Friday, September 28, 2007

Special Comet Blogroll Update

Dr. Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess is blogging. Today she posts her impressions of Off the Record VII: Blogged to Death. (Revelations)

She also launches a sharp initial critique of the DeSantis economic development plan / slash / press conference in the Hill District.

She intends eventually to expand upon themes written about in this week's City Paper column, wherein she name-checked Tonya Payne, the Isle of Capri, and the already forgotten Hill District Gaming Task Force from way back in the not very long ago.

The online version, in which "editing errors" from the print edition have been "corrected," can be accessed here.

Rolling with the Blogroll

Here are some fabulous weblog treats that have been bouncing up and down the old Comet sidebar.

Schultzy has massive video and voluminous notes from the Pittsburgh Civic Design Coalition Debate / Forum Event Thingy last night. (D4D)

Chad Hermann has been seriously hysterical on the subject of Cyril Wecht. (TWM)

Secret Agent Ska did not catch the season premier of Grey's Anatomy. (Agent Ska)

Lest anyone think Delano is running away with the show, remember who's on holiday. (Busman)

Political analysis: so easy, we've passed it off to our intern. (The Intern)

Yesterday, the P-G ran a Peanuts comic that made a Mort Sahl joke. Yes, that Mort Sahl. More hip than Dennis Miller, we tell you. (TCA)

Same Post. Again.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mayor's Race In Play (UPDATED)

Hard to avoid this conclusion.

Another poor couple of days for Ravenstahl, paired with a really solid week or two by DeSantis -- all coming just prior to debate season -- is leading to a contest whose outcome is fundamentally uncertain.


Weeks ago the city sent a direct mail piece, bearing the mayor's signature, in which he invited residents to "please join me" for Tuesday night's meeting at the Pittsburgh Project. Some 150 people attended, with some chanting "Where is the mayor?"


"It was a mistake by the office," he said. "The letter that went out was technically wrong." (P-G, Rich Lord)

The invitation can be accessed here. You make the call whether or not this qualifies as a technical and administrative mistake.

As far as we're concerned, you can forget the "Please join me." We wonder if every appearance by Neighborhood Initiatives Coordinator Jennifer Watson warrants a direct mail blast bearing such a campaign-style headline, and the Mayor's personal signature.

KDKA's Jon Delano has challenger Mark DeSantis going on the offensive, faulting the Mayor for getting North Siders to rearrange their schedules and lives for what amounted to a false alarm.

UPDATE: The story got worse. Basically, the administration told a TV reporter he was definitely not at that Red Sox game, and it turns out (we find out from the developers in Boston) that he definately was at that Red Sox game.

In fact, Luke may have been on the Jumbo Tron.


Sources indicate to the Comet that the Mayor really did not want to meet with Northside United. We surmise that perhaps Ravenstahl changed his mind about the importance of that particular community meeting, after he became aware that Northside United was getting itself involved.

The calendar for casino planning approvals is approaching far sooner than that of the hockey arena, and there is a lot more civic money at stake if the process gets slowed up.

Now that his absence has blossomed into a healthy scandal, it will be interesting to see whether or not Ravenstahl elects to meet with and acknowledge the rambunctious group in the coming weeks.


You may have noticed parallels between this story, and an earlier one in which the Mayor failed to attend a meeting of Hill District leaders in the immediate aftermath of the deal to keep the Penguins in the city.

You may also have noticed that in both cases, the snubbed citizens are engaged, organized, actively campaigning on high-profile issues ... and black.

You may be thinking that by selecting Nate Harper and Daryl Jones as his police and fire chief respectively, the incumbent Ravenstahl had pretty well sewn up this constituency.

You may be forgetting that once upon a time, the black community was duly impressed by the high-level appointments of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. That didn't last long at all.


Still skeptical?

Watch this second Jon Delano piece from KDKA, in which challenger Mark DeSantis unveils his economic development plan in the Hill District.

A pretty warm reception for a Republican -- and it does not appear staged or scripted at all.

Consider this alongside DeSantis's improvisational performance when unveiling his public safety plan on the North Side ("I don't want to just be seen to care -- I do care"), and you're getting the picture of a candidate who may just be realizing he is comfortable, and he has something to offer, out in the 'hood.


Incidentally, Ravenstahl was quizzed on missing that North Side meeting by the Trib's Jeremy Boren, at a forum hosted by the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Committee.

More Comet sources indicate that a 14WIDC endorsement of challenger Mark DeSantis is far, far, far from out of the question.

Do you see a picture coming into focus?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Wal-Mart said it will continue to explore "other opportunities for growth throughout the greater Pittsburgh area." (P-G, Don Hopey)

Revolution Begins on North Side

In 16 years of covering the news, KDKA's David Highfield cannot remember a more "spirited" meeting than the one yesterday concerning the new casino.

"We do not want to talk about design. They brought us here under false pretenses. We don't want to look at pretty pictures!" shouted Michele Johnson, 47, of the North Side. "We want to talk about jobs. We want to talk about affordable housing." (Trib, Justin Vellucci)

"It's already planned and said and done and wrapped up. So what do they want me to say now? What can I say?" asked Marcella Parham, a North Side resident who stormed out of the meeting. "It's already here and I had nothing to say from the beginning." (P-G, Mark Belko)

In terms of what my photojournalism books say-- this was the perfect event. There was a lot of conflict and upset people. Lots of yelling and genuinely emotional faces. (Agent Ska)

Adding fuel to the fire, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was not in attendance, as he had previously indicated he would via direct mail.

Efforts to rationalize his absence and to stress the importance of Jennifer Watson, the Neighborhood Initiatives Coordinator who attended in his stead, went over about as well as efforts to explain that the meeting was about design, not jobs and community benefits.

Mark Fatla of the NorthSide Leadership Conference tried to explain that community issues have been addressed in an agreement he already reached with Don Barden and PITG Gaming, but it is apparent that most residents who attended last night's meeting don't trust Mark Fatla as far as they can throw his Indiana Jones hat.

The community presence at the meeting was organized by Northside United, a quasi-franchise of Pittsburgh United, the blue/green outfit that is also in cahoots with the One Hill CBA Coalition. By some measures at least, they seem to be faring much better up here.

More Budget Wars

KDKA's Jon Delano follows up on the budget wars by examining DeSantis's charge that Ravenstahl's own office is, in the words of Patrice King Brown, "overpaid and bloated," with three staff members making upwards of $90K and 14 others performing largely redundant duties.

Wholly disinterested city councilman Bill Peduto suggests that even beyond the heavy budget, the Mayor is operating a "shell game"; moving mayoral positions into the Finance Department on paper, but using what would be savings to hire even more staff.

Equally disinterested city councilman Doug Shields defends the Mayor by asserting that DeSantis is bound to find fault in everything. If he wants to cut the mayor's budget in half "that's fine, but you still have to function." He stops short of contradicting the proposition that it might still function.

Team Ravenstahl elected to sit this one out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday: Stack of Stuff

Mayor Ravenstahl selects Daryl Jones for Fire Chief, who incidentally becomes the first African-American in Pittsburgh to assume that position. (Courier, Christian Morrow)

I expect to be judged on my abilities, leadership skills and vision for moving the bureau forward.

He should fit right in.


We heartily applaud Ruth Ann Daily for cutting out the fluff -- but we shamefully kept nodding off during this item. Did anybody read it? Was she justified in her depiction of Cranberry Township as heroic?


We were looking forward to Off the Record VII, but now we're terrified that gunfire or a roller derby will break out. We assume there will be heightened security. (P-G, Steve Twedt; also PittGirl)


By the way, how does WQED personality Chris Moore get away with calling every young black female guest on his many programs "my baby girl from a previous relationship?" Not saying we have a problem with that; just saying it's awful Ron Burgundy of him for this day and age.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Longest Mile

(See MAPQUEST if you don't believe us)

Buried beneath a lede about a big vacant properties forum Downtown, is a tale of woe from the Hill District. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

"There were supposed to be six more [new houses] across the street" from the ones built in the '90s, she said. "That was going to be phase two" of a redevelopment plan between the city Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Hill District's community development corporation. But the vacant lots that were to have received new homes remain vacant.

"Last month, the Redd-up people [city workers] came and did some work," she said, "but the weeds have grown up again ...

Editorial Comment: We've never been to a vacant properties conference, but doesn't $300-$400 per ticket seem a little excessive? Are we raising money for something?

Related Aside: What if there was a much-publicized town hall community meeting -- only turnout was low, and no media bothered to cover it? And those that thought they might, decided to write about a vacant properties forum and some weedy properties instead?

DeSantis Smells a Rat

They don't need any politician telling them -- feeding them -- empty promises and documents that don't have any meaning.

Challenger Mark DeSantis actually looks and sounds like he's about to cry during the segment from Jon Delano on KDKA.

Real, grown-up businessman tears.

He is not outraged by some offhand campaign line or vague pledge to move forward. He is criticizing the actual 313-page budget document that the Mayor intends to present to City Council and the state oversight boards.

Incumbent Luke Ravenstahl trumpets this new budget proposal as yielding $13 million in surplus, all without new taxes or future borrowing. He says:

We've done this by creating efficiencies in government and also controlling spending so that over the next five years it'll cost taxpayers less to run city government.

DeSantis emphatically suggests that they've done this by creating numbers straight out of their own hindquarters.

Too harsh? Consider that he has dubbed it the "Pittsburgh Promise II."

Jon Delano delivered his clincher with what might have been a wink and a nudge:

I have a feeling there's gonna be a lot of talk about numbers in the next few weeks leading up to the election.

Very few of us poor citizens are capable of assessing the truth value of a 300 page municipal budget -- but the truth is out there.


Mind you, if you're Mark DeSantis, there may be a hidden danger in all this. There are enough big issues, like crime, consolidation and his raft of ethics proposals, all of which draw sharper contrasts that may be easier to comprehend.

DeSantis does not really need Pittsburgh to get bogged down in a debate over amortization and depreciation.


Be that as it may, the Comet does have a few questions that could use answering.

1) Does Ravenstahl actually have the authority under Act 47 to raise taxes, even if he wanted to? Remember that he opposed Act 47, and wants us out of it as fast as possible.

2) By claiming we've realized these surpluses by creating efficiencies and controlling spending, does that mean no more borrowing over the five years? In changing our credit card mentality, is Luke essentially saying, "Read my lips, no new debt?"

3) Why is the amount we plan on collecting from the nonprofits going down? Why is it not, like the price of everything else, going up? We have yet to begin negotiations, and we are already settling! Why?

4) DeSantis claims he can trim the budget even while diverting about $23 million from the general fund to pay down our pensions. Care to offer some real specifics? Ravenstahl is already suggesting that city services like police and fire would suffer.

5) Would Ravenstahl be willing to operate his own Mayor's office on half its present budget, as DeSantis intends to do? Is DeSantis being realistic? Is Ravenstahl being extravagant?