Like practically all conversations these days, the debate over the possibility of Pittsburgh playing host to the 2024 Republican National Convention has gotten way too political. When bitterly partisan politics dominates any discussion, reason and common sense are among the first casualties.
Let’s step back and take a deep breath.
As reported by the Post-Gazette over the weekend, Ed Gainey, Pittsburgh’s new mayor, has joined Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald in trying to woo the 2024 Republican National Convention, and an estimated $200 million in spending, to Pittsburgh.
Predictably, the blowback and static on social media from Gainey’s left flank, including elected officials and activists, was fierce. In their view, Republicans have become so hopelessly corrupt and evil they cannot be given the respect, or hospitality, normally accorded fellow citizens.
Like it or not, Republicans make up one of the two major U.S. political parties. Yes, many Republican officials behaved abominably during and after the 2020 presidential election. But we do not believe the party, and all its supporters, has disqualified itself from legitimacy. Aside from the obvious benefits of a potential $200 million windfall, inviting the Republican National Convention is, arguably, an expression of hope that our partisan divide is not permanent and our political sclerosis not terminal.
The convention also would put Pittsburgh in the national spotlight, as the nation prepares for one of the most important elections in its history. The optics of a revived Downtown should be good. This city and region have a lot to show off.
More to the point, inviting Republicans to Pittsburgh is in no way an endorsement of their politics. There are numerous examples of Democratic-leaning cities, and most major cities lean Democratic, playing host to Republican conventions.
There are also examples of Pittsburgh wooing groups whose ideologies don’t play well in urban America, including the 2011 annual meeting of the NRA, when more than 71,000 credit-card-carrying members of the gun rights group flooded Downtown Pittsburgh. And if politics is going to influence this debate, it ought to be noted many Republicans live in Allegheny County and, certainly, Western Pennsylvania.
So far, Gainey has handled the matter appropriately. On Monday, he calmly and respectfully stood his ground, acknowledging the concerns of his critics but reaffirming that the city was prepared to host the GOP presidential nominating spectacular.
Violence can happen at any political convention, and the stakes of partisan politics seem to rise with every election cycle. The specter of the 1968 Democratic convention debacle in Chicago hangs over us all. The city must prepare for the possibility of violence, without becoming an ugly police state that aggravates tensions.
There are risks but, as it stands, the potential benefits of this convention outweigh the perils.
In inviting the national Republican convention to Pittsburgh, the leaders of this city and county extended their hands across ideological and partisan divides. We believe this community and region are up to the challenge.