Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday: Mopping Up After the Week

P-G: Speakers chastise city over billboard approval (Lord & Rujumba)

See Preservation Pittsburgh executive director Steven Paul, in the background, wearing the Official Progressive Facial Expression of the age.


P-G: City district slow to fill alternative school (Joe Smydo)

We are going on record right now: this was a big mistake, this outsourcing of troubled youth to Community Education Partners from Nashville.


P-G: Council urged to keep cap on mileage reimbursements
(Team Effort)

Our controller figures, so long as we are talking about take-home cars.

Trib: Mileage proposal too costly, councilman concedes (Jeremy Boren)

So Michael Lamb prevailed upon Ricky Burgess to make the legislation ... even tougher?


Tony Norman (No. 246): No. 8 on 'Stuff White People Like'

We reserve comment on most of this column, except to say we think Tony got himself a bit triple-crossed by an old stunt designed to produce feelings of self-doubt and shame in the target audience.

However, when he says,

The anonymity of cyberspace makes blogs unlikely forums for honest dialogue as the comment section of what "Stuff White People Like" proves.

Anonymity provides considerable challenges, to be sure! However, rest assured there are ways that responsible property owners can tend to their own cyber spaces, for example by providing a respectful contextual architecture, and by chasing out the rodents and other pests.

## Story behind the story: The Clinton Myth (h/t MacYapper)

The myth, apparently, is that she can still win the nomination at all.

MacYapper: The longer Hillary stays in this race she's destined to lose, the bigger an uphill climb Barack is going to have. You wanna hand them the freaking presidency AGAIN?


Teacher Wordsmith Madman (link): That's right, folks. The great uniter and uber-thoughtful racial harmonizer used the phrase a typical white person. And meant it. (I imagine you have not heard that he did. Go figure. But if you'd like to hear him say it for yourself, click here.)

We look forward to Mr. Hermann's omnibus fisking package regarding Obama's A More Perfect Union speech. The Comet itself found at least a couple of soft moments throughout the speech, and we are curious to see how these sync up with his own critiques.

However, the fact that Barack Hussein O'bama said "typical white person" in that context while answering a reporter's question does not bother us, and should bother no fair-minded individual.

It is no easy task to talk about race head-on in this country; that is why we never do it. So far, Barack is being given a great deal of credit for even trying -- and we have every confidence that fair-minded individuals will cut him some slack for treading into the well-worn potholes of that discussion.

If we had to answer a string of tough questions on our feelings about race in America, we would commit several dozen horrible gaffes by afternoon tea. We will never get anywhere as a nation if we continue lynching people (See? We did it again!) for attempting to speak frankly.


WIKIPEDIA: Cool (aesthetic): The sum and substance of cool is a self-conscious aplomb in overall behavior, which entails a set of specific behavioral characteristics that is firmly anchored in symbology, a set of discernible bodily movements, postures, facial expressions and voice modulations that are acquired and take on strategic social value within the peer context.[3]


1) Wikipedians would no doubt be the last persons on the planet to understand what cool is; in fact, you could say they are evidently and stereotypically grasping at straws in the above definition.

2) This has a lot to do with what the Comet implied that Hillary Clinton seems to "lack from within," what Barack Obama seems to posess in abundance, what Clinton supporters seem to resent so badly in Obama, and what it all has to do with Ronald Reagan. Stay tuned as we organize our thoughts.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The City Paper: Erring on the Side of Civility

Photo, Brian Kaldorf.

Look at him go. Look at Chris Potter presiding over the discussion, urging his panelists onwards to more profound, more perfect realms of thought. Like a pioneer urging his wagon-train through a muddy creek.

He and the mysterious Pat Clark, with the chalices of ale.


Alt-weeklies are at some distinct disadvantages, chief of which being that they come out exactly once a week. This edition probably went to press on Monday, March 17th.

Valarie McDonald Roberts: I'm sick of talking about race. I am really, really tired of it. And it really undermines the candidates themselves. We really do have to focus on that individual and their character and their policies.


Another function of the time lapse, or the jet lag, was the err on the side of civility. That is not a criticism -- one can elect to err on the side of this, or of that.

Given the period we had been through, it was the correct editorial and programmatic decision.


Out of the way:

Maria Lupinacci: We give lip service to what's important in this country, that children are important, that education is important, that health care is important, that families are important. And Hillary Clinton has spent her entire life's work being an advocate for that. It impresses when she tried to bring health care to the American people before the public was ready...

That all represents a very compelling reason to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, and one reason the Comet would be most pleased with her presidency.

But on the other hand, she will fight. I do a lot of fund-raising for Democrats, and I hear, "Why don't we have a backbone? Why don't we fight?

This is a familiar trope in the respective approaches of the Clinton and the Obama movments. Clinton supporters are readily dismissive of Obaman Togetherness, while Obama supporters are equally dismissive of Clintonian Combativeness.

For the Comet's money, the Obamans have history on their side. Maybe there are reasons the Democrats haven't been winning, and haven't changed the narrative in America. Maybe there are reasons Ronald Reagan had so many Reagan Democrats, and we are still living in his wake.

Maybe there are reasons Reagan was Reagan.


Jason Tigano: Senator [Barack] Obama has probably the best opportunity to become president. With his characteristics, he can really unite the country. He can bring people together in a way that I think would be better than Senator Clinton and also Senator McCain -- trying to grow our reputation internationally as well as bringing the country together with Democrats and Republicans here at home.

We were quite alarmed that the URA's Public and Legislative Affairs Manager was allowed inside a decent establishment, let alone turn out to be an Obama supporter. Must have come standard-issue.

JT: I think [Obama] would give Republicans something very different to try to tackle, as opposed to [dredging] up what happened with President Clinton eight years ago with the different scandals. ... I think the single biggest issue that America faces right now is the lack of a United States of America. Very similar to what [Obama] talked about when he was at the [2004 Democratic] convention...

In any event, he has it down.


Barbara Ernsberger: Unpaid medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country. ... This can be [the] working poor, this can be people without employment ... it could be a young person, it could be an older person. That's a problem across the board. I think we need an aggressive health plan that addresses those issues. Senator Clinton said ... that if you have health coverage with your employer, or if you're purchasing it yourself and you're happy with it, fine. But if you're not, she's going to make available what is available to Congress, to other Americans. I think that is what you have to do.

Health care is incredibly important, and Hillary Clinton has been fighting health care battles for eons. To insist that we need the most aggressive health care plan now, however...

Press reports, if they are to be believed, describe the Obama plan and the Clinton plan as very similar. Clinton goes a little further, yet by all accounts the two represent much more health care than we have now, delivered by very similar means.

Whose stands the best chance of being successfully enacted?

ML: As far as the electability issue, the Republicans have already spent around $100 million going after Hillary. Everything's out there on the table; we know exactly what to expect. ... [And] I don't trust the Republicans to make nice. "Nonpartisan" is a great word, but we have some real differences on issues. ... I don't want eight years of [partisan] war, but I don't want to [abandon Clinton and] reward Republicans for spending $100 million to try and tear our people down either.

With respect, as far as the $100 million dollars goes, there are a lot of other reasons that Hillary has such intractable high negatives. Sexism is no doubt one of those reasons. Something lacking from within is probably another one.

At the very least, the ability to rally the non-partisan middle, and the ability to excite and recruit unconventional voters, has never been Sen. Hillary Clinton's strong suit.

VMR: I am supporting Senator Barack Obama for a number of reasons. ... I've looked at his heart, and it's been a long time since I've seen that level of sincerity, honesty, integrity, compassion, faith. I've also looked at his mind to see so much wisdom, common sense, as well as intellect. If you combine both of them, I think what draws me as well as so many others are truth and trust. The American people, myself included, have to trust, and we've lost a sense of that in Washington, D.C. I think he will bring that back.

Clintonians tend to deride all of these things, but they are real and palpable and apprehendable. They are in fact central to a great mass of voters, especially those in the middle.

However you want to define "middle".

BY WAY OF CONTINUATION: Council member Ricky Burgess and school board member Heather Arnet are scheduled to debate and discuss the presidential campaign, this Sunday morning on KDKA Sunday Edition with Jon Delano. Awesome.

How City Resources are Allocated

Straight out of Schoolhouse Rock.

Thursday: Drama

The Gang of 250 are glued to their computers.

The temperature spiked again later in the meeting when Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford came to the table. Mr. Dowd on Tuesday called the agency's failure to pass an annual budget until mid-March "unethical."

"Reasonable people can disagree," Mr. Ford said. "But how can I be productive in working with you, councilman ... when, councilman, you use words like reckless, irresponsible, inflammatory, unethical, immoral and illegal?" (P-G, Rich Lord)

Harold Hayes has some video on KDKA. It does seem to get a little over-the-top in there. Jon Greiner has more at WTAE. Our feeling is that Council still has to grow into television, even as it is confronting odorousness.

WPXI does not think this is significant news. That is where most of Pittsburgh is, in all likelihood.

"We had 52 vehicles. We increased it to 61 when we were supposed to reduce it to 29," said Peduto, who joined Councilman Bruce Kraus, Burgess and Dowd in supporting the legislation. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

That is a fact.


"I don't believe there's ever been [a vehicle] acquisition list this large," said city Finance Director Scott Kunka. "The mayor has been beating the bushes to try to find funds." (P-G, Lord and McKinnon)

Thunder: Stolen.


Speaking of legislators being given a hard time:

The code, introduced at the [school] board's agenda review meeting yesterday and scheduled for a vote at Wednesday's legislative meeting, would require board members to "respect the confidentiality of privileged information" and refrain from making "misleading, confusing or deceptive statements."

It would require members to discuss constituent complaints with Mr. Roosevelt before taking them public; refrain from making disparaging remarks about one another; and avoid "unauthorized activities on the board's behalf."

It also would require members to "accept the will of the majority" once a decision has been made, even if they disagree. That language could dampen board member Mark Brentley Sr.'s continuing criticism of a 2006 round of school closings. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

What is it with executive power?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Plan a Vacation!

Take-Home Cars: A Must Read Update

City Council grants preliminarily approval to Ricky Burgess's revised city-wide policy by a vote of 4-2. (P-G Rich Lord)

Mr. Specter told Councilwoman Darlene Harris that voting for the legislation would be illegal, because it infringes on mayoral power.

That sparked a fiery interrogation by Councilman Patrick Dowd.

"Is it illegal, then, for us to exercise our authority?" he asked. "If we were to bring all of the Act 47 recommendations to the table, would it be illegal for us to pass those recommendations?"

"We can talk about any one of them," Mr. Specter said. "Council is overstepping its charter and code prerogatives."

Mr. Dowd then asked if the exact same legislation would be legal, or illegal, if it were proposed by the administration.

"I think it would be legal," Mr. Specter said.

"It's illegal if it comes from the legislative branch," Mr. Dowd sniped back. "All we can do is wait for the executive branch to bring things forward to us? . . . That's amazing."

(UPDATE: The only way we can explain it is some kind of Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde arrangement, or an evil twin.)

Council's own interpretation is backed by an attorney who helps to run the Act 47 recovery team.

The Comet reminds everybody that the Act 47 recovery plan was adopted by ordinance and signed into law, and has been and remains the law governing the City of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Burgess said that Mr. Specter said at a prior special meeting on take-home cars that council could pass legislation that matched the Act 47 plan.

"This is sad," the councilman said. "It is sad for our solicitor to come here and change his opinion, on air. . . . Let's just go home. Why are we here? Why should we introduce bills?

The Comet was present at the post-agenda one week ago, and can attest that Specter seemed to concede in plain English -- at the conclusion of a long line of questioning by council members hampered by a lack of legal counsel themselves -- that so long as Council adheres strictly to what has been made law in Act 47, it then has authority.

"I think you may have hit the nail on the head," were Specter's exact words.

Thereafter, Specter took a backseat to Scott Kunka, who emphasized the political argument -- that the Mayor knows how to "complete the mission," and that Act 47 is "more like guidelines," or a "toolbox for the Mayor."

Suffice to say that Doug Shields, having finally had his morning coffee, had something to say about that.

Fast forward one week, and that set the stage for today's Must Read Update.

FUN FACT: If this is to be vetoed by the Mayor, it will be vetoed shortly prior to the City's public hearing before the Act 47 boards.

Wednesday: All Manner of Issues

Last week, Mr. Dowd put a hold on legislation that would formalize the transfer of state funds through the city to the URA, saying he wanted to see the agency's budget first. The URA board then passed a budget, and council got it Friday. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Good to know how to get answers.

Mr. Dowd said that the $10.3 million administrative budget, which does not include the money to be spent on bricks-and-mortar projects, includes $2.8 million that looks like one-time, unsustainable revenue.

That includes the tapping of $1.5 million in repayments of loans made with federal funds.
The budget also includes a $1.5 million payment to the city.

Someone could conclude that there's "a financial shell game here, and federal money is being used to fund the city," Mr. Dowd said.

This will be one interesting conversation among several today.


The City of Pittsburgh asked firms yesterday to submit proposals to study whether men earn more than women within its 3,300-person work force. (P-G, Team Effort)

Good for the City. The Post-Gazette News Room deserves some kind of Pulitzer for the Excellence in the Field of Blurbs for getting this one about right.


In winter 2007, as soon as the new Penguins arena was announced, Hill District residents began working together, forming the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition. (P-G, Morgan and Williamson)

Actually, in winter 2007, that was most definitely the other alliance -- then again, some elements of One Hill are now tracing their involvement in arena benefits back to 2005.

Be that as it may, an op-ed making the broad, broad, broad case for CBA's now exists.


"So now we've almost declared war, and I'm not sure that's good for anybody," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who blamed council and defended a 5-year-old practice of allowing Lamar to put up one digital sign for every five or six vinyl ones it took down. "I guess it would be bad to have 42 LED billboards in communities, and that's why the swap process was done methodically." (P-G, Rich Lord)

Differing definitions of "process" and "methodically" at work, is all.

City Council is legally challenging that maneuver, which might be an administration thank-you to Lamar for providing free billboard space last year to promote the city's 3-1-1 help line and anti-litter campaign.

Those billboards featured the face of a beaming Ravenstahl, who coincidentally happened to be engaged in a mayoral campaign at the time. (Trib, Eric Heyl)

It is the looking into of such seemingly political connections that would be the most blatantly political act, obviously.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Solicitor Issue: Things We Know Now

1. The resolution authorizing a council solicitor was never introduced.

2. Doug Shields is home sick today, and that may or may not have played a role.

3. Councilman Motznik was on KDKA this morning with Marty Griffin talking smack on the very idea of a council solicitor. That may or may not have played a role.

4. A member of Council who differs with Jim ought to go on KDKA, ASAP. If Councilman Motznik really wants to grandstand this issue out on the airwaves, he ought to be prepared to get as good as he can give.

5. There are currently four votes for a Council solicitor. GUESS WHO'S NOT THE FIFTH VOTE YET.


Is there anyone out there who still thinks that our City Solicitor is in a position to play the role of impartial umpire of the law?

"(Shields) wants to do this because he doesn't get the answers he likes when it comes to billboards or vehicles, the petty stuff that a few council members worry about," Motznik said. "It's kind of like going to a different doctor because you don't like your prognosis that this doctor is giving you." LINK.

First of all, we would hardly call deep-seated balance of power issues, and issues of rampant ongoing noncompliance with our own law, "petty stuff."

Secondly, all lawyers -- by definition -- are wrong approximately half of the time. It is their job to argue a position. That is why we use the "adversarial" relationship in modern legal practice and consider it such an efficient and valuable thing. If we are going to deliberate at Council, both sides should have some technical expertise. It is what the framers intended.

It would also be good for the people. Why should we have one wizened figure emerge to say, "I am a lawyer; I know." This is not robust dialogue.

We should be unafraid to have spirited, public legal conversations, to show both our deference to the law and our concern that it be applied uniformly and in good faith.

It is said that the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. City Council should be at all times responsible, serious and cooperative with the administration. But we can afford it to be a fool no longer.

RELATED: The Burgher

Council Getting Lawyered Up!

Jeremy Boren lets the cat out of the bottle.

Councilman Jim Motznik said Shields' proposal is a waste of money because council has access to a staff of 12 to 15 lawyers in the city's Law Department who earn salaries ranging from $44,000 to Specter's top salary of $94,592.

"(Shields) wants to do this because he doesn't get the answers he likes when it comes to billboards or vehicles, the petty stuff that a few council members worry about," Motznik said. "It's kind of like going to a different doctor because you don't like your prognosis that this doctor is giving you." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Doug Shields spells out his reasons. Bill Peduto and Ricky Burgess are involved, somehow. Alecia Sirk says that Mayor Ravenstahl is pleased with Geroge Specter.

George Specter has no comment. Why would he?

Councilwoman Tonya Payne introduced a resolution Aug. 1 that year to put an attorney for council on retainer, after then-Mayor Bob O'Connor abruptly fired City Solicitor Susan Malie and two other top officials during a power struggle.

Payne argued then, as Shields does, that because the city charter allows the mayor to appoint and dismiss the city solicitor at will, the solicitor isn't likely to produce a legal opinion that contradicts the mayor's wishes for fear of political retribution.

Tonya Payne was right. From the Home Rule Charter:

Council shall have the following additional powers:

a. to employ or retain its own staff and consultants including a city clerk and an attorney qualified to practice law before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, who may act as a legal advisor to council, and may represent council as a body in legal proceedings. Council's attorney shall not represent the City as a municipal corporation in any legal proceeding;

This is the first of nine listed ordinary powers of council, before the more extraordinary ones are dealt with. It must have been fairly important to the framers, for reasons that ought to be immediately apparent.

Malloy Unseated as Union President

Officer [Dan] O'Hara unseated retired Sgt. James J. Malloy, a 38-year veteran who has served in the union in some capacity since the 1970s, by two votes Thursday night.

"The membership decided they wanted a younger man and an active officer," said Sgt. Malloy, adding that active and retired officers often have different concerns. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

A sensationalistic headline might have read, St. Patrick's Day Brawl ends in K.O. at Pittsburgh P.D.

Vaya con dios, Jimmy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jeremiah Wright: What is the Big Deal?

We just posted this comment over at 2 Political Junkies, and we thought ultimately it deserved its own post.

Who cares about the Rev. Wright's comments? I mean, aside from the fact he denounced them.

I mean, is what he was saying even that far outside of the mainstream?

Seriously. If you listen and understand it in context -- sure it's a little volatile, and sure it's a little provocative, but none of it is exactly new or not-acceptable. Like black Americans don't have some reasons to be upset, looking back. And not even looking that very far back ... dude was old. How many Republicans should resign because they were friends with Strom Thurmand?

That hardly puts them in KKK country ... it's ironic anyone would even equate the two.

Two points.

Number one, it is pretty reprehensible, in our own humble opinion, that a preacher speaking from the pulpit would choose to say the words, "G-d Damn America." Very bad decision.

Let's not disqualify him as a human being, or declare him toxic.

Number two, the whole Strom Thurmond thing got us thinking. Generally, we make allowances for people who have reached a certain age. Who among us does not have some people in our own family, or dear loved ones, who are good people but sometimes say things that make us cringe?

Remember, this fellow is sixty-seven years old. He was a young black man during the Civil Rights era, and a younger black man growing up in America before it. His father also was a preacher. He hails from Philadelphia, actually. And now, one of his favorite parishioners is running for President, and he got all excited.

And now, we're gonna pin these few chosen words on Barack Obama like a scarlet letter? Like he's some kind of dark automaton, plotting and scheming his revenge against America?

Bottom line: this is nothing!!!

If Barack Obama says the Rev. Jeremiah Wright helped make him who he is today -- and if who Barack Obama is is the same person who has acted with seeming grace and decency and measured judgement at all times over the past two years during which we've all scrutinized him -- then the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is okay with us.

Monday: Doing it Rightways, Always

[URA deputy director Rob Stephany] said Larimer's "adjacency to stability affords an opportunity they haven't had for 40 years. There are mixed-income housing market pressures a few blocks away. So instead of Larimer surrounded by blight, Larimer finally has some strong edges to build off of."

"And if you do it right," said Paul Svoboda, legislative assistant to state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, "the people who have been invested can stay invested, and they will get to meet new and diverse neighbors." (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

You must think the Comet is about to gnaw this article apart. After all, the words Walnut Capital's $113 million Bakery Square development appear prominently near the top, which to us is basically like catnip.

Not so fast! All that flat land -- all that vacant property -- this is the kind of neighborhood that really needs redevelopment. One way or the other, Larimer's time is fast approaching.

The URA is buying up cheap property all throughout Larimer, and putting it in what it calls a "holding pattern" -- something involving nonprofits, sunflowers and possibly unicorns.

That's fine -- really, it is -- but what is it being held for? This is where Larimer makes such an interesting case study.

As we move forward, are we going to optimize the opportunities for some, while surreptitiously mitigating the influence of others? Are we going to plan exclusively from on high, manufacturing only a plausible facsimile of community participation, picking and choosing? Or are we going to regard community members as the invaluable, indispensable experts that they are when it comes to their own neighborhood?

More to the point, will the community organize itself politically in time to lead its own redevelopment?

Ms. [Ora Lee] Carroll, who for years has touted her neighborhood by pleading for investment, now is plotting the future with Pat Clark, a community development consultant who has worked on land-use and investment strategies for communities throughout the region.

This is a legitimate good news article. The Comet is going to put this issue in a holding pattern, as it were.


The last time a customer stepped inside the Lord & Taylor building, Downtown, Luke Ravenstahl was serving his first year on City Council and a guy by the name of Roethlisberger was in his rookie season with the Steelers. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Wow, when you put like that, it sounds so ... not very long ago.

Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said he is not surprised by what has transpired. Mr. Ziegler and other local preservationists loudly protested the renovations that turned the former bank's majestic open interior, with its marble columns and floors, into a multilevel department store.

"We said it would be a tragedy when Murphy wanted to destroy that space. The building's significance was not only its magnificent exterior but its magnificent and unique interior. I certainly think what happened to it was tragic. Since it so far hasn't worked, that only compounds the situation," he said.

The maintenance of our historic structures (our built environment is the new catch phrase) can to help improve the prospects for sustainable and profitable development, even if it does not seem readily apparent to particular developers at a given time. Please make a note of it.