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Native academic: Pittsburgh Dems' dominance & Amazon

| Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos (AP Photo)
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos (AP Photo)

After 1949, when Mao Zedong forced the “nationalist” government to retreat to Taiwan, all hopes of Chinese for returning “home” were dashed. The phenomenon of “overseas Chinese” reflected that reality. In the United States there is a similar phenomenon. I call us “overseas Pittsburghers.”

This is a new era, however, and manufacturing is not the lifeblood of the 'Burgh. New forms of employment are changing the economy and other corporate entities have replaced Big Steel, Big Aluminum and the 19th-century giants — Carnegie, Frick and Mellon. In their place are two universities, Carnegie Mellon and Pitt, and UPMC, which employs 80,000 residents.

Pittsburgh has qualified for consideration for a new Amazon headquarters, proudly pointing to several Amazon executives who are overseas Pittsburghers and the attractiveness of Pittsburgh's location, universities and skilled workforce.

There are problems, however.

Not all of the Pittsburgh area's local governments are well run. Some are “distressed communities.”

In terms of politics, during the Great Depression, Democrats took control of Pittsburgh city government and have held power ever since, with government offices and employment enjoyed by Democratic Party loyalists. How or why political power has not changed over those many years spells trouble.

Aspinwall and Forest Hills were Republican forever, but they became tired and old. Both borough GOP committees couldn't recruit anyone to run for elective office, and the Democrats took over by default. In Aspinwall, new Democrats are running a tight ship, but after a while, Democratic “regulars” will seek office and spending will increase.

Is that a region where Jeff Bezos would like to build his new headquarters?

As a left-winger, Bezos will like the domination of Democrats. But local officials have never shown leadership that could reform the public schools or foster entrepreneurship.

There is a need for rental housing, but that takes time. Where will the first 10,000 Amazon employees live? And where can they find a good public school for their children?

Twenty-two years ago, Republican leader Larry Dunn gained control of Allegheny County government. He ran on a pledge to privatize some services and the county's general aviation airport. Dunn was instrumental in passage of legislation that permitted cities to sell five airports and keep the proceeds.

With legislation clearing the way, the tenants at the airport reversed their view of county management of the airport. They now wanted nothing to do with its sale. However, many corporations that had served county government were open to privatization.

Old dogs can learn new tricks. But the dogs in the governments of Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh are not innovative.

So, if Bezos is looking for a high-tax location dominated by Democrats for generations, with poor public schools, local taxes on employee income and housing inadequate to his needs, Pittsburgh is for him. But not for us overseas Pittsburghers who want to return home. It's not time.

Richard Bishirjian, a Pittsburgh native, is president of the American Academy of Distance Learning. He was founding president and professor of government at Yorktown University from 2000 to 2016 and is the author of “The Coming Death and Future Resurrection of American Higher Education.”

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