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Editorial: Cranmer's exit

A statesmanlike withdrawal for the public good

Thursday, January 07, 1999

In the space of three years, he sent shock waves through Allegheny County, dumped his political running mate, worked for reform and development, then Tuesday denied himself a shot at the county's new top political job. Say what you like, but Bob Cranmer is not your average county commissioner.

Unlike most politicians, he was no government fixture when he first ran countywide in 1995. That was the year he and Republican incumbent Larry Dunn shattered the political firmament by seating the first GOP majority in half a century in the Allegheny County commissioners' office. Two months later, they unfortunately made good on their campaign promises; they cut property taxes by 20 percent and froze assessments for five years. The fact that they had not figured out how to work such dramatic revenue losses into the county budget did not still their hand.

Hundreds of layoffs, a depleted savings account, a judge's court order and a reduced bond rating later, the budget is finally on firmer ground. But it took a political realignment to create stability, a major move in which Commissioner Cranmer repudiated the just-say-no politics of Larry Dunn and formed a new working majority with Democratic Commissioner Mike Dawida.

The new allegiance also laid bare, once and for all, Commissioner Dunn's anti-development, anti-future and anti-Pittsburgh viewpoint. It's a message, unfortunately, that he is twisting into an "anti-elites" platform that he'll try to ride to his party's nomination for county executive.

Some Republicans may still castigate Bob Cranmer for his break with Larry Dunn, but by shifting gears and repairing the county budget, by seeking (rather than evading) accurate property assessments and by advancing the cause of major capital construction, Commissioner Cranmer put people over politics. With Tuesday's announcement, he may have done the same again.

By staying in the GOP primary for county executive, Commissioner Cranmer (after splitting votes with businessman David Christopher and anticipated candidate Jim Roddey) would have served only to clear a path for the nomination of Mr. Dunn.

But by thinning the field and working toward the day when Republicans have a single alternative to the policies of ill-conceived tax cuts, reactionary thinking and government-as-usual, Commissioner Cranmer has made the ultimate political sacrifice. If that is the mark of a citizen-lawmaker - to be honest, to spurn patronage, to reform the public sector and then get out - this commissioner has been one such leader.

Allegheny County could use a few more Bob Cranmers.

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