Bob O'Connor dies

As regular readers of this space know, I was no great fan of Bob O'Connor, mayor of Pittsburgh. I thought he carried himself as someone entitled to the position -- he ran for the post three times before finally winning -- rather than someone who really wanted to get things accomplished. I thought he was a remnant of the old Pittsburgh of short-sighted overcompensation that took root after the end of the steel era and lasted until the mid-1990s with the beginning of the revitalization of downtown and areas like the South Side and the Strip. And O'Connor didn't help his case when he seemingly took a stand against the Penguins's and their want to stay in Pittsburgh (the Isle of Capri casino plan which includes $290 million for a new arena) when he sided with Gov. Ed Rendell and his support for a casino plan for downtown that didn't include monies for a new all-purpose arena for the city and team (the Harrah's plan which would build a casino in Station Square). No, O'Connor was a nuisance and I couldn't wait until his term was over.

But I never, ever wished for his term as mayor to end as horrifically as it did. Last night, at 8:55 p.m., O'Connor succumbed to primary cell nervous system T-cell lymphoma, an incredibly rare form of cancer from all accounts, that he was diagnosed with only six months into his term. (Read the Post-Gazette story here.)

Cancer is an ugly, awful thing. The rarer it is, the worse. And to watch the rapid deterioration of O'Connor through the Post-Gazette's Web site's stories about his condition was a terrible thing. Despite my distaste for him as a politician, he was an important figure in Pittsburgh and it's impossible to know what he might have represented for the future of the city. I thought he should never have been mayor, that he was too old, provincial and mired in the past to affect any serious changes for the young people in Pittsburgh. But he could've ended up surprising me. His death is a tragedy for his family and the city.

It will be interesting to watch what the new mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, formerly the president of City Council, does with his time in office. He's the youngest mayor in the city's history at 26, and if there's a silver lining in all of this it's that a young person -- a really young person -- will be guiding the city for the next three and a half years.

It's too bad that he had to come to the office the way he did.

Bob O'Connor
Mayor, city of Pittsburgh, Jan. 3, 2006-Sept. 1, 2006