Sunday, March 09, 2008

On Top of the Political World: Polish Hill

While GLUE is busy discussing what might be the Postindustrial Heartland's political agenda, Newsweek spotted co-founder Abby Wilson bucking the current wisdom of Polish Hill concerning the upcoming PA Democratic primary:

You can find the newer Pittsburgh in places such as the Monterey Pub in an old, federalist-style area called the Mexican War Streets District. Most of the under-35 crowd there was for Obama. One was Abby Wilson, a native who graduated from Columbia, worked in South Africa and then returned home to run a foundation dedicated, she said, to turning the "balkanized, dysfunctional cities" of the Great Lakes into a political force. "Obama can restore our diplomatic relations," she said. Over dinner in the back of the restaurant, she engaged in a debate with Web-site developer Brian R. Barcaro. A self-described Catholic conservative, his most popular site is Catholic He's gotten buyout offers, he said, and gets hits from all over—but none, so far as he knew, from Polish Hill.

Hillary Clinton appeals to Pittsburgh's old guard and Barack Obama is the voice of Pittsburgh's ongoing transformation. The same scenario played out in nearby Youngstown during the Ohio primary. Clinton used Youngstown as a backdrop to highlight the failures of NAFTA. What she ignored, apparently to considerable political gain, are the agents of change infusing the region with energy and hope.

While I appreciate the more nuanced perspective of the region, Newsweek incorrectly identifies Mayor Luke Ravenstahl as the face of "newer Pittsburgh." Ravenstahl represents business-as-usual, quite different from the situation in Youngstown with Mayor Jay Williams. The deck is still stacked against fresh approaches to economic dislocation, at least at the level of local and state politics. If some different policies are to come to the fore, we will need to network and work across the traditional borders. Regional collaboration is the only way to break parochial gridlock.

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