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DeSantis must play hardball

| Monday, July 30, 2007

Mark DeSantis was tossed a softball question that he could have -- and should have -- hit out of the park. But instead the Republican Pittsburgh mayoral candidate whiffed. Mr. DeSantis has the talent, time and treasure to mount a very credible campaign. But he must learn to play hardball if he wants to win.

DeSantis, a city native, has a killer resume that highlights years of experience and accomplishments in the private and public sectors. He dropped in last week to chat with the Trib. After listening to the sincere, number-crunching, policy wonkish, venture capitalist for about an hour, he inspired the following open letter:

Dear Mark:

The Republican Party is very fortunate to have you as a member, let alone its nominee. The guess here is that your I.Q. is greater than the sum of the nine members of Pittsburgh City Council. Your business acumen is reason enough to conclude you're the ideal person to tackle the massive financial problems of the virtually bankrupt 'Burgh.

Consolidating the government's disparate budgets and pension obligations, issuing balance score cards to quantify the accomplishments of city departments and creating groups of police officers and private citizens to better fight crime are all fine ideas.

And since you claim campaign donations of more than $100,000 with the likelihood of an additional $400,000, you appear to be the best financed GOP mayoral candidate in memory.

However, given the lopsided advantage Democrat candidates have in Pittsburgh -- Dems outnumber Republicans roughly 5 to 1 in voter registration -- to win you must inspire the voting public.

You listed your issues online at :

  • Confidence in our leaders

  • Fewer and fairer taxes

  • Efficiency, effectiveness and transparency

  • Greater personal safety

  • Sustainable economic development

  • Bridging the cultural divide

They are so generic that even your main opponent, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, could claim them as his.

When a question is lobbed about what Mayor DeSantis would do in the first 100 days in office, the electorate won't be electrified to learn that you'd want city employees to school you about how the government works.

But it could cause voters to wonder if you've done your homework -- especially since the position papers originally scheduled to be released by now won't be until the end of September.

Jake Haulk is president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. The local think tank seems to have a better understanding of Pittsburgh's finances than does the city. Mr. Haulk said he'd be more than willing to review the organization's studies about city finances to help you hit the ground running.

Since everyone knows that the city is a mess, just spell out what must be done to make it solvent. Chances are it will be the same strategy even if the city's finances are worse than they seem to be.

During your Trib visit, you mentioned Washington, D.C., several times but never mentioned the name of a Pittsburgh neighborhood. Mr. Ravenstahl likely knows them all and probably mentions them often.

You say "experience" is the chief difference between you and Ravenstahl, who's 21 years your junior. He's the one who has experience as mayor.

Mark, you can win. But you must play hardball just to get to first base.

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