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Be not afraid: It's one quality we need in Pittsburgh's next mayor

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Saturday, March 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

As Pittsburghers try to untangle a crowded field of mayoral candidates, they might look to Rudyard Kipling for guidance. Kipling, who spent a month with friends just outside the city in Beaver, wrote about the virtue of walking with kings without losing the common touch.

Until the calamitous interregnum of the Ravenstahl administration, Pittsburgh mayors did just that, enjoying high office without losing touch with their constituents. And nothing demonstrates the switch to an imperial mayorship more than Ravenstahl's ever-present cadre of bodyguards.

They have followed him everywhere, all through the night, even to distant cities where he could not be recognized on a bet. They appear in snapshots taken during his recreational activities and it seems that he couldn't visit the bathroom without a guard at the door. Other mayors were different, not afraid to live among us.

Bob O'Connor would show up at your house at 10 o'clock at night, looking for a glass of cold water, while taking his customary walk with one of his pals. Bob was an “everyman,” more comfortable among his constituents than anywhere else. And he loved to drop in, sometimes to talk business, but mostly not, and often staying for a cookie.

Contemplative Tom Murphy, while not known for his personal warmth, was often seen weaving his way through city streets on a solitary afternoon run. Even his antagonists felt better seeing him in their midst, one with the city, just like everyone else.

Sophie Masloff, a no-nonsense Pittsburgh grandma when she became mayor, loved to shop on her own along Forbes & Murray or in the Strip District. She was often spotted wheeling around town in her big Cadillac with the “Sophie” license plate, to the delight of the folks who spotted her.

Once, in response to a rare but credible safety concern, a uniformed officer was detailed to her apartment building during the night shift. When Sophie arrived home and spotted the female officer in the lobby, she ordered her to head home herself and spend the night with her children, pooh-poohing the extra attention as silliness.

Dick Caliguiri, one of the nicest people to ever hold the office, insisted on driving himself to and from work. He often arrived at City Hall with an assignment for public works, be it a pothole he had hit or a tricky intersection that required a new yield sign. He relished his time without the trappings of power, without a security detail.

Pete Flaherty, politically and privately “nobody's boy,” disdained pomp and quickly eliminated the mayor's driver. And when there was a racially charged shooting in Manchester, Pete drove himself to the neighborhood, told the police to retreat and walked the streets to keep peace.

Pittsburgh's mayors have served us best when they showed they were not afraid of us, not surrounded by a cordon of security, not living in a self-imposed taxpayer-funded bubble.

We need to get back to that.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

 

 
 


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