Friday, April 29, 2011

Say It Isn't So

Just shy of seventeen months ago we moved to New Port Richey from Pittsburgh, PA., perhaps the most screwed-up city on the planet.  Bear with me and I’ll explain, with the hope that I won’t offend my friends who still live in the Black and Gold center of the known universe.
It’s not the people so much as the mindset that’s warped.  People have joked for years that Pittsburgh is either a football town with a drinking problem, or a drinking town with a football problem.  The answer is both…and neither.
This relatively small market as compared to cities like, for example, New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, is a thriving sports town.  And a thriving drinking town.  And it is perhaps the only town in the United States that has an unofficial official City Religion.  The official unofficial ‘state’ religion of Pittsburgh is Roman Catholicism.  That is not a criticism, simply an observation.
Pittsburgh’s real problem, is it’s skewed sense of priorities, an image best observed in the antics of the accidental Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.  Young Luke (not to be confused with Skywalker) was serving in his rotation as President of the City Council, a job that pretty much all elected city council members hold if they stay in office long enough, when the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bob O’Conner, Jr., died in office.  By law, the President of the Council ascends to the position of Mayor, a position he keeps for the remainder of the deceased mayor’s term.  If he likes the job, he can run on his own merits.  At age 26, barely out of diapers, he liked the job, and since he didn’t accidently nuke the city or outlaw beer, he got re-elected.  He also used his position as mayor to get into sporting events to which he would not have otherwise been invited, nor have afforded season tickets, or, in the case of the golf tournament he crashed so he could meet Tiger Woods, afford a ticket.
And that mindset of sports over reality is the priority issue that haunts – even taints – Pittsburgh.
With homeless people sleeping under overpasses and panhandling on down town street corners, Ravenstahl approved – fought for, even, city funding to bring Casino gambling to the city of three rivers.  He easily folded when Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said “Build me a new arena at the city’s expense, or I’ll move the team to Kansas”.  With streets still home to vagrants living in cardboard boxes, the Boy Mayor said “Build him that stadium.  We can’t hope to get the Stones to come to Pittsburgh and play the Igloo.”  The Stones did come, by the way.  They played Heinz Field.  The Mustard Palace was already there.  After the new hockey deal was signed, sealed, and people started getting displaced, Lemieux told Pittsburgh Press “I never planned to move the team.  That was just leverage to get a new arena like the Steelers and Pirates got.”
How misplaced are Pittsburgh’s priorities?  One hot July night, five children were murdered in a drive by shooting in one of the east side neighborhoods.  What was the lead story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette the next morning?  (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and alleged rapist “Big” Ben) “Rothloesberger Feels Good Coming Into Training Camp”.
Yeah.  You read that right.  The local sports hero gets first page billing while the senseless murder of five children is relegated to page two of ‘neighborhood news’.
The homeless and hungry go hungry and homeless while Pittsburgh deals out money to build a casino and hockey arena the City really doesn’t need.
Now, to put this into perspective.
The Tampa Bay Rays are threatening to move if the city does not build them a new stadium.  Tropicana Park is one of the nicest fields in Major League Baseball.  The Rays don’t come close to filling it on most nights, and tickets are priced out of most middle-income fan’s range as it is.  Tell me I’m wrong, but generally speaking, new stadium=higher ticket prices.
And Tampa and its surrounding communities are working hard passing anti-panhandler laws faster than you can say “Hot Dogs!  Get your Fresh hot, Hot Dogs”.  Homeless people are sleeping in parks year round because at least winter in Tampa isn’t accompanied by -25° temperatures and four feet of snow.  And the COMFORTABLY WEALTHY Rays Owner wants a new FREE stadium, funded by the City.
Please tell me the new Tampa Mayor is smarter than the boy mayor of Pittsburgh.  I’d hate to think that the hedonistic stupidity and senseless waste of the Steel City hasn’t followed me to the Gulf Coast.
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