Saturday, September 02, 2006

“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” - Lyndon B. Johnson

Mayor Bob O'Connor died yesterday evening, two months after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, and only eight months into his term.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said eloquently what many of us feel:
Bob's death is especially tragic because becoming the mayor of Pittsburgh was his lifelong dream, and he was making incredible progress in revitalizing the city. His passing seems so unfair and is such a loss for all of us.

Many of us in this city expected O'Connor to be a mediocre mayor; after all, he was part of the machine, a real party man. I know I didn't vote for him. But he surprised me. The gusto with which he took office and started down the path of change, in this city that has been crying out for change, impressed me, and many others who did not start out as supporters. He loved Pittsburgh, its people and its little neighborhoods; he trumpeted its good traits and worked to fix its bad ones. He was so proud of this city, and he wanted everyone to know what a great city it was, and how much better it could be. Political machinations that took place after he was hospitalized, and, we all suspected, incapacitated, filled me with despair - he'd made such a strong start, and now the machine was taking over once again.

A beautifully expressed, and honest, obituary for Mayor O'Connor is posted on the Post Gazette website.

Upon O'Connor's death, Luke Ravenstahl, the 26-year-old city council president, was sworn in as the new mayor. Ravenstahl ran for council on his father's and grandfather's name (a state rep; and head of the water/sewer authority and then later, a district judge, respectively); he won the council presidency through, in my opinion, the typical and disappointing political finaglings and dealings which Pittsburghers have come to expect from our elected leaders. [Sigh. You see the problem, yes?]

With the mayor's passing, there will be not just a generational shift, but a change in tone from the ebullience of Mr. O'Connor to the cautious poise of Mr. Ravenstahl, he [State Rep. Don Walko, D-North Side] added. "Luke puts a different face on the city."

That's one way of putting it.

Even more worrisome is the question surrounding the allowed term for a mayoral successor. The City of Pittsburgh charter is disquietingly vague: until "the next election permitted by law."
It could mean a special election; it could mean a normal election bumped up two yesrs to next year; or it could mean an election bumped back to 2009, allowing the default mayoral successor almost a full term as mayor. Legal experts say there's a very good chance the issue could go to the courts. Yeah, that's *exactly* what a city teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and requiring strong, fair leadership, needs.

Mayor O'Connor, the city of Pittsburgh will miss you, in many ways.

Mayor Robert E. O'Connor
DEC. 9, 1944 - SEPT. 1, 2006


Lord, Rich and Bill Toland. "New mayor Luke Ravenstahl confident he is ready to lead city." September 2, 2006. Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

"Rare brain cancer claims Pittsburgh mayor." September 2, 2006.
AP Wire /


Sarah Louise said...

Lovely obit in the PG. He will be missed.

Gina said...

I feel so bad for his wife and family--two months ago they were on top of the world. You know?

Anonymous said...

Oh man. That's sad.

momslo said...

I still remember the sadness that took over San Francisco when we lost our beloved mayor George Moscone-

My toughts go out to all of you and his family.

Don't lose faith in your wonderful city- you all make a difference.

Kathy said...

That's so sad.