Thursday, October 11, 2007

Liveblogging the PUMP / City Paper Debate

We've seen exactly two Luke buttons, and over a dozen DeSantis buttons, in the early-seated audience. And one huge dude in a DeSantis sleeveless t-shirt.

There's Rauterkus. There's Lamb. Not debating.

Luke and Mark are sitting together chatting. It looks friendly.

DeSantis looks more relaxed. Ravenstahl looks like he's having more fun.


3 minute opening statement, 3 minute closing statement. Questions are from a variety of sources. 2 minutes to answer each question, and a 1 minute rebuttal.

Luke, opening: "Nothing could have prepared me for our city's loss." "I've also brought forward a very aggressive plan for Pittsburgh's future." He's taking more dramatic pauses than William Shatner. He looks forward to this debate and discussion.

Mark, opening: "A year ago if you told me I'd be here running for mayor, I'd call you crazy." I wouldn't be standing here today if I thought the promise of Mayor O'Connor was about to be fulfilled (paraphrased). People want change. He talks to people in Starbucks and Crazy Mocha, they want change. Not press releases. Change.

Mark, more opening: Plugs his efforts at row office reform. (Nice.)

Tonia: (A question about leadership)

Luke: People need a leader. Someone to make tough decisions. Something he's done.

Luke: Young people want jobs. We've done lot of good things in city government to streamline...

Luke: People want "a mayor who's going to go out on the streets to talk about fighting crime..."

Mark: People look for leaders to lead by example. And people need the city to be fiscally sound. "It is seriously enough that we are at risk of bankruptcy in two or three years."

Mark: "Fertile soil that will allow our community to grow." (Word.)

Luke: "This city will not go bankrupt in the next two or three years." (Bam.)

Mark: It is too!!!! "What we need to do is reduce the cost of government and start paying down that debt." Pittsburgh is almost the worst in the state, pension fundwise.

Tonia: Community Benefits Agreements. (Now? Oooh!)

Mark: Micro-loan program for minority-owned enterprises. Study shows African-American community is in bad shape and isolated. $500 - $5,000 loans, chosen by peers not bankers. "It's worked in Philadelphia, and other cities as well." Commits to it regardless of winning.

Mark: Mellon Arena. The Hill: sad story. "Maybe we can remedy some of those injustices as green spaces." (???) Does endorse turning Mellon Arena into green space.

Luke: Gaming Task Force is handling the community issues around casino. Communication, active discussion, and that's what we have. So much outreach. In terms of the Hill District, myself and the County Executive meet regularly. "We're working very hard with them."

Mark: "We've done a lousy job of listening in city government." (We want to cheer.) Angry and feel excluded. Process is flawed from the beginning. When we spend public dollars, we have to go that extra mile.

Luke: "Thank you and we have listened and we are listening." (droll). He would be "shocked" if there was a process better than this one. "Above and beyond the call of duty, to schedule meetings that didn't have to be scheduled and did so."

Luke: "And if you talked to those residents, I think they'd agree."

Tonia: Nonprofits. (Tonia, marry us!)

Luke: That agreement with the nonprofit community is great. It got us roughly $14 million (over the last three years). Good communications will breed success. UPMC: They have to be active partners, and they have been active partners. "You can't throw stones."

Mark: Believes the non-profits will give a lot more if the city budget was not a financial shredder. (You're killing me. Your party simply will not allow you to take the Ferlo-Comet-Shields position on Act 55, huh?)

Luke: Here's the DeSantis plan with gaming money and nonprofit money going to pensions ... (explains it for him). Asks DeSantis directly: What $23 million worth of services are you gonna cut?

Mark: Alright, this is a tactic I've seen in Washington DC. Act 47 came up with 200 recommendations to do more with less. Savings are in millions and millions. We've done none of those. Meanwhile, Luke is raising the budget $50 million in the coming years! (This is pretty awesome.)

Tonia: You can rebut that.

Luke declined to rebut that, but made some comment. (We think it was, "Well, I didn't get the answer I wanted.")

Now Mark and Luke are arguing openly.

Wow. You have to be here. Luke just launched into his two structurally balanced budgets routine, and everybody in the audience was all oh, you're changing the subject and talking like a robot. That's just the Comet's opinion, but it was an amused, skeptical crowd noise.

Tonia: Next question. (Missed it.)

Mark: Talking about how busing people in and showing them the town isn't going to keep them here, we need jobs. "Starting a business here is a lot harder than it needs to be." (Give me some specifics)

Mark: Eliminating gross receipts tax for businesses inside of 3 years.

Luke: (Also missed the question and asked for it to be repeated. It was about how to keep young people here.) "I believe my opponent is correct; we need to create job opportunities." (Not as impressed the second time around.)

Luke: Tax abatement program. Tops on his list of things he's done to create jobs. "Wonderful programs through Urban Redevelopment Authority."

Luke: "Bike lanes. On a city street."

Mark: "I think we need much tighter linkages with groups like this," [gesturing to PUMP]. His New Idea Factory, (which if you haven't heard of it's because you're too young), it was great and it led to the Sprout Fund. You can't just convene advisory committees, but actually do stuff.

Tonia: Biggest mistake in your career, and what have you learned?

Mark: Went to Washington. Motivated by bright lights and getting power. John Heinz. (Sound familiar?) Realized the error of his ways.

Luke: "I go too fast. I don't have a lot of patience," and he wants to get things done.

Luke: Also: "If I could go back, I would have had an opportunity to win an election." (So his biggest mistake is O'Connor's death?)

Luke: Yes, he repeats this to make it absolutely clear. Luke says his biggest mistake is Bob O'Connor's death.

Tonia: City / County Merger.

Luke: Blue ribbon panel to look at city-county consolidation. Does it save money? Do we provide a better service? (Gives some examples. Not wowed by them.)

Mark: "I'm with Dan Onorato on this. I want a two-stage consolidation process." Referendum as soon as possible.

Luke: Will pick up garbage when other municipality's ask. Like Wilkinsburg. Low-hanging fruit that is out there.

Tonia: Keeping college students here.

Mark: It's the economy, stupid. (Not a quote, but basically...) (The "you need a thriving economy" speech got really weak applause. He's not holding them.)

Luke: Wetlabs! Did you know they were a neglected and abandoned property? Wetlabs!

Luke: Joking around.

Mark: "Building office space doesn't get it done." We can have our offices anywhere. When you get down to it, it's not location. It's making truly fertile business soil.

Luke: "I think my opponent is painting this bleak picture of Pittsburgh." Permitting process. Minor residential and commercial. One stop shopping. "It's the beginning of the method of dealing with these investors in a more personal way."

Tonia: For DeSantis -- You worked in the first Bush White House, which wracked up lots of debt. What's up?

Mark: Well, when I talked to the president ... (laughter). Look, I like John Heinz and I liked working for the president.

Luke: Passes.

Mark, closing: Pittsburghers have a right to be a little cynical. Our government hasn't changed much, but our city has. Everything can change if you believe. (He's no Jimminy Cricket.)

Luke, closing: Talking like the CaeserBot 7000 again.

Luke, more closing: Again with the 2nd structurally balanced budget. "I see financial strength in this city's future." (He is very, VERY LOUD during the openings and closings.)

Luke, more closing: "Sees a city with safe streets, and clean communities." We just knocked down a vacant house.

Socialist Worker's Party Candidate Ryan Scott: "Capitalism continues and deepens its crisis." Mortgage crisis. Jena Six. Campaign offers a working-class political program. "If you vote for me, we won't change everything ... but we'll fight together."

Scott: Goes after Onorato for proposed reductions in bus driver wages and benefits. Goes after DeSantis for wanting to scale back city worker benefits packages. (Wish DeSantis could respond.)

Libertarian Candidate Tony Oliva: "It's gonna be pretty interesting when I actually win this election. (Laugher). Now, ah ... um...."

Oliva: Luke and Mark look like they have the same tailor. Maybe a splash of color is what they need. "I think it's time that we hear a different voice."

Comet: End transmission.


  1. Beautifully done, Bram.

    Chock-full of details, and all of them spot-on. Especially the "biggest mistake" part.

    Even though he had two minutes to think of a response, Ravenstahl never answered the question, and he seemed woefully oblivious to the fact that it presented a perfect opportunity for him to show some humility and take some responsibility for something. Like our President, he seems incapable of recognizing, much less acknowledging, anything he's done wrong.

    Instead, we got a warmed-over job interview answer ("I go too fast") and a double-shot of Bob O'Connor's death -- a subject that comes up so often in his debate remarks (open, close, mistake answer, a couple of other answers in between) that I often feel like I've traveled back in time to Bob's funeral.

  2. Thank you, Bram. I couldn't be there and your blow-by-blow made me feel like I was. You even threw in an awkward Luke "myself" to add the perfect touch of realism.

  3. Nice work Bram.

    I've got to agree with Chad. The "I go too fast. I don't have a lot of patience." answer sounded like a job interview response to "What is your biggest weakness?" Humility would have been nice. But, it really was a no-win question for him.

    Overall, I don't think he hurt his chances next month.

  4. "You see my weaknesses are my strengths."
    -- Michael Scott, The Office.

  5. In fairness, Mark's answer on "greatest mistake" wasn't the most frank, either. He was spellbound by notoriety and power when he went to Washington; a not-so-subtle dig his opponent. It would have helped if DeSantis illustrated his messed up priorities of that time with a concrete anecdote.

  6. You're right, Bram. A concrete anecdote from Mark would have nicely illustrated the answer.

    But saying "I went to Washington for the wrong reasons: to get and to be near power" clearly answers the question, "What is the biggest mistake you've made in your career?"

    Saying "I go too fast," and then complaining that Bob O'Connor's death created a tough transition, most surely does not.

  7. The only other weak point of the debate was when Desantis asked Luke about the 200 act 47 recommendations.

    It was clear he didn't have good answer. He stalled and then made a comment about the "balanced" budget.

    Any idea where someone can view this list?

  8. Thank you, Bram. We need more of these debates and fewer 'public forums.' I want sass and attitude, damnit!

  9. thetruth:

  10. Thank you. Mr. Briem's web page has a wealth of useful info. nice resume too.

  11. We've got a partial transcript of the debate -- featuring full quotes of many of the highlights Bram points out -- on our site, It's under a "web only" label on the homepage.

    -- chris potter

  12. I'm sorry. The last question that was asked was valid and no one is saying how mark dogged it.

    The question
    You worked for the first bush white house and the department of commerce in a time when the country racked up a huge national debt, what were your qualifications then for the job. How do you think that makes you qualified to take care of the citys fiscal problems today...

    And he says im proud of my work with Heinz... Come on! Answer the question! your work with Heinz has nothing to do with the question asked!

  13. Nice job, Bram.

    One comment that stood out to me, was in the first question, Luke described part of the job of mayor as "attending community forums."

    How's he doing by these standards?

  14. Anonymous of 2:09 -

    I asked Mark a similar question some time back, and he more fully explained: he was a pretty junior figure in the White House, and some sort of Sci/Tech Adviser besides. So he didn't really have any input on fiscal policy.

    But it's true he didn't make that clear last night.