/?id=53626@kdka.dayport.com; http://kdka.com/video/?id=53425@kdka.dayport.com; http://kdka.com/video/?id=53429@kdka.dayport.com.

Franco Harris for Mayor?

Rumors have swirled for months that Franco Harris, the great Steelers Hall of Famer from yesteryear, was interested in running for office. After all, the 59-year old has been a staple on the campaign trail for Democratic candidates over the years, including Barack Obama.

But it was not this Franco Harris who tossed his hat in the ring for mayor on Monday, but rather 29-year old Franco Harris Jr., who goes by "Dok," a shortened version of his mother's maiden name. Dok Harris says he will run as an Independent against Ravenstahl, or whoever wins the Democratic and Republican primaries, this November.

I sat down with Harris this week, and besides that incredible resemblance to his dad (helped by the beard) Dok was impressive for someone who does not have political experience. He's obviously bright, a graduate of Shadyside Academy and Princeton University with a Masters Degree from Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business and a Law Degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He speaks well and repeats some of Dowd's arguments against the mayor, although in softer language and with occasional compliments to Luke. But the one-time Republican, then Democrat, and now Independent knows he will have to develop and articulate a clear message for his candidacy to get off the ground.

Harris says his father's famous name will get the voters to take a look at him, but he himself must close the deal by convincing voters that he can run the city better than Ravenstahl and that he has a better prescription for the future.

In my view, if Harris can raise money, he could make things interesting this fall, but this is quite a long-shot. Pittsburgh is a five-to-one Democratic town. Four years ago, Republican Joe Weinroth (spending practically nothing) got 27% of the vote against Bob O'Connor. Two years ago, Republican Mark DeSantis (spending more than a quarter million dollars on TV) got 35% of the vote against Ravenstahl. Harris would need every Republican vote plus a whole lot of Democrats to make this competitive.

To get a better feel for this newcomer to politics, check out the story on his announcement (http://kdka.com/video/?id=54494@kdka.dayport.com) and my uncut interview with him (http://kdka.com/video/?id=54468@kdka.dayport.com).

That's more than enough for today's PSF. As always, I welcome your off-the-record comments and insights. Remember to use delano.jon@gmail.com to reach me. And for those of you in the Northeast/Midwest plagued with this never-ending winter, take solace. Spring is coming!

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