Wednesday, October 3, 2007

North Side Revolution Sputters, Stalls

North Siders speak up about casino (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

North Side faces rift over casino (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

There were a lot of political heavies lurking around the edges of this second community meeting, indicating either a high degree of nervousness, or just curiosity.

Alan Perry (black!) opened the meeting by warning everybody to think about the children, think about what message we're sending our children, the children.

Mark Fatla, executive director of the North Side Leadership Conference and star of the last video, dove into a PowerPoint presentation, but not before assuring the audience there will be many opportunities to ask questions, after each section, the first of which being "jobs." The first dozen slides were all titled "Jobs!", "Jobs!", and "Jobs!"

(One of these days, we're going to write a post critiquing everyone in the City of Pittsburgh for their comical under-utilization of PowerPoint's capabilities, but that's another subject.)

Twenty minutes of sonorous droning later, two microphones were opened up for questions. The first two were identical -- would the NSLC join with Northside United? Would they start listening to them and invite them to join the process?

NSLC board chair Joe Ferguson, in a measured tone but clearly fed up, pointed out, "You're standing in the middle of that process, right now."

A voice rang out, "Alright, let's go!" and everyone in Northside United t-shirts obediently stood up and staged a WALKOUT!!!

The Trib says about 50 people walked out, the P-G calls it about 30, the Comet would have guessed only 25. Whatever it was, it looked pretty pathetic, as well over 150 residents remained seated and attentive.

Twenty minutes later, with all the rowdies absent, the coast was clear for this moment described by the P-G:

One attendee addressed the panel -- Mr. Fatla, Mr. Ferguson and emcee Alan Perry, a resident of Manchester -- saying, "You are dealing with powerful people. I take it on good faith you have worked hard on this, but, no offense, I don't see powerful people here."

As if on cue, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Chief Executive Dan Onorato entered the theater to both laughter and cheers.

They both said a few words, with Luke in particular apologizing for the "miscommunication" of last week. They sat for the remainder of the meeting, in front of the cameras, turning to favor each questioner with their best Bill Clinton "I'm Listening" faces.

The only time Northside United came up again was during another, milder question about access to the process -- which continued to crop up. Ferguson made a note of insisting that "staff members of Pittsburgh United" were present at the table during negotiations, suggesting that some P.U. leaders are being disingenuous.

Sources indicate that Mark Fatla in particular is frustrated that race is being made an issue. However, he is having a bit of trouble allaying those fears.

For example, when asked how information was and will be disseminated, he kept breezily assuring us that it'll be up on the website -- hello, digital divide?

He also placed a lot of onus on the 14 member organizations of the NSLC, representing the 14 neighborhoods comprising the Conference. However, he doesn't seem in touch with the idea that although some people may have lived in, say, East Allegheny for years, they may have never actually encountered evidence of an East Allegheny Community Council.

Some pro-active outreach, especially to "the other side of the tracks" in each neighborhood, may be long overdue.

Nonetheless, the bulk of the meeting can accurately be described as a love-fest. Residents who dislike gambling suggested ways to limit the casino's deleterious effects, whereas others asked how gaming revenue could be used to provide property tax relief.

Everyone who remained praised the NSLC and their government officials for providing the opportunity.

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