Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reform Pittsburgh Now

Bill Peduto will officially launch his political action committee, Reform Pittsburgh Now, this Saturday.

In keeping with the internetty nature of his endeavor, the kick-off press conference will be held at PodCamp Pittsburgh, and will be broadcast live to the net at 1:45 from Conference Room B.

"Principle performers" for the launch will be John Carman from Avenue Design Studios, and Justine Ezarik aka iJustine (pictured) from

Coincidentally, Justine and her shocking 300-page iPhone bill were reported upon last evening by Ch. 11's Andy Gastmeyer -- unless it was all an elaborate publicity stunt for Bill's PAC.


Weed and Seed must be an incredibly popular program, when it is working well.

Where else do so many motivated neighborhood residents collaborate so closely with the mayor's office? How else can a mayor foster such appreciation and good will from troubled citizens in far-flung neighborhoods?

The details in the Rich Lord article about missing Weed and Seed equipment were troubling. Yet for the Comet's money, the most interesting section was simply this:

"Under [former Mayor Tom] Murphy, it did work," said Sarah Campbell, president of the Zone 5 Public Safety Council and vice chairwoman of the Homewood-Brushton Community Coalition Organization. She said drug houses were eliminated with the help of "weed" money. "Seed" dollars "funded a lot of community activity around programs that were dealing with self-esteem."

Throughout Mr. Murphy's 12-year term, city Grants and Developments Director Dave Farley served as the Weed and Seed project director, and for 10 years John Tokarski was its coordinator. Stephen Chatman joined as assistant coordinator.

They "were actually national experts" in Weed and Seed administration, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot McLean, who is Ms. Buchanan's point person on Weed and Seed.

Even before Bob O'Connor became mayor on Jan. 3, 2006, he fired Mr. Farley and Mr. Chatman. No reasons were given for the dismissals, which came as much of Mr. Murphy's staff was being shown the door.

There is an interesting discussion in the Burr Reporr comments evaluating the tenure of a Bernadette Lynch -- a new Weed and Seed administrator under Mayor O'Connor, who was subsequently replaced by Mayor Ravenstahl. It illustrates that nobody knows who to blame.

The point is, staff turnover continues, and the program is suffering -- while crime is continuing to encroach on neighborhoods as much as ever.


During the Iraq War, one of our most crucial mistakes was instituting a program of DeBaathification, or cleansing the government of anybody remotely connected to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. This ultimately crippled the central government's ability to take care of itself, and alienated many who might have been helpful.

Tom Murphy and Bob O'Connor were longtime rivals -- to say nothing of the special antipathy Ravenstahl seemed to bear toward Murphy.

The question is, in their efforts to DeMurphicate city government -- in their attempts to consolidate power and loyalty in the neighborhoods by replacing Weed and Seed leadership with "their own people" -- did both O'Connor and Ravenstahl do real damage to a good program?

A P-G editorial reads:

This recent history -- in which new mayors come in, perhaps see the Weed and Seed posts for political value, then supplant experienced staff -- does not serve Pittsburgh well.

We suppose once again, the Comet is naive to think politics should operate any other way.

In a city governed by one political party, at least, the players should be secure enough to set aside intra-squad squabbling, and utilize competent professionals -- even if they hail from the (gasp!) Murphy administration. Especially when it comes to public safety.

Stating the Obvious

"If he wore an orange tie, people here would be crying," said Yuri Maluta, a protester from Lviv. "It would show that the American president supports democracy here."

... Nicholas D. Kristof, NYT, on the Orange Revolution in Ukraine of 2004


Perhaps DNC Chairman Howard Dean stuck that Dowd sticker on his shirt without much forethought.

Perhaps Dr. Dowd was a supporter of Dean's 2004 presidential run, and Dean was simply returning a favor.

Perhaps Howard just has a thing for door-knocking.

The Comet, however, cannot believe that a party official of Howard Dean's magnitude would pass over a county executive and a newly minted mayor so easily.

We do not think Dean would have donned the campaign gear of any debutante politico, without doing some serious research first.

It is only reasonable to assume that at some point, Howard Dean thought to himself, "This kid stuck it to a bunch of parochial, conservative party dinosaurs, and that's exactly what we need. As Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I'm going to send a message, and shake up this rusty machine town."

Think about the message this sent to the Party Crashers of Allegheny County -- those rebellious underlings who spent the spring primary election getting insulted, ostracized, threatened, and blackmailed by the local party apparatus -- all for the crime of supporting independent and progressive leadership.

Now think about the message to the ACDC establishment. As party leaders contemplate reform options, they had better take into account the sweep of history -- and a realistic assessment of their own place in it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pledge Break

We at the Comet are so glad you've taken some time out of your busy day to join us out here in the Blurghosphere ... and we hope you'll take a moment to help us support Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

We've been doing pretty good ... we were stuck around $300 for a while, but then some donations rolled in over the weekend ... we may be getting stuck again, we don't know, we hope not.

Right now, you can really make a difference. We want to see that thermometer fill all the way up, we want to help PAAR continue to perform all the necessary work it does for city residents ... but it all starts with you, your generosity and concern, your pledge of support.

That support is just two clicks away. We know you've seen the banners, we know you've thought about it ... maybe you were waiting for the right time. That time is now.

Maybe you're out here because you enjoy the additional information and opinions available on the web. Maybe you enjoy the entertainment and the humor. Maybe you're just curious ... or maybe you're just a little alarmed, and that's fine!

But as long as you're here, we hope you join us in trying to generate some much-needed revenue for a worthy cause.

Last Chance City Paper

The C-P runs a pair of letters-to-the-editor taunting Beth Pittinger for branding a peaceful protest outside of Dan Onorato's church as "offensive."

Vincent Eirene, Manchester:

When already restrained anti-war protesters were Tasered in full view of the public, and when young children -- including my own -- were subjected to the effects of random pepper-spraying by Pittsburgh police officers in August 2005, Ms. Pittinger dutifully attended the subsequent press conference, but I certainly don't remember her expressing any sense of such actions being "offensive."

Candice Zawoiski, Lawrenceville:

Why is the executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board working to undermine the civil liberties of Pittsburgh's citizens anyway? Shouldn't she be overworked protecting Pittsburgh's men, women and children from the far-too-common racist and politically motivated brutality perpetuated by some police officers in our city?

When an issue like this starts to generate spin-off issues that whip up new constituencies, and one's allies begin taking heat on their own, that should be a pretty good indication you've done something wrong.


The Pittsburgh Organizing Group is adopting a new tactic, reports Marty Levine: a hunger-strike outside of Oakland's main military recruiting station. P.O.G. is seeking permits for the End War Fast from Sept. 4 - Sept. 30.


Melissa Meinzer has a write-up of Howard Dean's visit to Pittsburgh. She mentions the DNC Chairman's sporting of a Patrick Dowd sticker, and his praise for Dowd's insurgent, highly interactive campaign.

She does not mention the wild applause and fawning attention Dr. Dowd garnered that night, nor the irritation and envy so clearly evident across the face of a certain other local hot-shot politician.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday: Around the Horn

Trib columnist Dmitiri Vassilaros today is wrong.

When new ownership purchased the Delta Queen, it inherited the collective bargaining agreement that the previous owner had negotiated in good faith.

Instead of blaming Coast-Guard regulations or the Democrats who choose to enforce them, why not blame the new owners for failing to meet their obligations?

There's nothing wrong with venerating a grand old sea-going vessel -- but how about some veneration for its crew?


Less easy to dismiss is a Montari and Haulk piece from the Allegheny Institute, taking a look at the city pensions.

Any state scheme to bail out Pittsburgh would have to simultaneously deal with Philadelphia and its $3 billion unfunded gap. It is unlikely the state Legislature and the governor are prepared to scrounge up such a large sum. Moreover, it is highly improbable a state bailout would correct the lack of discipline in the cities that produced the problems in the first place.

Much cold water is thrown on the "the state will save us!" position. Here are their prescriptions:

1. Have the state mandate that new hires be placed in "defined-contribution" plans.
2. Eliminate some city workers
3. Begin standing up to public sector union pressures

The Comet does not yet have solid opinions on the first two, but that third and final one sounds inarguable, and seriously overdue.


The P-G's Rich Lord explodes the Weed & Seed program under the Ravenstahl administration.

"You don't even want to know what people in the neighborhoods say" about the program's status, said Mr. Chatman, now working on Erie's Weed and Seed effort but living part time in Pittsburgh. Community leaders tell him communication has suffered. "It's kind of hard to talk when there's a revolving door."

Some clauses that must sting:

"Under [former Mayor Tom] Murphy, it did work ...

They "were actually national experts" in Weed and Seed administration ...

DeSantis: Mayor Should Work More

You know that "post-agenda" council session that we are going to have on Sept. 10, to further examine the police promotions?

Late word from Team DeSantis:

Mark DeSantis will listen to the testimony presented at the hearing and implement the appropriate recommendations in his public safety plan that will be released next month. He also urges Mr. Ravenstahl to attend the hearing and listen to the concerns of the women's groups.

"Ravenstahl decided to golf at a celebrity golf outing instead of attending the last hearing. Clearly that was the wrong decision. He now has another opportunity to address these concerns. If he is serious about city leadership, he will make himself available, said DeSantis.

His attendance will be unusual for a challenger; it will draw focus and be viewed by some as opportunist.

From the beginning, DeSantis has taken the hardest of lines on this issue. He could easily have questioned Ravenstahl's final decision to promote those officers, and left it at that.

However, DeSantis has repeatedly insisted that it is part and parcel of the mayor's job to attend the most important public council hearings, and that the hearing on the domestic abuse allegations clearly rose to that level of importance.

Meanwhile, the DeSantis website currently has these frank words plastered on its homepage:

When the City was in a state of emergency, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was watching the Steelers practice. The question that should be on everyone's minds: Does this guy ever go to work?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Joe Biden: For the Hour

1. He says that if we don't have a growing middle class, America is in trouble -- and that saying this puts him at odds with his fellow candidates. What? Really?

2. He's going to unveil a health care plan in September -- but since Charlie's program is so totally underground, we get the broad strokes. "You've got to build a dike around your plan."

3. It's clear he doesn't think Obama is remotely prepared to be president.

4. 37:00 = Good G.W.B. impression!

5. He would apply a lot of what was done in Bosnia to Iraq, and claims he already has the Security Council on board.

If you don't think this guy is the superior choice, you are not paying attention.