Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Moving From Tom to Bob...

Bob O'Connor became the Mayor today, ending Tom Murphy's 12 year run as the Mayor of Pittsburgh. For most of the late 1990s they were Pittsburgh's own "Bob and Tom Morning Show," foils in mayoral primaries and disputes between the Mayor and City Council.

Murphy was a passionate Mayor who took risks, was firm in his beliefs, and occasionally rubbed people the wrong way. Along the way he built miles of trails, a much bigger trick than it sounds given the maze of ownership and liability issuies. The most visible transformation during his tenure is seen along the Allegheny River. Heinz Field, the new Del Monte Headquarters, the Equitable gas building, PNC Park, 2 new parking garages, a new Springhill Suites hotel, the new Alcoa services center and the shiny headquarters along the river, the Lincoln North Shore apartments, the new Convention Center, the new condiminiums rising on 7th and Fort Duquesne, and the Riverfron Park that lines both sides. People actually kayak in that water now. A visitor to Pittsburgh in 1994 for the last All-Star Game would be hard pressed to recognize the same area in 2006.

The question for Murphy's legacy will be 1.) Did the ends justify the means, and 2.) Did the successes outway the collossal failures? Who can forget the defeat of the stadium referendum, the declaration of victory on back-door state financining before the ultimate RAD based solution for the stadiums and convention center was reached. Who is not depressed to walk 5th and Forbes and see the empty Lazarus and Lord and Taylor and reflect on Murphy's Quixotic pursuit of Nordstrom and belief that retail would begat housing anf prosperity and not the other way around.

I'll personally remember the Tom Murphy that I bumped into on occasion running in Frick Park, the one that liked to jump into the race after firing the starters pistol. I think history, and aerial photographs, will be kind to his legacy for years to come.

I first encountered Bob O'Connor in the mid-1990's when I worked at the Schenley Park Golf Course. He was the Councilman for the 5th district and a player in the arrangement for CMU to operate the golf course, saving it from closure. O'Connor was a regular at the course, playing rounds with the regulars, practicing putting with his then young son Corey, who was probably about 10 at the time.

I remember him being affable, with a slight edge. Someone whose intelligence was greater than what lied on the surface, and who seemed to genuinely enjoy being with the people who surrounded him on the golf course.

I wonder if people dismiss him and his professional experience running Roy Rogers franchises too easily. It seems the bias for action and the need to stay close to the cash are things that may help us in a city where it's often seems easier to win funding to study why new businesses aren't being created than it is to actually start one.

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