The future of Pittsburgh: Advice for the next mayor
By Mark Desantis
Published: Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
As hard as it to believe today, the U.S. Army of 1939 ranked 17th among the armies of the world in size and power, numbering only 190,000, just behind Romania, at the outset of World War II. Years of neglect and poor leadership left the Army corrupt, inefficient and hopelessly antiquated.
In 1941, the Army's cavalry chief testified to Congress that “four well-spaced horsemen could charge half a mile across an open field to destroy an enemy machine-gun nest, without sustaining a scratch.”
It would fall to Uniontown native George C. Marshall, commanding general of the Army (and later architect of the Marshall Plan and Nobel laureate) to transform — in about four years — a hopeless mess into a fighting force of 8 million that would help save the free world. It is in his stated philosophy, much in the character of his Western Pennsylvania roots, that our next mayor could find inspiration:
“Go right straight down the road, to do what is best, and to do it frankly and without evasion.”
Pittsburgh's next mayor takes office in 2014 and will inherit a hot mess and everyone knows it. Yet it is this very mess that might give our next mayor a freedom of action few recent Pittsburgh mayors ever enjoyed and open the way for a complete transformation and renewal of our city government.
The credibility of the Office of Mayor is badly damaged and could grow still worse by the ongoing actions and inaction of the incumbent mayor and those around him, as another six months must pass before the next mayor can be sworn in. In fact, this integrity gap is now so great that few would oppose, and many would support, a swift removal and replacement of the top layer of every department, board or program of city government along with a complete top-to-bottom reassessment of all city operations.
Very few prewar general officers survived Marshall's quick transformation from a nepotistic bureaucracy to a merit-based, efficient and effective U.S. Army. In fact, new officers were often handpicked from within and outside the senior ranks by Marshall himself for their ability to get real results and, as achieved, promptly promoted.
Our next mayor will be politically and practically free to do a similar hard reset of city government.
The new mayor must also confront head-on the fact that our elected city government still does not control its own fate, as it remains in the equivalent of a humiliating and necessary receivership with state-appointed oversight. Our new mayor can find opportunity here, too — not by fighting oversight but by taking up the challenge of earning our way out of it.
Press releases about “structurally balanced budgets” and tweaks of the status quo have not and will never work going forward. A more inspired and direct path can make a decisive difference: Provide every single city service at a measurable quality level far higher than ever before at a cost far lower than ever before . With visible, tangible results, the next mayor will not only recover the city government's fate but its dignity.
When first asked by President Franklin Roosevelt to assume leadership of the Army at the outbreak of war, Marshall replied simply: “I will give you the best I have.”
Our next mayor will possess the most precious of opportunities — to not just remake government but in doing so affirm Pittsburgh's sense of itself. We only ask our new mayor that he, too, give us the best he has.
Mark DeSantis, who ran against departing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2007, is a tech entrepreneur and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in downtown Pittsburgh.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Samsung introduces free streaming radio service
- Penguins stave off Ducks’ shooting barrage to win in shootout
- Trade to Penguins caps frenetic period for winger Stempniak
- Steelers score with Springdale fundraiser
- Alle-Kiski car dealers ready for thaw
- Penguins notebook: Maatta leaves lasting impression with Selanne
- Lincoln Way work finally set to begin
- Neighbors say bright, flashing sign interferes with sleep
- Clairton Seuss Cafe just what doctor ordered for love of reading
- Steelers restructure Brown’s contract to become salary cap compliant
- Family, McKeesport community grieves for girl, 14, killed by truck