Monday, December 1, 2008

A Visit with Councilman Motznik

It had been far too long since our first interview with Jim Motznik -- and far too much had transpired since. We stopped by his office last week to learn what's new, and what to expect in terms of his future.

Specifically: does he plan on running for judge this spring -- potentially conceding to Bill Peduto the role of elder statesman on Pittsburgh City Council?

"First, I have enormous respect for Charlie McLaughlin -- and frankly it's a huge assumption that he's retiring," Motznik began. He impressed upon us how this was all very premature, and it would be presumptuous to say anything that could be interpreted as nudging the well-respected incumbent along.

"However -- if in fact he's up -- I am interested. I would strongly consider it."

Since it struck us as a considerable shift for Mr. Motznik, we asked if he felt up to it.

"There are two types of judges: 'judges' and district magistrates," he explained, clarifying that both are "real judges", but the two have different responsibilities. He volunteered that he's probably not qualified to be the former.

"District magistrates deal with exactly the stuff I deal with now. They have to be aware with and in touch with the communities they represent."

Since we were chewing the fat, we inquired about the coming race for Council District 2. Dan Deasy's last day in that seat before he leaves for Harrisburg is Wednesday the 3rd. A special election must be held in 60 days to complete his term in office -- followed by the regularly scheduled primary election in May.

He wouldn't get into the politics among the candidates, but did offer that "Theresa Smith is the one that has to be the favorite right now," citing her experience in neighborhood associations and the community block watch.


Refuse ordinances ... open-container ordinances ... gun ordinances. We asked Mr. Motznik for his take on the clean-and-safe-streets type of legislation coming out of City Hall these days.

"I think everything we do here is what we hear from our constituents," he argued. A lot of what he is hearing, for example, is that people want to make landlords accountable for their properties.

"Make it harder to be a slum landlord," he said. "Hopefully, it sends a message."

The same principle holds true with the lost and stolen gun ordinance -- his constituents want to make it harder to put illegal guns on the streets and into the hands of criminals.

"We want to make people more responsible. It doesn't violate anyone's rights." He mentions that he owns a shotgun and some rifles himself, and has no quarrel with the 2nd Amendment.

"My question to our law department was, is it enforceable?"

He doesn't think the proposed ordinance is going to eliminate straw purchasing, but describes it as a measure that is "basically suggestive."


Our sit-down occurred on the heels of legislation crafted by Patrick Dowd that will create restrictions on how the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is to administer Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) money.

Council passed the measure 8-1, but there was a feisty little debate beforehand about how stringent the requirements should be. An amendment by Darlene Harris failed by a narrow 5-4 margin.

Her amendment was "basically repetitive in what the bill already said," Motznik contended -- and that everybody pretty much knew that.

"Doug [Shields]'s not gonna vote against anything that Darlene puts up, and personality gets into it" is how Motznik breaks it down. "He figures, he's gonna need her vote for Council President or for something else," and that's why some others jump on board.

We asked what he thought about the significance of the measure itself, and whether it portends more scrutiny of what UDAG money and CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] money can be utilized for.

"I been here almost nine years," he began. "And Council never got involved in how the URA handles CBDG funds. We never got involved in day-to-day operations. They have a board."

This is when Motznik told us that the URA, under a previous director, had begun using UDAG loan repayment proceeds to pay for URA staff salaries.

Motznik credits Dowd for catching that, and instigating a solution. "What he did, to his credit -- and I have no reason to toot his horn! -- he worked with the Mayor's office, the Solicitor, the URA board, Council."


That put us on the subject of the previous director -- we asked, given Motznik's outspoken and oft-repeated praise of him, whether he had any thoughts in retrospect upon what happened concerning his friend Pat Ford.

"Now, why do you have to put it like that?" he complained. "I'd say we had a good, close working relationship together."

Jim Motznik continues to describe Ford as "a very professional, knowledgeable guy," and harbors no regrets for having helped to recruit Ford back to city government under Mayor O'Connor.

However, he says Ford "probably would have been better staying director of the Planning Department," offering that if he had remained there, "I think the city would be better off now."

We asked exactly how things went awry.

"Hindsight's 20/20 -- and you don't want to Monday morning quarterback", Coucilman Motznik began tentatively. "I want to say, too much responsibility -- maybe pulled in too many different directions at once."


  1. Jim is an ass. Did you not ask him about the time he ran away from WTAE? Now that's a good question to keep bringing up again and again.

  2. Jim Motznik was at Theresa Smith's kick off for her race for city council. He spoke and said some nice words for her behalf.

    I think that Theresa is a good candidate. I dare say, Motznik does too. But, he'll be happy to tell you something that wiggles around on its own merits -- or lack of merits.

    Likewise, the whole bit about the D.M. (judge) seat. He will take it into consideration -- like last year already.

  3. Anonymous - See the interview from March. Jim answers everything, within reason. And then some. Doesn't go off-record every seven seconds, either.

  4. Theresa Smith for Council !!!!!

  5. Brendan Schubert looks like a great candidate also. He is young but has a lot of experience in zoning. Brendan is more of a change candidate than Smith. The Obama candidate if you will.

  6. I wonder what either Smith or Schubert would think about campaign finance reform if it came up again...

  7. Nevermind that ... that's stupid. I wonder what they'd have to say on resource allocation.