Friday, March 30, 2007

Showdown in District 9

We were going to hustle to get one more Interview up, before the big vote tomorrow, in the event that anyone is interested. But we didn't. It'll be up soon.

UPDATE: Burgess 39, Kirkland 32, Carlisle 21, Taylor 3

Aside from that, have a great weekend.

Agent Ska & the Sundance Film Festival

Local new media ingenue Agent Ska is trying to connect some dots at her blog, The Ideas Bucket.

She is straight-facedly reporting that Mayor Ravenstahl's geographic whereabouts once again are suspiciously unknown for an evening in late January.

Furthermore, it is alleged that the Mayor was quite likely in Utah, enjoying the Sundance Film Festival with the likes of Ron Burkle, Sienna Miller, and Sean "Diddy" Combs.

Worst of all, instead of taking pics and video of his experience, and assembling an awesome scrapbook to share with us, he decided to tell more fibs.

This is usually the point at which The Comet warns of gaping story holes and rampant speculation; we are unilaterally raising the Fact Checking Alert index to the color of the surface of the sun.

But it seems a pack of studs from the MSM are already sniffing around, so we should have this or not by next week.

T.G.I.F. Roundup

The P-G's Ann Belser reports on Dan Onorato expressing "a little frustration in trying to govern and constantly having the judiciary block us as we try to deal with a home rule government."

At issue are rulings on property tax assessments, and on a ballot referendum on the office of county Sheriff.

County Councilman Dave Fawcett, R-Oakmont, said the decision should be appealed. The office, he said, "was created during the time of Thomas Jefferson when they felt that every office in the land should be elected to avoid tyranny."

Editorial Aside: Actually, we haven't warmed to tyranny.


A P-G Editorial lauds the Oak Hill development compromise struck between Hill District leaders, and the University of Pittsburgh and the Mayor's office, as a model for citizen action for other communities.

Editorial Aside: Maybe we should have given this more play. (You see? We can self-flaggelate just like the Old Media!)


Two good reads on the TRIB opinion page. Columnist Eric Heyl speculates on the subway tunnels and fancy eateries popping up on the North Side in light of "the post-apocalyptic atmosphere the North Shore typically assumes from the final Steelers game until baseball season begins in April."

Also, a dynamic duo representing the Allegheny Institute darkly contemplates the use of RAD money to save public transit. We can not find any actual recommendations in the piece, however, unless they are well-buried.

District 7: Dowd vs. Bodack

The District 7 race is turning into the Battle of Helms Deep. There will be orcs and elves, trolls and humans, wyverns and mastodons with barbed wire on their tusks.

We arrived at this city council race a little late and a little clueless, like most of the blurghosphere. Then a quick skim of Patrick Dowd's website revealed this blurb ...

MAKE OUR NEIGHBORHOODS SAFER. Enforcement is the beginning, but we have got to do more. I am committed to using incident data more effectively...

and right away, our hearts went all a' SWOON!

The Comet itself will not be providing much coverage of the District 7 race, so as to retain journalistic credibility. We refer you to the rest of the mainstream burghosphere.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

in honor of The Office marathon...

... play the DCeiver game!

Here's a little exercise for the men on the interwebs. Click the link at the end of this blurb, and just spend thirty seconds with the image, then pop back here. I'll wait. Doot-de-doot-dee-doo. Hey! You back? Good. Question: What did the sign Jenna Fischer was holding say? You don't remember a redacted word, do you? I thought so. [Oh No They Didn't]


VisitPittsburgh says in the Pgh Business Times that we didn't lose a step with the Convention Center collapse, and:

[CEO Joe McGrath] said he believes revenue generated once Don Barden's casino opens in 2008 will lead to a hotel adjoining the convention center in the future.


P-G columnist Brian O'Neill is irritated by the county property tax assesment appeals process. Editorial Aside: Pay your taxes and enjoy your home.


The TRIB's Jason Cato reports that we'll still definately get to elect a county sheriff. There are three Democratic candidates: Acting Sheriff William Mullen, Anthony "Tony" Costa, and Damon J. Brown.

We met Damon Brown, ever-so-briefly, at a candidates meet & greet at the Pittsburgh League of Young Voters. He handed us a small card that highlights his experience:

* University of Pittsburgh Police Dept
* Pittsburgh Police Dept
* United Nations Civilian Police in Kosovo
* Police Trainer in Iraq, Dept of State
* Police Trainer in Afghanistan, Dept. of State

According to the card, his priorities are efficiency, accountability, safety, and continuous training. In the photograph, he is looking smart in a United Nations military beret.

"No Cost to the Taxpayers"

Post-Gazette city beat reporter Rich Lord has a bug in his bonnet over the contract for traffic lights awarded to CLT Efficient Technologies Group of Carnegie. The Mayor responds:

"Through this effort we are reducing the cost of government, becoming more efficient and protecting the environment," the mayor said in the statement. "Not only will we be upgrading our traffic lights, but we're doing it without costing the taxpayers one single dollar."

We are reminded that during the "Ron Air" feeding frenzy, acting Mayor Ravenstahl kept trying to use "no cost to city taxpayers" as his ace.

We weren't clear on its relevance to that issue at the time, but we heard it ad nauseum from both Onorato and Ravenstahl in reference to the new Penguins arena.

There is another Rich Lord piece on the topic of the new arena, involving Council's capping of the city Amusement Tax. In it we find:

There is no city or Allegheny County tax money going to arena construction, but the city and its authorities could be involved in paying for necessary road and sewer work.

"No cost to city taxpayers" does not always mean what it seems to mean, nor is it always the end of the conversation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Race for Controller

This from the web space of Tony Pokora:

Tony Pokora calls for the City Controller candidates to schedule a series of three debates in Pittsburgh's neighborhoods.

"Ideally, all three debates would be televised," Tony added, "but realistically, we're working to get one Controller's debate on the air in May."

You're telling me these guys all don't want to be on television!?

Interview: Ricky Burgess

Two of his opponents from a formerly crowded field are now working on his own campaign. He says he has contributions totalling $20,000 in the bank, which is real money for a city council race. And this Saturday, the Democratic Committee of District 9 will meet once again to decide the party's official endorsement.

We asked Ricky Burgess about his experiences with the ACDC. "I have to commend the committee for putting the endorsement up to a vote once again" he said. After the original choice was disqualified, they could easily have anointed Leah Kirkland, the second-place vote-getter.

When asked what he hopes to accomplish on City Council, Burgess was forthright in aiming to win assets for his home district. He says a "layman's glance" at the capital budget shows District 9 -- including Homewood, Brushton, Lincoln-Lamirer, and parts of Friendship and Point Breeze -- is grossly underrepresented.

This can be taken as egregious; minority districts enable the city to get Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), either directly or indirectly, but then the city turns around and spreads the assets throughout its entirety.

We spoke much about poverty, violence, and relations with law enforcement. He has a four-point model for combating these problems -- prevention, intervention, prosecution, and reintegration -- and sees a special role for training and subsidized employment.

Burgess is windy and long-spoken like the community college professor and preacher that he is. When we touch a nerve, only a little eye-twitch clues us in. For example, when asked about the B.E.A.R., he chose his words very carefully. "We have to be careful we don't traumatize the community." he said.

He desperately seems to not to want to go negative. He says his neighborhoods could be helped a lot simply with "competent leadership and capable management."

Burgess spoke much about consensus-building, and having the city respect the community consensus on issues of land-use and development. We asked, basically, how hard is it to reach that consensus? What if it never seems to materialize?

We got a little eye-twitch. A lifelong member of various community groups, both secular and spiritual, he just doesn't see the difficulty the same way we do.

He goes so far as to promise a comprehensive, actionable "Capacity Plan" for public safety and economic development, within his first 100 days in office.

A fan of the burghoshere, Ricky Burgess says he regularly enjoys "The Carboholic Ball," among others.

Wednesday Notableness

The P-G's Rich Lord tells us of a lucrative city contract being awarded with almost no competition, to a frequent vendor who is politically juiced and has made regular campaign contributions. Then again, the city sent out many invitations for bids, and only got two responses. Then again again, it was Christmas.

Joe Smydo of the P-G reports that suggestions to push back the start of the school day drew hearty applause at a gathering of Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, and "about 170 parents, teachers, and community leaders." No word on any student attendance. A 9th grade civics class on Pittsburgh was also a popular idea.

God, having closed the door of the Garden Theater, opens a window to Scores Nightclub. TRIB columnist Eric Heyl considers the attempt to open a strip club along Homestead's main drag. Editorial aside: if we are going to have a strip club, the city could do much worse than a Scores (link fully safe for work).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Semi-Weekly Jack Kelly Bashing

Jack Kelly is a conservative columnist over at the Post-Gazette, and also the Toledo Blade.

This week he treats us to the movie 300, which is typical, because everyone is talking about 300. David Brooks also had a take on 300 that same Sunday.

Basically, it's about a war the Greeks almost lost to the Persians, that many say determined world history. It is a fictionalization of one period during this war. Kelly gives a pretty fair summation of the movie, and of the history, before he tells us what to think.

But first, let's read what syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage wrote about 300 last Wednesday:

Homophobic? It's Ann Coulter on a meth binge.

The Persian army is an armed gay-pride parade, a threat to all things decent and, er, Greek. The king of the Spartans -- among the most notorious boy-redacted's in all of ancient history -- dismisses Athenian Greeks as weak-willed "philosophers and boy lovers." The Persian emperor? An 8-foot-tall black drag queen -- mascara, painted-on eyebrows, pink lip-gloss. Emperor RuPaul is positively obsessed with men kneeling in front of him. Why gay up the Persians? So that straight boys in the theater can identify with the Spartan king and his 300 soldiers -- all of whom appear to have been recruited from and outfitted by the International Male catalog.

What isn't up for debate is the film's politics. The only times the Persian army doesn't look like a gay-pride parade in hell, it looks like a crowd of madly chanting Islamic militants. And if the Spartan king has to break the Spartan law to defend Spartan freedoms? Well, sometimes a king's gotta do what a king's gotta do. Because, as the queen of Sparta points out, freedom isn't free. And, yes, she uses exactly those words. George Bush is going to redacted in his pants when he sees this movie.

As did Jack Kelly already.

Revelling in the bloodlust of the movie, and relying on our love of well-choreographed action scenes, Jack Kelly somehow asserts that the moral of story is that American liberals do not value their warriors enough. And if America doesn't value its warriors, it will be defeated by those that do.

His suggestion that we should be more like the terrorists is unfortunate; his claim that American liberals don't value warriors is balderdash.

He says:

"300" is soaked with the masculine virtues of courage, honor, patriotism and self-sacrifice, and the camaraderie that exists among fighting men who have been through a shared ordeal.

It is at least interesting to debate the celebration of the "masculine" virtues, if we can properly define them. Patriotism seems not to fit.

We need to rediscover these virtues. At once the most preposterous and the most dangerous of contemporary beliefs is "nothing was ever settled by violence."

We disagree that this naivete is at all common among American liberals, at least very far outside of Code Pink.

Ironically, the story of that ancient war did not end there, as Jack Kelly readily admits. Those Greeks who fought savagely to the bitter end were ultimately defeated. It was years until another leader, one who valued the wisdom strategic withdrawal, eventually trapped the enemy at sea, which typically entails skilled diplomacy

All very like how Americans won the Revolutionary War. Thanks to the FRENCH!!

Last Chance: City Paper

1. Charlie Deitch on new equipment for city police:

The BEAR (an acronym for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response) comfortably transports 12 to 14 police officers, even when they're clad in full tactical gear. Each side of the armor-plated vehicle features four "gun ports" capable of accommodating sniper rifles or other weapons. A rooftop hatch opens up and forms a rotating turret.

2. Dr. Goddess is black and a woman, and she deplores public transit cuts, and she doesn't care for Wal-Mart, and she's for school reform and police reform, and more.

3. Jodi Diperna writes about the Penguins as though they're the Steelers or something.

Groovy New Links (Fixed!)

The youth movement in Pittsburgh continues apace. The Comet Blogroll welcomes Pittsburgh Hoagie and the Ideas Bucket.

Peaks and Gutters is currently treating us to in-depth and up-to-the-minute analysis on the Parkway Rock Throwers.

Early Returns ... yeah.

We reopen the "Our Gladiators" section for Michael Lamb and Doug Shields, candidates for city controller. We hope this section grows to accomodate many more candidates for many more offices.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Quote from Ravenstahl

One that we think we can believe:

And as far as I'm concerned every employee has the right--I've said this from the beginning--has the right to voice their opinion on anything related to city government and I fully support that.

Hat tip to the Busman.

Hill District Vision

Great column by Bill Steigerlwald in yesterday's Tribune-Review. Money excerpt:

Think wanton variety -- apartments, townhouses and multiple-family homes. Don't think tall. Think thick. Think Big Apple three-story brownstones. Think the South Side, not the Hill's suburb-like Crawford Village, which she calls "admirable" but not nearly dense enough.

You'll just have to read it to find out who "she" is.

Jim Ferlo On City Finances

State senator Jim Ferlo has been variously described as Luke Ravenstahl's friend, political ally, and sponsor. Buried within a horse race article -- or um, lack-of-a-horse race article -- by the P-G's Rich Lord:

The toughest issues before [Ravenstahl] may be the size of the Fire Bureau, a looming pension crisis, and revenue problems, said Mr. Ferlo, a former City Council president.

"Given the financial health of the city," he said, "there is a need for some consolidation in the Fire Bureau. It's going to have to be on his watch over the next couple of years."

That could mean confrontation with a politically powerful union with a heroic aura.

That could be described as a well-established position that the two men share ... or a little advice from the state senator to the young mayor ... or a stern warning.

Question for our progressive readers -- before Jim Ferlo became so closely aligned with Ravenstahl, you all just loved this cat, right?

Act 47: Still a Story

Act 47, the state law that offers a lifeline to Pennsylvania's financially distressed cities, is merely "triage" for a gravely ill Pittsburgh. That's the conclusion of one of a trio of reports released yesterday, assessing the health of Pennsylvania, its biggest cities and its outlying rural areas.

The Brookings Insititution, the Pennyslvania Economy League, and Penn State University issued the caustic reports, according to Bill Toland at the P-G.

More ominous still:

"Very few municipalities that enter Act 47 leave it," [Mark Muro of Brookings] said. Of the 22 cities and communities that have entered Act 47 "distressed status," only five have exited, and none of those is in particularly good shape.

The report offers few or no solutions.

But wait. The Pennsylvania Economy League is part of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Where have we heard that before?

From an economic development perspective, Ravenstahl is completely beholden to the imperatives of the Allegheny Conference. Old Pittsburgh. Could Peduto have been effective with the AC still trying to wield so much power? The AC and old-style Pittsburgh business is the issue these days, not the identity of the Mayor.

THIS was the upshot of Mike Madison's brief Withdrawal 2007 coverage over at Pittsblog. What say you, professor? Is this a bunch of backward-thinking, glass-half-empty, unfair criticism of a decent financial strategy?