Friday, October 10, 2008

"Guys Like Jeff" and the Rest of Pittsburgh

We almost missed this Saturday article -- until Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum saved it, handed it to us mid-week, and said, "I don't want to keep nagging, but I think it's time you moved out of that neighborhood."

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.


  1. In Beechview it was Katz. Does every city neighborhood have a person like Edelstein and NS Jeff?

  2. Beechview, Lawrenceville, and the Spring Garden environs of the North Side may have some special pull going on compared to other neighborhoods. I guess there are also some commonalities.

  3. Find the common denominator to these neighborhood players and you find the source.

  4. That's clever ... if there turns out to be a common denominator. I wasn't thinking a common denominator so much as qualitative commonalities.

    Let's roll with it. I see probably two things going on.

    Number one, all three are poor white neighborhoods. Poor white neighborhoods seem to qualify for resources -- resources that come more easily, and resources that are handed over to neighborhood players rather than to outside investors.

    In addition, the Spring Garden environs of the North Side is the Mayor's hood, Lawrenceville is the Ferlo's hood, and Beechview is Motznik's hood. Those three are on the "in" crowd.

    I guess if otherwise qualifying neighborhoods in Pittsburgh have grievances, one could lay that at the feet of their public representatives: they should know how to play ball.

  5. Beechview was more in the Wagner or Coghill camps and Brookline/Overbrook/Carrick in the Motznik camp. Could be that there is no common denominator.

  6. "Does every city neighborhood have a person like Edelstein and NS Jeff?"


  7. That seems like it's probably true, Matt H. What's up lately with the West End Neighborhood Whateveritscalled CDC?

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Also, @deegazette:

    1. We could talk what's up with the Wagner camp 'till we're blue in the face.

    2. I was always generally under the impression that the Coghill camp kind of *was* the Motznik camp, only it had been Motznik's "turn" lo these several years. Presumably, pending Gene Riccardi and the creek don't rise, it will be Coghill's "turn" next.

    Meanwhile, there are rumors of a duel situation between potential progressive candidates in that district. (No, really). Unless the "dueling progressives" meme is somehow a Coghillian rumor.

  10. Joe Edelstein & Jeff Dzamko....BROTHERS FROM ANTOHER MOTHER....URA DARLINGS!

    So tired of hearing how much "good" they do (with our money!)for PGH did John Gotti!!

    Next these A-hols will run under a DEM ticket....and win.

  11. AND ON THAT NOTE, we hereby disclose that Jeff Dzamko can be described as "someone with whom the Comet pals around with from the neighborhood". And that it would be depressing to have to read comments about him on my own blog related to "A-hols" and mafiosi. Please use discretion.

  12. Sorry, Bram, but I stand by my is not to be calling either part of a larger "organization"...just the fact that what is said concerning them and the "good" they do is exactly what was said about Gotti.

    You wrote the comments on the original article, you cannot then backstep for a friend...look at where that got Ford.

  13. Hey, I wouldn't call it "backstepping" -- I didn't delete the comment (the next such one that comes off unpleasantly I probably will), and I appreciate the modulated rhetoric.

  14. N.S. Jeff under allegheny construction management running same scams under new name tell the high roller to pay his bills.

  15. another arrest for your pal Bram....