In a meeting room just off of Spring Garden Avenue, Bernard Grady looked at a list of properties and the foreclosed mortgages, housing code cases and ownership questions that entangle them.
As vice president of a new community group, he may now be partly responsible for a condemned bar on Chestnut Street, gutted houses on Tripoli and High streets, a demolition site on Gebhart Street and other sites throughout this slice of the North Side.
They're part of the wreckage of the Spring Garden Neighborhood Council, an organization that for 17 years built quaint townhouses and demanded better rodent control, before embarking on a three-year experiment led by pizza-maker-turned-political-player Jeff Dzamko. (P-G, Lord and Jones)
Mr. Dzamko, once secretary/treasurer of Father and Son Pizzeria, is a familiar face at political events, ranging from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's press conferences to the Democratic National Convention. He's also the subject of a bench warrant for missing a June trial for writing bad checks.
In recent months, he's been a no-show at hearings on housing code citations against him, further clouding the neighborhood's revival effort.
It's the must-read article you haven't read yet. You go now, if only to catch some of the flavor of today's post-explosion East-East Allegheny.
Mr. Dzamko said that the good things he did for the neighborhood are being ignored.
"I had flowers and gardens and whisky barrels all through the neighborhood," he said. "Every garden I worked on since 2002 is waist-high in weeds."
Others are sore at him for getting so much -- from the city, banks, the nonprofit groups -- that remains unaccounted for.
Now this is a very interesting, nay, revealing bit, at the very end:
"The worst form of failure is the failure to try," said Mr. Zober. "That's one way that guys like Jeff will never fail."
So North Side Jeff hustles his heart out, works his connections, repeatedly applies for and receives financing for a modest empire, flames out pretty much entirely -- and leaves the city coffers and his neighbors in the lurch. Yet North Side Jeff is to remain a profile in courage. Man tried his best. It's the cost of doing business.
Contrast this with the experiences of folks at the Lincoln Larimer CDC, the Hill CDC, and maybe a dozen other community organizations who every year seek to do similar work in similarly challenged Pittsburgh neighborhoods -- pleading with the URA for some faith and some support.
"You need to build your organization's capacity", they'll say patronizingly, when they are in a patronizing mood.
"I do not support any funding for any organizations within the community", they'll announce if they would rather cut to the chase.
All of a sudden, Pittsburgh's public officials become strident watchdogs of the public purse. Elsewhere -- and to others -- it's hey! Do your best! Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
"[Joe Edelstein] owns more commercial property on Butler Street than probably anybody," said Kyra Straussman, the URA's Mainstreets Program director. "So that's who we deal with if we're going to have an active Streetface Program. It's not like we could just give it to somebody we liked." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)
Ms. Straussman may genuinely be unaware that there are 87 other Pittsburgh neighborhoods aside from Lawrenceville -- but what's the larger pattern here?
One could elect to see only the fact that public investments are tending to correlate with political support and campaign contributions -- which is itself no good, and a grossly inefficient way to build and maintain a city. Squash every conceivable rival and you're squashing and alienating a huge portion of your constituents.
Yet that's downright preferable to some alternate explanations, which would also be entirely reasonable at this point.