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Editorial -- Cranmer's leadership

The commissioner made a tough, necessary call on RAD

Thursday, June 04, 1998

Commissioner Bob Cranmer has no shortage of political enemies.

He infuriated Democrats with his surprise election in 1995. He enraged Republicans by breaking with ineffectual colleague Larry Dunn. And, this week, chances are good he picked up a few new adversaries.

That's because he made a tough call -- driven more by the future of his region than the future of his career -- on one of his appointments to the Allegheny Regional Asset District board.

Commissioner Cranmer named Fred Baker, a businessman, to the RAD board in 1996. On Monday, Mr. Baker quit the board under pressure from the commissioner because the two differed on a momentous issue that will get a RAD vote next month: Should the board convert the $10 million it allocates annually to Three Rivers Stadium into $13.4 million a year to help pay for Plan B, which will build two new stadiums and a new convention center?

To both men the answer is plain: Mr. Cranmer says yes, Mr. Baker says no. Exit Mr. Baker.

To a lot of politicians around Allegheny County, the commissioner's removal of a potential obstacle to an $803 million development program -- something this region doesn't see every day -- is a bald political power play ... an end-run around the public will ... the stuff of Boss Tweed and Davey Lawrence (to paraphrase Larry Dunn).

But for all the crying they do in their civics books, that's what people hear from any politician who ends up on the short end of a vote in Washington, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh City Council.

The people who think Commissioner Cranmer was wrong to replace a wayward board member who, by law, serves at his pleasure, are the same people who have been fighting these projects since at least last year. Don Walko. Frank Gigliotti. Dave Levdansky. Richard Olasz.

They were against building them with a new half-cent regional sales tax. Now they are against building them with no new taxes. It's time someone asked them what they are for.

Bob Cranmer knows what he is for. He and Commissioner Mike Dawida and Mayor Murphy, along with thousands of average citizens and civic leaders, are for a region that renews and revives itself. One that attracts businesses, creates jobs, offers quality of life and, most important, has a future.

That is an entirely appropriate use of public dollars -- and Pittsburgh's metro competitors keep investing in themselves, even if this region doesn't.

One more point. Mr. Baker, and those who have turned his resignation into a cause celebre, are trying to portray the Plan B vote as something unprecedented, something out of the realm of the RAD. What hypocrisy.

From its inception, RAD has given money not only to Three Rivers Stadium, but also to other regional assets like the Civic Arena, Heinz Hall and Benedum Center -- places where millionaire athletes, millionaire singers, millionaire musicians and millionaire actors perform for the paying public.

How did Mr. Baker, whose conscience is so tortured by the notion of using RAD money for stadium construction, vote on two RAD budgets that contained such "millionaire handouts"?

Yes and yes.

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