Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Barbara Daly Danko -- "Competition makes for better candidates"

Barbara at the Schenley Park Skating Rink,
working the club's April 2005 endorsement meeting.

Next Monday marks two months since Barbara died. (Her obituary is here.) High time that this blog made some effort, however inadequate, to celebrate her political life and dedication to the club.

Barbara first joined the club’s board in 1991, becoming a vice-president in 1995. While many candidates through the years dropped their association with the club after seeking office, Barbara remained very central to its activities, both after her failed bid for the state house in 1998 and her successful campaign for county council in 2011. Not to mention her contentious fight for ward chair in 2006, when she committed to staying on the club’s board if elected, and again, in 2008, when she was tapped for a paying gig as the Western PA Coordinator of Women for Obama. In an email announcing the job to the club's board, Barbara wrote, “My life will be crazy for the next few weeks, and I am going to try very hard to keep all of my regular commitments, like to the club!”

With a Friday, July 3 deadline looming to submit letters of intent to seek Barbara’s seat on county council, this is also an opportune time to recall her always strong encouragement of those considering a run for office.

Here’s a March 2007 Post-Gazette letter to the editor in which Barbara makes the case for competitive elections:

Unfair to Peduto
Your March 22 editorial "Peduto's Exit: Pittsburgh Loses in a Case of No Guts, No Glory" hit way below the belt, particularly with this sentence: "He turned his back on the city, an act that will be recalled in shame." In my mind your editorial represents a serious case of shooting the messenger.
This race was over -- Bill Peduto knew it and so did everyone involved in grass-roots politics in this city. You conceded as much: "This was a race that, even if pre-determined by a strong political tide, needed to be fought." Bill Peduto was fighting an uphill battle, attempting to speak about issues important to our city, and for months he was getting next to nothing for his efforts from the mainstream media, including the Post-Gazette.

As someone who knows something about running for political office, let me say emphatically that being a candidate is very difficult -- and for the PG to criticize someone who put himself out there as a candidate in an almost hostile climate because he saw a need for discussion of the issues, and because he believed he could make a difference, is a disgrace.

Mr. Peduto did not enter the race to be a sacrificial lamb. For the Post-Gazette to say that he should have stayed in and played that role for the good of the city is over the top.

As someone who has long believed that competition makes for better candidates and ultimately better government, I regret that Bill Peduto dropped out of the race. But rather than belittle him, I will thank him for putting himself in the race in the first place, and for trying to make a difference.

I believe the Post-Gazette editorial board owes Bill Peduto an apology.


Regent Square

And here is an op-ed from Barbara that the Post-Gazette declined to publish, also from March 2007. It contains both a very personal recollection of her father's death, and a sympathetic take on a local politician who answered when duty called ...

Why We Like Luke
By Barbara Daly Danko

            I have spent much of my adult life in politics and government – as a practitioner, as a teacher, and as someone involved at the grassroots level.  I confess to being a policy wonk, and I am constantly telling my students to look at the issues when looking at the candidates.  I have also long believed that competition makes for better candidates and ultimately, better government.  And yet, this year the issues don’t seem to matter to almost anyone, the public at large has not engaged in the debate, and that has puzzled me.  I think I’ve finally figured out why, and to explain, I need to tell you a story from almost 30 years ago.

            November 2, 1978 had to be the darkest day of my life.  My father, my hero, was on his way home from a retirement party at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. when he suffered a massive coronary at the age of 62.  By the time he got to the hospital he was dead – and my mother was a widow, and his four children - one in high school, one newly married, and two still trying to launch – were left devastated.  He was a much-loved man who left us much too soon.

            We had no extended family living in D.C., so at first we were on our own.  We made the calls, we scheduled the visitation and the funeral Mass, we picked out the suit and tie for him to wear in the casket – all those things that custom requires, to help the grieving get through those first few hours and days.  We didn’t sleep, we didn’t eat – we couldn’t, because all we really felt like doing was crying. 

            Finally, we were forced to go to the funeral home – it was time to have our friends, and eventually the relatives, pay their respects.  And so we drove there, mostly in silence.  We were on time, and so we each knelt before the casket and prayed – and then we sat and waited . . . and waited . . . and for a few moments I wondered if anyone else knew or cared about our grief.  And then my youngest sister’s high school band instructor came in, and just held her, and let her cry before going over to speak with my mother.  This long-time teacher was followed by lots of other people, but he was the first, the one who stepped forward, and in those first moments did everything right when he was most needed . . . and for that, I will never forget him.

            Which brings me back to Luke . . . A year ago no one in their right mind would have bet a dime that Luke Ravenstahl would today be the Mayor of Pittsburgh.  Yet, we all watched and lived through the tragedy of Mayor O’Connor’s last months, the machinations on Grant Street, and finally Bob’s death on September 1.  And we all watched as Luke took the oath in a simple ceremony just hours later.  Lots of people may have wanted to, but it was Luke’s job according to the City Charter to step up to the plate, and carry the City during those first few hours and days and months following Mayor O’Connor’s death.  He did it; and he did it with class and dignity.  He stepped forward when we needed him most, to get us through this moment in our City’s history.   And that is why we like Luke. When I hear people say, “Give the kid a chance,” I think what they are really saying is: “We owe him.”
            Has Luke made mistakes? Yes.  Have I agreed with Luke on every issue?  No.  Did I vote for Bill Peduto in the Democratic Committee endorsement to keep the conversation about issues going forward?  Yes.  But this year I don’t think Ed Rendell, Dan Onorato, or even Barack Obama - let alone Bill Peduto - could beat Luke Ravenstahl in the Mayor’s race.  In the minds of most of the public, Luke’s name is the only one on the ballot.  In two years, when the race is for a full four year term, things will be different, but my money says, the 2007 race is over.  We Like Luke.

The author is an Adjunct Faculty member at CCAC, and Chair of the 14th Ward Democratic Committee.

Friday, April 18, 2014

20th Anniversary Celebration - 1984

Two great names from the 14th Ward's past--Ivan Itkin and Poli's Restaurant--featured prominently in the club's 20th anniversary celebration. Itkin was the honoree; Poli's the venue. Poli's closed in 2005 and was sold at sheriff's sale last year. Itkin has enjoyed a better fate, including 25 years in the state house and the Democratic candidate for governor in 1998 (he lost to incumbent Tom Ridge). Itkin was a very active club leader, serving as president in the early 1970s.

Today, Itkin has spread his progressive political roots to his new home in Florida, where he is president of the GO GO Democrats, aka the Galt Ocean Grassroots Organization Democratic Club, "a group of active citizens on the Galt Ocean mile in Ft Lauderdale, FL", according to the organization's Facebook page.

The club will mark its 50th anniversary next weekend with a fundraiser and endorsement meeting at Colfax School in Squirrel Hill. More information, including a ticket and sponsorship order form, is here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Two More 1964 Club-backed Committee Candidates

Talk about qualified! And even better, both Dolores Gluck and Milton Brauman won their Allegheny County Democratic Committee seats in what was then the ward's 21st District, located north of Forbes and south of Wilkins, between Wightman and Murray.

 And for a bonus blast from the past, here's Shirley Stark's letter to prospective committee constituents from 1966. She lived along the Schenley Park Golf Course, on Darlington Road, in what is now the 38th District. Again, qualifications galore and a really strong letter--Pitt and University of Chicago grad, two young children in public school, and deeply involved in local political and neighborhood groups (note that Shirley highlighted her leadership in getting a "ladycop" assigned to the intersection of Beacon and Wightman--while the nomenclature may change with the times, the need for civic-minded community activism remains).

Friday, February 7, 2014

Running for Committee in 1964--Almost as Big as The Beatles!

The club's archives include an interesting collection of campaign paraphernalia from, of all things, Allegheny County Democratic Committee races.

The position clearly carried more weight back in the salad days of patronage and ward chair power. Many committee races involved more than one candidate (a rare occurrence nowadays, for better or worse), and in a few primary elections the club ran an extensive slate of endorsed candidates in a bid to take over the ward.

According to a 1964 Pittsburgh Press article about the club, "Dr. Eugene Sucov, chairman of the 14th Ward Independent Democrats, announced his group will seek to elect 37 members of the Ward Democratic Committee." One of those committee hopefuls was current club board member Nat Hershey. (Here's a headshot of Nat in 1964.)

Also seeking a committee seat was another club founder, Celeste Behrend, who died in 2009-- Obituary: Celeste S. Behrend / Liberal political activist in city's 14th Ward.

Posted below are the entire results of the 1964 14th Ward committee elections, along with a list of club-backed candidates and a map of the districts at that time (there were 32, compared to to 41 today.) Unfortunately, many of the club's candidates lost that year, including Nat, Carol Berger and Marcum Schneider. However, Celeste prevailed, and of course, Nat and other club candidates would be elected to the committee in subsequent elections.

Note the number of contested races, some with three or more candidates, as well as some of the razor-thin margins of victory. For example, in District 7, in the heart of Point Breeze, Thomas Mahon beat Thomas Sheehy by one vote, 152 to 151, with the club's candidate, Richard Rieker, taking another 82 votes. Or how about 546 votes cast for four male candidates in District 15, near Blue Slide Park? That's a huge number compared to contemporary turnouts.

Not a bad level of interest for an unpaid, under-appreciated, bottom-rung position on the Democratic Party ladder!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Be Picky Elect Bicky"

Beatrice "Bicky" Goldszer was one committed committee person, as evidenced by her wide-ranging constituent services and multi-point community action plan listed in the campaign flier below. No date is indicated on the literature, but the mid- to late-1980s would be a good guess, judging by the font style and the fact that National Night Out started in 1984--Bicky was a prime mover in expanding the public safety event in the 14th Ward. Bicky was an active club board member and helped to organize a number of club fundraisers, including the sixth annual "Swanky Ball" (see photo in this post).

CLARIFICATION: Long-time club board member and former Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Liz Healy reports that this flier was circulated in 1990, when she and Bicky squared off in a school board race.

"Let's Start Building a Sub-stratum of Real Democracy ..."

It doesn't quite have the ring of, say, "Remember the Maine, Down with Spain", but former club president Bill Behrend's call to action in 1976 highlights one of the club's catalyzing issues: reform and control of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee in the 14th Ward.
 Note the list of endorsed committee candidates below. Dr. Cyril Wecht's name is circled for some reason. He would quit the club the next year in a dispute over the its mayoral endorsement, as detailed here. Other endorsed committee candidates include club founders Celeste Behrend, Molly Yard Garrett and Janet Kreisman, former club president Mary Hall, and Michelle Madoff, who would become an outspoken member of Pittsburgh City Council in 1978.
The boxed text indicates that the committee was elected every two years. The cycle has now been expanded to four years and this year, 2014, all committee seats are again up for grabs. In fact, an important deadline is fast approaching. Any prospective candidate must collect 10 signatures from registered Democrats in their committee district to be included on the primary election ballot in May. Candidates may start collecting the signatures on February 18, with petitions due to be filed with the Allegheny County Division of Elections by March 11.