Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Editorial Notes: Two Camps on the Hill

On Friday, April 6, the Comet wrote this blurb about the issue in the Hill District:

The P-G's Rich Lord reports on a perplexing meeting between Hill District leaders, and Ravenstahl, Onorato, Ferlo, Wheatley, and Payne. Marimba Milliones and the Rev. Johnnie Monroe are demanding a lot, but there are considerable questions as to whether they represent a community consensus.

Five months later, our perplexity is lifting. Had we been reading the article with a trained eye, the following passage would have jumped out at us:

The approach, though, didn't sit well with Ms. Payne, who said the terms were developed by a few people without the benefit of neighborhood meetings. She added that putting ambitious terms on the table without full community buy-in likely wouldn't work.

"I really believe that the Penguins want to work with this community and want to be good neighbors," she said. "But you've got to give them a chance to do good in the community, not come in and say, 'Do one, two, three, or I'll knock you out.' "

"It seemed like these groups were trying to position themselves to try to receive any kind of funds that's going to come into the area," said Pearlean Coleman, a Democratic Committee leader from the Lower Hill who attended the meeting.

We can understand how they might have felt threatened by some external power base taking the initiative.


In a related development, 15 Hill residents who represent the Other Other One Hill Very Concerned Citizens Council Corporation, Inc. presented a list of demands to County Executive Dan Onorato insisting that any demolition to take place would happen without destroying any structures and with a 20% cut to the OOOHVCCC, Inc. (The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat)

A group of Hill District ministers says it does not want to divide the community, but seeks instead a "holistic approach" that ensures all profits and benefits fromt eh development of a new arena go "straight into our pockets." (The Carbolic Smoke Ball)

The Comet has nothing but admiration for these two civic treasures -- and we certainly appreciate that when it comes to political humor, nobody should be spared.

However, we feel these two passages illustrate commonly held prejudices about the capability, seriousness and sincerity of this particular band of Hill District ministers.

Many of us are naturally suspicious of leaders who claim "real-world" legitimacy from holy writ and religious trappings; we have seen such figures descend into rank opportunism many times before.

Harder for some to see is the possibility that these ministers might actually derive their legitimacy from decades upon decades of intense engagement with their community, on a whole variety of issues -- involvement of a type most Pittsburghers are unfamiliar with -- and from respect that community developed for them over time.

When the ministers produced a term sheet demanding a share of development funds, it was easy for outsiders to roll their eyes knowingly.

Enter the well-intentioned white liberals, AKA the labor unions.


Why Pittsburgh UNITED did not approach the Hill District Ministers right from the get-go is a matter for speculation.

Perhaps their own political leanings made them hesitant to partner with spiritually-based leadership. Perhaps their model demanded an all-new organization produced virtually from scratch. Perhaps the alienation of Councilwoman Payne was too large and obvious an opportunity to pass up.

Whatever it was, Pittsburgh UNITED brought everything the ministers lacked -- elections, process, planks, stickers, and media-savvy. In a sense, Pittsburgh UNITED brought democracy to the Hill District -- which was very reassuring for most of the Pittsburgh media establishment.

They even brought their own minister -- the Rev. William Smart, flown in from California, to reassure the rank and file of the Hill District Consensus Group that the Pittsburgh UNITED model was the best model and the most righteous model.

He has not been heard from since.

Although there are many sincere community stakeholders working under the One Hill banner, their efforts continue to be hampered by unclear and malleable rules of governance, and they continue to be overmatched by the politically-motivated interests of others.

Pittsburgh UNITED itself may have grown overmatched; there are rumors that it is finally exploring avenues toward hedging its bets with the Ministers.

Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess writes about one of the more significant squabbles in today's City Paper. We have to wonder why some in the Coalition have been so solicitous toward the preferences of "Downtown."


The Comet does not want to leave our readers with the impression that the sun and moon revolve around the Hill District Ministers, who bathe in an angelic glow of purity.

We do want to leave you with the impression that the Ministers' term sheet is no simple demand for an "unspecified development fund," but rather a sophisticated (if aggressive) list of community demands that allow room for negotiation -- including a thorough mark-up of the arena lease.

We do want to leave you with the impression that the Ministers enjoy a very real and significant power base on the Hill, although it does not derive from sources to which we may be accustomed. We suspect the Ministers have a far greater capacity to put "boots on the ground" than One Hill -- and it is clear that Dan Onorato and the rest are acutely aware of this.

Finally, we do wish to suggest that it is no bad thing that opposition to the Ministers has been organized -- organized around the purpose of obtaining community benefits.

For all One Hill's discussion about electing a seven or nine member negotiation team, we recall this from that original Rich Lord article:

Talks on the terms will now move to a smaller group including two representatives of the Hill, two from the mayor's office, two from county government and someone from the Sports & Exhibition Authority and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Two reps from the Hill. What do you think is the logical thing to do?


  1. You asked, "what do you think is the logical thing to do?" Well, logic left the vicinity a long time ago. Why try to insert logic? This has nothing to do with logic.

  2. "When the ministers produced a term sheet demanding a share of development funds, it was easy for outsiders to roll their eyes knowingly."

    It sounds like a political shakedown to me. How do we know that the "development funds" will not go the route of Twanda's consultant fees?

    "Straight Database Research"

    The city has no business issuing additional debt to begin with, to use a portion of the proceeds for a political handout is borderline criminal.

    Didn't Barden say he would help in the redevelopment of the hill?

  3. Mark, I gots to say, this is the kind of disdain to which I genuinely object. Maybe your neighborhood could settle these complex issues in a calm, orderly single-file manner. For all the drama, I think the Hill is doing okay.

  4. Thetruth, your comment raising the specter of Twanda's consulting fees are um ... interesting.

    I don't think the funds could be dispersed in such a haphazard manner, but such issues would obviously be my next object of inquiry.

  5. I think the ministers need to approach Don Barden. Maybe he could use casino revenue to redevelop the hill. Didn't Barden talk about doing that? The Meadowland slots are bringing in much more revenue than expected. The Majestic Star is sure to follow.

    Don't get me wrong here, the hill needs to be redeveloped. In another major American city, the hill would be prime real estate. I just don't see the point in giving all that money to a group of demanding ministers who have no background in redevelopment efforts.

  6. Why is Jim Ferlo so prominent in this mix?

  7. I believe its his State Senate District and he was a huge proponent of the Penguins Casino deal last year. He also for a time wanted to see old arena turned into an community center or something.

  8. Bram,

    I applaud your looking into what's happening with Hill development.

    It's an important issue & I'm trying to keep up, but there's so much info., it's hard to keep it straight.

    Would you consider doing a check list with:

    1. the main groups working on this issue (I think there are 3, One Hill, Pgh. United & the ministers, right?)
    2. who their spokespeople/member orgs/leaders are
    3. who funds them
    4. which electeds support them

  9. Can't forget the stickers.

    In other news, Mark Rauterkus finally describes his campaign strategy!

    " Mark Rauterkus said...

    You asked, "what do you think is the logical thing to do?" Well, logic left the vicinity a long time ago. Why try to insert logic? This has nothing to do with logic."

  10. Yes, Marimba Milliones and the Rev. Johnnie Monroe do have long standing history in the community and are serious players in the Hill District, but what exactly does that mean?
    I think that giving them the steering wheel on the CBA negotiations is akin to the federal governmment handing Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton the cashiers check for reparations. Or giving Denny Regan and Jeff Koch the keys to the city.
    Seriously though, why do so many white liberals, like you Bram, feel the need to look towards a small handful of ceremonial powerbrokers when engaging the black community, rather than looking to multi-racial groups that are publicly engaging the community at large?

  11. Tony, why wouldn't Bram look at the local black people in a local black neighborhood *instead* of looking at a multi-racial group? That just doesn't make sense.

    LOL @ agent ska - darn right - no logic to where you are, mark.

    good suggestion, gloria.

  12. Well, that's the thing, Tony. I'm not so sure that they're "ceremonial" power brokers at all, I'm not so sure they haven't designed their terms with significant community input, and I'm not so sure they'd be any better or worse at the wheel than anybody else -- particularly than those who discovered the Hill District only once it was clear that a bunch of new jobs were about to land there.

    I must say I'm surprised by the push-back I'm getting simply by suggesting that the ministers might not be total jokers.

    As to your questions, Gloria -- oy vey. I'll get around to it. For now I'll point out that Pgh UNITED has an informative website you can google, that Pgh UNITED is officially wedded to One Hill (despite a rumor that may be just that), and that as far as electeds go, we only know that Tonya Payne is with One Hill and Jake Wheatley seems to be more with the ministers (as is the elephant in the neighborhood, Sala Udin). Everybody else, as Khari put it in my previous post, is trying not to burn bridges.