Friday, February 16, 2007

'Tis a bonny website. No doubt about it.

It includes a blog, which is taking comments. We'll see how often it updates, and how much it chooses to mix it up with the rest of the blurghosphere.

It also features a couple of very nicely produced videos, though neither have the indy charm of this one from 2005. Although Bill is still raging against the machine, he probably will not be as eager to rage against the O'Connor machine, per se.

And volunteer headquarters? Check it. It's a scene, baby. Yeah!

Convention Center Plot Thickens, Maybe

It is almost as though Mark Houser's opus in the Trib was about to run under the headline "Firms Investigating Recent Collapse On Trial for 2002 Fatality."

The entire body of the article explores allegations of negligence made by an insurance company against four contracting firms. The allegations are supported by both Cyril Wecht's coronor's inquest, and a newly revealed OSHA report. Three of those four named defendants were hired to investigate the recent convention center collapse, along with two outside investigators. Their case will go to trial on March 13.

However, his article runs under the headline "Convention Center Collapse 'Isolated Incident'," with three sentances tacked onto the top in which Mayor Ravenstahl leaks some reassuring news from the building inspection, and Chief Executive Onorato declines to coment before the briefing.

According to the C-P's database of campaign contributions, none of the three investigators / co-defendants, nor any firms involved in the case, appear to have made contrubtions to any city candidate.

Moving Forward on Federal Street

The Urban Redevelopment Authority is going to purchase the Garden Theater for $1.1 million, finally opening up that blighted section of the North Side to development, says the P-G's Diana Nelson Jones.

Although the price came down from $2.8 million in 1999, it is significantly more than the nothing it would have cost by seizure under eminent domain. Yet those appeals to the Supreme Court would have taken a very long time, and the outcome might have been disappointing.

CORRECTION: Both a recent PG editorial, and Mayoral Chief of Staff Yarone Zober, have pointed out that even upon a seizure by eminent domain, the city would still have to compensate the owners of the Garden Theater in some way. The Comet regrets this error. (2/21)

No word yet on whether the building will be utilized as a theater in some form. And no word yet on what to do about the convenience store just up the street that currently serves as gangland central.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Park n' Eat it

Thanks to an investigative report by WTAE's Jim Parsons, Acting City Controller Anthony J. Pokora will audit the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to investigate claims that its employees have been voiding parking tickets issued to their colleagues.

The Parking Authority voided 12,000 tickets last year, including 29 out of 29 issued to Ray Marcione, who works for the parking authority.

The Trib's Jeremy Boren has Parking Authority Director David G. Onorato calling this egregious ticket voiding "an isolated case." Or an isolated twelve thousand cases.

We have an idea. What ever happened to those parking fine amnesty-holidays? You know -- discount the inflated $65 ticket back down to the original $10 or $15, collect a quick wad of cash, and let the poor souls with their head in the sand off the hook before they get booted? We're not saying we need that personally, but the Comet has a friend who knows a guy who could really benefit from the return of that popular program.

Tax Abatement Tango

"He has no plan," Councilman Peduto said Tuesday after Mayor Ravenstahl announced a property tax abatement plan remarkably similar to the one Mr. Peduto was poised to offer council. "He had a sound bite and a press release. Luke has finally decided to embrace my ideas for a new Pittsburgh and a progressive agenda. The next obvious step is to support me for mayor."

Much of the blurghosphere would cheer this analysis by P-G columnist Brian O'Neill.

As long as challenger Bill Peduto keeps offering ideas, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl keeps stealing them, this city has a chance to make a nice run. "Stealing" is ordinarily a pejorative, but not in politics. It is a poor politician who attacks a good idea from a rival. A smart politician seizes the idea, tweaks it and claims it for his own.

And the cheering subsides -- this is the dominant theme of O'Neil's piece. Ravenstahl is cast as smart, nimble, and quick to counter his opponent.

Acknowledging his predicament, Peduto weakly notes "It continues a pattern on initiatives that we have undertaken" in yesterday's Trib piece.

Is there enough daylight between the two proposals to make for an enlightening debate? Ravenstahl would argue that his arrangement rightfully extends to many more neighborhoods than simply downtown. Peduto could counter by paraphrasing military strategist Sun Tzu: to encourage everything is to encourage nothing.

On the Ravenstahl idea, the prez of the Allegheny Institute on Public Policy says "I think the abatement program may be worth trying, but I would stop short when it comes to providing second mortgages." No comment on what she thought of Peduto's frills, including additional tax incentives for public art.

This continues a mild trend of the A.I. in favor of Peduto -- typically considered the more progressive candidate. Perhaps the Institute's feeling is, so long as Act 47 limits all the nasty Democrats' ability to raise taxes, it should fall behind the candidate who takes a generally harder-line, tougher-love view of city finances.

Councilman Doug Shields tried -- and we would argue, failed -- to sound equally impressed with both proposals in Rich Lord's P-G piece. "I'm very encouraged by it," he said of the Peduto plan, and, ""The mayor is going to have to present the detail of his proposal, much the same as this working group presented theirs," and finally, ""It would be wise for the mayor to look closely at this proposal."

We take this to mean that Peduto did more impressive homework -- but back to O'Neil's point, so what? If Ravenstahl wins, we still have our wonky Councilman. But if Peduto wins, we lose our unicorn.

The only encouragement the Comet offers our blurghosphere comrades is that both Rich Lord and Jeremy Boren have been turning in more brief and thin work than usual. Perhaps they have a full plate.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thoughts on the Season Finale

It is certainly a rational position to take that this is all old news, dressed up in bloggerific histrionics.

The Cost Recovery Plan was unpopular from the start, faced trouble with implementation, and was ultimately rejected by new city leadership -- without very much public outcry.

Yes, yes. We may have shrugged at the initial story. But the city was preoccupied with the unexpected passing of one mayor, and inclined to offer a honeymoon to our new one.

We have little on which to judge the brief Ravenstahl administration -- and so much less to contrast it from that of O'Connor, or even Murphy. This is the best opportunity we have seen yet.

Our hackles have also been raised a smidge:

1) Isn't it illegal to pay people under the table? What message does that send?

2) Isn't it also grossly unwise, given our financial condition? Haven't we made a bigger deal out of far less waste?

3) Is it the position of our sports franchises that taxpayers owe them free security? We may love them, but they were never welcome very far into our pocketbooks.

4) Are we comfortable with the present system's method of oversight? When a clique of senior officers gets to hand out these plush, tax-free assignments, isn't that an incredible invitation for quid-pro-quo, or worse?

5) Having purchased the software to manage this program, is that money now wasted?

6) Most importantly: how did City Council respond to the program's cancellation? How did particular city councilors respond? How will they now respond?

We would love to urge you all to go 'round demanding answers from this party and that party, just out of sheer overwhelming civic indignation ... but will you be provided with a casus belli?

There is more than one challenger, for more than one office in town. Somebody should at least take a crack at this. Look alive, Pittsburgh.

"Lack of Monitoring, Lack of Inspection, Lack of Seeming Concern"

That is how Dr. Cyril Wecht now describes the reaction to his 2002 report on safety issues at the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center, following the death of iron worker Paul Corsi.

KDKA's Fred Honsberger had to ask our civic treasure some awfuly leading questions, but Wecht seemed glad for the help.

Fred: "You're saying it was a rush job to get this open?"

Cyril: "Yes."

Fred: "These people knew they were using the wrong stuff, but they went ahead anyway?"

Cyril: "Exactly."

Humble and lawyerly as always, Dr. Wecht was careful not to claim that the problems highlighted by his engineers in 2002 can directly correlate to the building's recent collapse.

What really steams Dr. Wecht has been the non-response to that scathing report. He describes a culture of haste and expediency surrounding the opening of the convention center, and clearly states that this did not bode well for safety issues in general. His original report went so far as to recommend criminal inquests, yet there has been no motion over the last year.

Surely, Dr. Wecht can be seen to have axes to grind in the region, but he also has a sterling (professional) reputation to protect. We look forward to observing the tone our civic leaders take in response to these serious allegations.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Think Local, Act National

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signed the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement, making Pittsburgh the 400th city to pledge itself to reducing global warming, reports KDKA.

Which got us to thinking. Even though our civic politics are hopelessly stultified and atrophied by decades of one-party rule -- whispers of Mark DeSantis notwithstanding -- we might as well make the most of it.

How about an (obviously nonbinding) city resolution of no confidence in President Bush's leadership of the War on Terror?

1. We'll get on national news for something other than being rusty. Appearing wildly progressive to college students about to graduate wouldn't be all bad.

2. We'll stiffen the spines of our congresspeople at a key time, including Senator Arlen Specter, master of tough talk and the last-minute cave-in.

3. We'll capture the attention of a host of national politicians, during a time in which they are clamoring for national affection. We might get some of that Obama (and his press cadre) money rolling into downtown.

The downside? It would really anger some military families (not all, not necessarily most!), alienate some wealthy potential campaign donors, and anger our region's conservative minority. Then again -- what's their option, exactly?

It's the Admiral's News Cycle ...

... we're just living in it.

We are afraid that if, by lunchtime today, you have not yet slogged through Part I and Part II of the Police Secondary Employment series at The People's Republic Of Pittsburgh, and discussed it critically with at least two colleagues ... then we're afraid you are not a serious person.

It is a tale of waste, cronyism, and (dare we say it?) corruption, within a specialized clique of our police department, extending to elements of city council and the mayor' office. It has dramatis personae, plot twists, tragedy, and suspense.

It is rife with speculation, anonymous sourcing, and key omissions. Before it is amplified further, it requires rigorous professional peer review, for the sake of the amplifier and the amplifee.

On January 21, thus spake the Comet:

(Peduto's) challenge now is that he has to be for something -- he has to be for something popular -- and he has to be for something popular that Ravenstahl is against. That's easier said than done. It is Ravenstahl's job to support things that are popular. But it is not impossible.

It has that, also. Even if the sensational elements never check out, it spotlights a contrast in our mayoral candidates that does not involve personality, geography, or the relative merits of campaign contributors.

Although the Admiral promises his third and final installment tomorrow, there is some evidence that he is a fellow insomniac. We will be refreshing The Republic starting around 1:00 AM.