Thursday, October 11, 2007

Liveblogging the PUMP / City Paper Debate

We've seen exactly two Luke buttons, and over a dozen DeSantis buttons, in the early-seated audience. And one huge dude in a DeSantis sleeveless t-shirt.

There's Rauterkus. There's Lamb. Not debating.

Luke and Mark are sitting together chatting. It looks friendly.

DeSantis looks more relaxed. Ravenstahl looks like he's having more fun.


3 minute opening statement, 3 minute closing statement. Questions are from a variety of sources. 2 minutes to answer each question, and a 1 minute rebuttal.

Luke, opening: "Nothing could have prepared me for our city's loss." "I've also brought forward a very aggressive plan for Pittsburgh's future." He's taking more dramatic pauses than William Shatner. He looks forward to this debate and discussion.

Mark, opening: "A year ago if you told me I'd be here running for mayor, I'd call you crazy." I wouldn't be standing here today if I thought the promise of Mayor O'Connor was about to be fulfilled (paraphrased). People want change. He talks to people in Starbucks and Crazy Mocha, they want change. Not press releases. Change.

Mark, more opening: Plugs his efforts at row office reform. (Nice.)

Tonia: (A question about leadership)

Luke: People need a leader. Someone to make tough decisions. Something he's done.

Luke: Young people want jobs. We've done lot of good things in city government to streamline...

Luke: People want "a mayor who's going to go out on the streets to talk about fighting crime..."

Mark: People look for leaders to lead by example. And people need the city to be fiscally sound. "It is seriously enough that we are at risk of bankruptcy in two or three years."

Mark: "Fertile soil that will allow our community to grow." (Word.)

Luke: "This city will not go bankrupt in the next two or three years." (Bam.)

Mark: It is too!!!! "What we need to do is reduce the cost of government and start paying down that debt." Pittsburgh is almost the worst in the state, pension fundwise.

Tonia: Community Benefits Agreements. (Now? Oooh!)

Mark: Micro-loan program for minority-owned enterprises. Study shows African-American community is in bad shape and isolated. $500 - $5,000 loans, chosen by peers not bankers. "It's worked in Philadelphia, and other cities as well." Commits to it regardless of winning.

Mark: Mellon Arena. The Hill: sad story. "Maybe we can remedy some of those injustices as green spaces." (???) Does endorse turning Mellon Arena into green space.

Luke: Gaming Task Force is handling the community issues around casino. Communication, active discussion, and that's what we have. So much outreach. In terms of the Hill District, myself and the County Executive meet regularly. "We're working very hard with them."

Mark: "We've done a lousy job of listening in city government." (We want to cheer.) Angry and feel excluded. Process is flawed from the beginning. When we spend public dollars, we have to go that extra mile.

Luke: "Thank you and we have listened and we are listening." (droll). He would be "shocked" if there was a process better than this one. "Above and beyond the call of duty, to schedule meetings that didn't have to be scheduled and did so."

Luke: "And if you talked to those residents, I think they'd agree."

Tonia: Nonprofits. (Tonia, marry us!)

Luke: That agreement with the nonprofit community is great. It got us roughly $14 million (over the last three years). Good communications will breed success. UPMC: They have to be active partners, and they have been active partners. "You can't throw stones."

Mark: Believes the non-profits will give a lot more if the city budget was not a financial shredder. (You're killing me. Your party simply will not allow you to take the Ferlo-Comet-Shields position on Act 55, huh?)

Luke: Here's the DeSantis plan with gaming money and nonprofit money going to pensions ... (explains it for him). Asks DeSantis directly: What $23 million worth of services are you gonna cut?

Mark: Alright, this is a tactic I've seen in Washington DC. Act 47 came up with 200 recommendations to do more with less. Savings are in millions and millions. We've done none of those. Meanwhile, Luke is raising the budget $50 million in the coming years! (This is pretty awesome.)

Tonia: You can rebut that.

Luke declined to rebut that, but made some comment. (We think it was, "Well, I didn't get the answer I wanted.")

Now Mark and Luke are arguing openly.

Wow. You have to be here. Luke just launched into his two structurally balanced budgets routine, and everybody in the audience was all oh, you're changing the subject and talking like a robot. That's just the Comet's opinion, but it was an amused, skeptical crowd noise.

Tonia: Next question. (Missed it.)

Mark: Talking about how busing people in and showing them the town isn't going to keep them here, we need jobs. "Starting a business here is a lot harder than it needs to be." (Give me some specifics)

Mark: Eliminating gross receipts tax for businesses inside of 3 years.

Luke: (Also missed the question and asked for it to be repeated. It was about how to keep young people here.) "I believe my opponent is correct; we need to create job opportunities." (Not as impressed the second time around.)

Luke: Tax abatement program. Tops on his list of things he's done to create jobs. "Wonderful programs through Urban Redevelopment Authority."

Luke: "Bike lanes. On a city street."

Mark: "I think we need much tighter linkages with groups like this," [gesturing to PUMP]. His New Idea Factory, (which if you haven't heard of it's because you're too young), it was great and it led to the Sprout Fund. You can't just convene advisory committees, but actually do stuff.

Tonia: Biggest mistake in your career, and what have you learned?

Mark: Went to Washington. Motivated by bright lights and getting power. John Heinz. (Sound familiar?) Realized the error of his ways.

Luke: "I go too fast. I don't have a lot of patience," and he wants to get things done.

Luke: Also: "If I could go back, I would have had an opportunity to win an election." (So his biggest mistake is O'Connor's death?)

Luke: Yes, he repeats this to make it absolutely clear. Luke says his biggest mistake is Bob O'Connor's death.

Tonia: City / County Merger.

Luke: Blue ribbon panel to look at city-county consolidation. Does it save money? Do we provide a better service? (Gives some examples. Not wowed by them.)

Mark: "I'm with Dan Onorato on this. I want a two-stage consolidation process." Referendum as soon as possible.

Luke: Will pick up garbage when other municipality's ask. Like Wilkinsburg. Low-hanging fruit that is out there.

Tonia: Keeping college students here.

Mark: It's the economy, stupid. (Not a quote, but basically...) (The "you need a thriving economy" speech got really weak applause. He's not holding them.)

Luke: Wetlabs! Did you know they were a neglected and abandoned property? Wetlabs!

Luke: Joking around.

Mark: "Building office space doesn't get it done." We can have our offices anywhere. When you get down to it, it's not location. It's making truly fertile business soil.

Luke: "I think my opponent is painting this bleak picture of Pittsburgh." Permitting process. Minor residential and commercial. One stop shopping. "It's the beginning of the method of dealing with these investors in a more personal way."

Tonia: For DeSantis -- You worked in the first Bush White House, which wracked up lots of debt. What's up?

Mark: Well, when I talked to the president ... (laughter). Look, I like John Heinz and I liked working for the president.

Luke: Passes.

Mark, closing: Pittsburghers have a right to be a little cynical. Our government hasn't changed much, but our city has. Everything can change if you believe. (He's no Jimminy Cricket.)

Luke, closing: Talking like the CaeserBot 7000 again.

Luke, more closing: Again with the 2nd structurally balanced budget. "I see financial strength in this city's future." (He is very, VERY LOUD during the openings and closings.)

Luke, more closing: "Sees a city with safe streets, and clean communities." We just knocked down a vacant house.

Socialist Worker's Party Candidate Ryan Scott: "Capitalism continues and deepens its crisis." Mortgage crisis. Jena Six. Campaign offers a working-class political program. "If you vote for me, we won't change everything ... but we'll fight together."

Scott: Goes after Onorato for proposed reductions in bus driver wages and benefits. Goes after DeSantis for wanting to scale back city worker benefits packages. (Wish DeSantis could respond.)

Libertarian Candidate Tony Oliva: "It's gonna be pretty interesting when I actually win this election. (Laugher). Now, ah ... um...."

Oliva: Luke and Mark look like they have the same tailor. Maybe a splash of color is what they need. "I think it's time that we hear a different voice."

Comet: End transmission.

Eliminate the Libertarian and the Socialist (pt 4)

When these two young chuckle-heads are given equal time, Luke Ravenstahl comes off sounding like Cicero.


Tony Oliva (L) seemed like an intelligent, reasonable, impressive young man -- who has not a single interesting thing to say.

We get the impression he would seek to lower our taxes, but we still have absolutely no idea how he would pay for it, and we have no clue how he would address this through our state oversight entities.

He evidently did not prepare well-enough to have command of any major issues. He was always playing catch-up, and meandering around for his answers. He did not put forward any fleshed-out plans or programs. [striken]

Ryan Scott (SW) seemed like an intelligent, passionate, impressive young man -- who had not a single thing to say in answer to any question.

Ending the Cuban embargo is one of his campaign's "central demands": hands off Cuba. He wants to improve public safety by keeping the police out of the neighborhoods. He wants to handle our pensions crisis by seeking justice for the Jena Six.

His politics are not the problem. If he is running for mayor, and he is invited to share the stage at a major civic forum, he should have the courtesy to learn something about the questions he will be asked, and to answer them.

There are ways he could have gotten his radical message across, without totally blowing off everything central to the task of managing the City of Pittsburgh today. He was a clown.

We have nothing against Mr. Oliva and Mr. Scott appearing on the ballot. We have no problem with their having taken part in this last, most recent forum. We certainly have no problem with them campaigning throughout the neighborhoods in the coming month.

We have no need to see them in another serious debate. Get them off the stage. They are detracting from what could be a very important and serious discussion.

Best Moments of the Night (pt 3)

Mayor Ravenstahl was asked about public safety, and he asked, "Can I have more than a minute?"

First we thought it was a rude request -- but then recognized it as plain eager confidence. He had a lot to say on the subject.

He boasted of putting a hundred more cops on the force, reopening West End station, assigning more beat cops and perhaps installing police cameras. (P-G, Timothy McNulty)

Challenger Mark DeSantis shot back that the staffing level of the police department was set by the Act 47 recovery plan. "It is not an initiative," he said sharply, "it's a requirement."

This caused Ravenstahl to make a huge WTF-style face.

DeSantis went on to tout features of his own public safety plan -- putting more cops on the streets instead of administrative positions, and putting many more of them through Community Oriented Policing training.

The point is, both candidates were really strong on public safety, and confident. They should hold a whole debate exclusively on crime and public safety. It would be a win-win-win.


Ravenstahl was also strong on the blight and nuisance property question.

We continue to not be impressed by his celebrated Ten Neighborhood Forums -- he is holding them what, about once a month? -- but we remember him speaking very knowledgeably on how to combat blight, and new nuisance property legislation.

After his answer, he looked all excited like he expected some applause. We would have applauded maybe, but we weren't about to start a round of Lukeplause. If some Lukeplause broke out at that moment, we would have joined in.


When the P-G board asked a "yes or no" question -- would you hire or promote anyone in the police department with abuse allegations in their history -- Ravenstahl answered no.


So he will not hire or promote anyone with even a domestic allegation in their history. Even if we don't know for sure whether the guy was getting attacked with a frying pan. Does Jim Malloy know about this?


DeSantis said he'd veto the parking tax legislation coming out of council, because it is illegal and will endanger state monies. Ravenstahl said he's still going to ask the state legislature to change things, but indicated specifically that he "agrees with Mark" on this. That was a pleasant surprise.


When casino development emerged, everybody took aim at Harrisburg. The Libertarian kid came out in favor of the Isle of Capri plan for the Hill District.

This was odd -- it was the second big community forum we attended this week at which people said "everybody" wanted a casino on the Hill. The other one was the North Side Leadership Conference meeting.

At any rate, Mayor Ravenstahl got into the thicket of community issues.

"NSLC has negotiated a fair deal," he said, and on the other hand, "Other organizations have come forward with legitimate issues."

This tacit approval of Pittsburgh / Northside United efforts was notable and a little surprising. However, he went way too far claiming that whatever meetings and discussions he has held or is holding are somehow "above and beyond."

We're not sure what would qualify as an "above and beyond" meeting, but his impact thus far has been "distant and marginal."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ravenstahl Quotes with Commentary (pt 2)

Stuff the Mayor said towards the beginning of the forum:

I've also put together an aggressive agenda for Pittsburgh's future.

Aggressive? Really? Let's look at it:

1. Common-sense responsible finance

2. Agenda to create 21st century jobs

3. Public safety -- Clean and safe streets

1. Your financial strategy is to refuse to scale back the cost of government, nor to work to pay off our massive debt -- but rather to ask the state to bail us out without precondition. Is this responsible?

2. 21st century jobs are great. How do you plan on making them happen? Actually, it seems like your opponent's tax break for small start-ups would be just the thing.

3. Can we please separate clean from safe? (That's a general note for everybody.)

"The economic development boom that is taking place in Pittsburgh."

One facet of the development boom is the casino, which was gifted to us by the state in its infinite wisdom.

The others are all heavily financed by public subsidies -- and they are not yet producing any economic boom. They may never. Can you say Lazarus?

So let's cool it with the economic booms that are taking place.

I'm out in the neighborhoods every day.

Are you? Are you out in all the neighborhoods, listening to residents stories and concerns?

Or do you frequent a few choice neighborhoods only?

Or are you more frequently at fine restaurants and country clubs, schmoozing gaily with the elite and calling it "city business?"

We're [Pittsburgh's] better off today than we were 13 months ago.

Any thoughts on this?

An Unfortunate Series of Events (pt 1)

When the P-G panel asked "our" question about the nonprofits not paying nearly enough ...

Well, let's turn it over to the Trib's David M. Brown.

DeSantis said nonprofits would be willing to give more than the $5 million a group of them contributed "if they knew the money was not going into the general fund" but was earmarked for "specific noble purposes," such as meeting the city's pension obligations.

"I think they have lost confidence in city government," said DeSantis, 48, of Downtown.

Well, he is not going as far as the Comet-Ferlo-Shields position of amending state law. For that, we are disappointed.

Yet his is also a fair idea that will help pay off our pensions, help impress state officials, and perhaps truly help generate more revenue from nonprofits.

Ravenstahl said that nonprofits, "to the contrary of my opponent's remarks, have recently signed an agreement to continue to contribute to the city, so the suggestion that they've lost faith in the city and don't want to continue to contribute is false."

DeSantis turned to Ravenstahl and accused him of "mischaracterizing what I said." "I said very clearly that you had signed the agreement but there was no amount specified," DeSantis said.

After a moderator told DeSantis to let Ravenstahl finish, the mayor said his leadership style with the nonprofits is "cooperative rather than confrontational," glancing at DeSantis as he said it and drawing a laugh from a crowd of nearly 200 ...
This was so unfortunate.

First of all, if DeSantis is going to break into Ravenstahl's words, he ought to hit the ball out of the park. He hit a double, at best. Oh well.

Worse yet, he turned Ravenstahl's statement of being "cooperative rather than confrontational" with the nonprofits into a laugh line.

Otherwise, it would have been a horrible, horrible gaffe!

All photo credits in the series go to The Collected Notes of Agent Ska.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Who is Luke Looking Out For?

TONIGHT: Post-Gazette mayoral candidates forum, Heinz History Center, Strip District, 7-8:30.

The Comet submitted several questions, one of which related to the following:

Here is the complete text of Mayor Ravenstahl's statement on the Mega Nonprofit's agreement to pay the City an unspecified amount of money over the next three years -- less than in previous years, and far less than what the ICA boards recommend.

The nonprofit community is a key partner in the City's success. I am pleased with the actions taken by the Pittsburgh Service Fund and am thankful for their willingness to support the residents of the City of Pittsburgh.

That's it?

Local Democrats like Jim Ferlo and Doug Shields, to say nothing of long-suffering Tony Pokora, are advocating for amendments to the state non-profit law to provide a little equity. To date, the Mayor's vaunted "discussions" have gotten us nowhere -- and this pitiful non-statement in reaction to UPMC and the rest proves it.

The nonprofits go on to say they will be monitoring the City of Pittsburgh closely, making sure it adheres strictly to the budgetary pain and sacrifice mandated by the ICA Board.

That is, except for the ICA's recommendation for those nonprofits?

Are you looking out for us, Luke Ravenstahl?


TOMORROW: Four dueling community meetings on community benefits agreements and / or public safety.

The first one to have been widely publicized was the Kimberly Ellis AKA Dr. Goddess meeting, the "critical analysis of the community benefits movement" set up by the Africana Studies department at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Ellis repeatedly attempted to get reps from Pittsburgh United to join on the panel; two spots were available to them. However, it seems the message never got through in quite the right channels.

Pittsburgh United is also hosting its own exploratory discussion of community benefits agreements, somewhere on the North Side, at the same time. The timing of the two events, we are told by Pittsburgh United, was totally unrelated.

Reports have surfaced that Councilwoman Tonya Payne is also holding her own big discussion of community benefits tomorrow night, also by coincidence (it is a busy week). Since Tonya Payne and Pittsburgh United are allied together in the One Hill CBA coalition, this is surprising.

Dr. Kimberly Ellis tells us that she, the Rev. Johnny Monroe, and Marimba Milliones were all recently expelled from the One Hill CBA coalition.

Another great fat data point on this wheel can be found here:

Vocal casino opponents accused of shilling for union (Justin Vellucci, TRIB)

"That's the only thing that was articulated to us, as what they knew they wanted to do," said Joseph R. Lawrence, president of the Leadership Conference. "If it weren't for the need for the union portion of the deal, there really wouldn't be any issues here."


"One of the ways to make sure that casino jobs are decent jobs is to have Mr. Barden say, 'If people want to have a union, it's their choice and I won't interfere,' " said Tom Hoffman, Pittsburgh United's executive director and a former Service Employees International Union employee. "There's no other way to guarantee the jobs will be good jobs."

That is fair to say, Tom. Yet what we don't understand is, once the casino is operating and a workforce is established, it has a normal right to organize. Why not just arrange for open union elections at that point? You should be organizing in advance of that happy occasion.

Why must unionization under SEIU and UNITE-HERE be "baked in" to the development process?

Why shouldn't these communities use what little bargaining power they have entirely for a favorable master plan, economic development funds, and other community initiatives?


Oh yeah, we said four meetings tomorrow. The City of Pittsburgh and its Police Department are putting on its own meeting on public safety, and presumably civic engagement.

This is wonderful, and anybody who accuses them of scheduling against these other meetings is being ridiculous.

However, we expect that over the coming weeks and months, Mayor Ravenstahl gets active in sitting down with these warring parties on the North Side and in the Hill District, and getting them to agree on a few things. These developments are too big and important to "let the chips fall where they may."

It is a leader's job to harness resident's concerns in an effective but realistic way. Not to sit idly by and shrug.

Who are you looking out for, Luke Ravenstahl?

Rauterkus-Adams Alliance Deepens

Independent candidate for District 9 City Council David Adams interviews Libertarian candidate for Controller and District 3 City Council candidate Mark Rauterkus.

The topic is "What is a Libertarian?" and to an extent, "What's a libertarian got to offer our black communities?" Spoiler alert: the answer has to do with tax policy and smaller-scale development.

Part I. Part II.

In addition, Rauterkus's blog reproduced a press release by Adams blasting his opponent, Democratic nominee Ricky Burgess, for his "obvious apprehension with meeting him to discuss an opportunity to debate informally."

Burgess has no plan, other than opening the door to the corrupt developers, who sit in wait licking their lips to take over our district land.


If Ricky Burgess does not come forward, by calling the office of the Adams for the 9th campaign team, by Monday October 1, I will personally challenge him in his church during a service, or resort to Marine tactics which will definitely force him out in the public.

Burgess and Adams will now meet publicly at least once, at a BPEP forum on the 29th. Adams has yet to crash Burgess's church, and no definitive word on whether the threat of Marine tactics motivated this appearance.

The candidates are each meeting the Post-Gazette editorial board tomorrow.

Monday, October 8, 2007

An Open Letter to the Editor of the Times

To the Editor,

There were some glaring omissions in Ian Urbina's sympathetic portrait of embattled 27-year old Pittsburgh mayor, Luke Ravenstahl.

For example, in the conspicuous litany of scandals you allowed he and his press secretary to list, absent was any mention of a $9,000 admission to a celebrity golf tournament and charity gala, paid for by a regional health care giant and a sports team, both in the midst of negotiating massive development footprints and other city business. For this, he was brought before our City Ethics Hearing Board.

Although the Board could take no action, it expressed its intention to begin amending the Ethics Code, so that these types of antics do not continue into the future.

You did however report accusations of the Mayor wearing flip-flop sandals on an airplane. Accusations which do not exist -- which have never existed -- but which serve to make the mayor's critics seem petty and absurd.

We are afraid you and your reporter got spun.

Take heart, though. It is in the best instincts of human nature to sympathize with a clean-cut young man struggling to endure unexpected challenges and incessant criticism. It takes longer to realize that this particular young man has thus far been a poor example of a 27-year old mayor.

His stubborn refusals to seize upon so many opportunities for city-county collaboration, for neighborhoods-based economic development, and for paying off our ballooning public debt are all very discouraging also.

To a certain extent, his spin doctors have made him appear active and engaged on these and other issues -- but cracks are widening in the facade of concern.

Dealing Pittsburgh's political prodigy some real adversity now, while he is young and can learn from his mistakes, may be the best thing Pittsburgh voters could possibly do for him.