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Vanaski: Jockeying for Pittsburgh City Council post is insipid

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By Nafari Vanaski
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

A few times — mostly after a column that has anything remotely to do with race — I see I've missed a call from a blocked number.

When I see that, I know I'm in for a doozy of a voicemail. A couple of times, it's been the same guy, who calls me a “token” and sounds like the same person who told me to my ear that I only have my job because I'm black.

I like to think it's because I'm good at what I do, but who am I to argue with some anonymous person who probably still uses the word “coloreds”?

Some of you might be thinking, “Who says stuff like that?” Sadly, one too many people.

Now that Bill Peduto has ascended to mayordom, the jockeying has begun among Pittsburgh City Council members to overtake Darlene Harris as president. And the candidates are reeeealllly bringing their A-game arguments to the people.

“Prioritizing diversity means the next council president should be an African-American,” said Ricky Burgess, a black man who represents East Liberty and other communities in District 9.

“We are the only legally sanctioned, government-supported discriminated class in America,” said Bruce Kraus, who is gay, and represents the third district, which includes the South Side.

That's right — these two are arguing the next council president should be black or gay because it's their time.

It's one thing for a minority group to fight against inequality in times when jobs and progress are inaccessible because of who you are, but it's another to use that status as the primary reason for you to ascend to a position, especially a largely ceremonial one. For those of us who spend our careers trying to shake the notion that we did not get where we are because of the color of our skin, this has to be one of the most bizarre exchanges in the history of the city hall annals. And this is a city that has survived Luke Ravenstahl.

Here is a crazy thought: Let's not make your race/sex/sexual orientation the crux of your argument that you should be council president. Instead, maybe you should start campaigning for the job by touting what you've accomplished and how you've worked with others to accomplish those things.

If the argument is that City Council needs this representation to give voice to all groups, then that's a problem for the council as a unit.

The city is just getting out of a bad relationship with another former council president who became mayor. His campaigns were based on not much more than: “Hey, don't I remind you of the son you never had? The one who takes the car out for a spin and comes back in six months with a pack of cigarettes and a tattoo, but the one you'd still loan $20 because he promised to pay you back as soon as he gets out of this bad patch? Don't I?”

So this time around, we're gonna need council members who offer a little more than the “Hey, I'm black/gay/have freckles!” approach.

Perhaps a track record? I know, there I go with those crazy thoughts again.

Well, here's one last one: Council should consider someone who has shown an ability to reach beyond the familiar and tried to help all residents of Pittsburgh and can serve with that in mind. Assuming that there are any council members who fit that bill, here's hoping that person becomes the next council president.

And if that person happens to break barriers for a minority group, that'd be great, too.

Nafari Vanaski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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