Friday, August 29, 2008


"Nobody in my office, nor myself, has ever been contacted by any investigatory agency," the mayor said.

"We have never, not once, been contacted -- let me be clear -- by any federal investigator or any investigator of any kind." (P-G, Rich Lord)

During a recent interview with KDKA's Kevin Miller, State Rep. Chelsa Wagner said:

I'm from Beechview, and the URA had ushered in a man by the name of Bernardo Katz to Beechview, claiming he was a developer. He got about $750,000 of taxpayer money, so-called "loans", but they're not being repaid.

And I was very concerned because that happened behind the community's back, and it looked to be very clear there was illicit activity going on. And my staff researched it, and it's our belief that the URA has received a subpoena -- a federal subpoena on that case.

Miller asks if she had received "confirmation" of this.

No, but I have had conversations with officials from the URA, speaking about that particular case in my own district, my own neighborhood -- and they made a decision on those properties and I asked the question, "Was this because you've received a federal subpoena?" and the answer was "Yes."

There's no telling what the scope of any such investigation might be, but it does sound from this like the URA was recently contracted by the Feds in regards to an investigation -- and the URA reacted.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Exploring Pat Ford's Contract

Pursuant to a written Right to Know request filed with the URA, the Comet has obtained a copy of Pat Ford's employment contract with the city authority.

Let's begin with Mr. Ford's letter of resignation:

Dear Mr. Zober,

I am resigning from my position as Executive Director of the Urban
Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (No. 6 of contract) effective
the end date of my contract term. Per the term of my contract, I
expect to be compensated for the remainder of 2008 (No. 3 of

No. 3 of the contract does confirm that the "expiration date" for this present term is Dec. 31, 2008. The contract automatically renews annually unless one party or the other notifies the other in writing of its intent not to renew.

Now let us take a look at No. 6 of the contract:

6. Termination: Either party may terminate this Agreement for any reason by giving 30 days advance written notice of its or his intention to do so to the other party at the address set forth in the caption of this Agreement. If, however, the Authority terminates this Agreement prior to the Expiration Date or any extension or renewal thereof, as the case may be, without Just Cause, it shall pay Ford an amount equal to one year's salary based on the annual salary paid to Ford on the effective date of termination (the "Severance Payment"). The Severance Payment shall be made to Ford no later than 30 days after the termination date. Ford shall also be paid for unused personal and vacation days in accordance with the Authority's personnel policy.

Ford will be provided with a written statement of the reasons for termination if this Agreement is terminated for Just Cause.

"Just Cause" shall mean actions by Ford which constitute willful misconduct, fraud, criminal actions or such neglect of his duties as Executive Director that results in serious adverse consequences to the Authority.

Now. In a post the Busman is currently in the process of assembling, Mr. Ford's attorney says:

Pat Ford has resigned from his position as the executive director of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. In other words, he has reached the inevitable and invariable conclusion that he will not return to that position with the city.

Since it is the Ford Camp's continued position that the State Ethics commission will inevitably and invariably clear Ford of wrongdoing, one might assume that Ford's resignation was either involuntary -- meaning, he was ordered to resign (one background source confirms this CORRECTION: 8/31/08: one background source indicates this) -- or he became convinced of his impending dismissal, and so acted to head it off in advance.

Note however that he "expects to be compensated" for the remainder of 2008, meaning another $38,333 or so in salary. If the URA terminates his contract at its upcoming September meeting "without Just Cause", it would be on the hook for an entire "severance package" worth $115,000.

If the URA attempts to demonstrate Just Cause for an early dismissal, thereby saving the taxpayers of any expense and themselves of a gross political liability, it would have to notify Ford of the reasons for doing so in writing -- something which surely would become public one way or the other.

If such a letter were to reference any business conducted in his capacity as Executive Director, Mr. Ford could always respond, "You told me to do that. I reference you to a meeting / telephone conversation / e-mail we had on such and such a date. Here, let me look through my briefcase."

If such a letter were to reference something in the gift-accepting or inappropriate relationship vein, Mr. Ford could go the Peter Griffin route. "You think that's bad! Remember the time that..." Then he opens another briefcase.

"The slanderous allegations that are being made by Mr. Ford, in an attempt to clear his name, I think are unfortunate," Ravenstahl told KQV Radio... (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Slander is a kind of willful misconduct, fraud or criminal action, i.e., Just Cause.

Then again, the most efficient defense against slander accusations is a Truth Defense. Which is why Pat Ford is still probably going to get his $38,333, even considering the way he just maligned his bosses and the entire Authority (Amusing: see ADB).

Thursday: Autumn's In the Air

Our County Solicitor opines that FACT's drink tax referendum question is "legally insufficient", whereas the one proposed by Dems on county council is totally kosher.

"Theoretically, I expect [the certification of the drink tax referenda] could go all the way to the Commonwealth or state Supreme Court," said Mr. Wojcik. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba; see also Trib, Justin Vellucci)


All three members of the elections board -- Mr. Onorato and at-large County Council members John DeFazio, D-Shaler, and Chuck McCullough, R-Upper St. Clair -- have taken public positions in the drink tax debate and, as a result, have removed themselves from handling the referenda issue.

Common Pleas President Judge Joseph M. James named Common Pleas Judges Christine Ward, Jill E. Rangos and Dwayne Woodruff as temporary members.

That will be big fun on Tuesday.


"The slanderous allegations that are being made by Mr. Ford, in an attempt to clear his name, I think are unfortunate," Ravenstahl told KQV Radio in a phone interview from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

How long until the Mayor accuses Pat Ford of conspiring politically with Doug Shields?

"Mr. Ford doesn't want to do anything which would in any way upset or interfere with such investigations. As you know, the proceedings regarding federal grand juries are secret." (WTAE, Bob Mayo)

Federal grand what now?

Patrick Dowd responds to Comet inquiries about the Ford / Ravenstahl situation and accountability:

Hiring ford was clearly a mistake. He has a history of unacceptable behavior. If, as he claims, he knew corruption was taking place he should have been a "good soldier" for the citizens and stand up to corruption.

The city does need a URA board and executive director who will carry out the mayor's vision. I believe the administration must make its vision clear and make serious changes at the URA.

Bill Peduto, in response to the same inquiries:

I believe this is part of a bigger problem, Pittsburgh is not a city that is open for business, Pittsburgh is a city for sale.


The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership plans to begin devising another plan. (P-G, Mark Belko)

It too bad Carnegie Library couldn't wait and reestablish their library on Wylie Avenue (once the old arena is demolished and the street grid is restored) but this sounds okay also. (P-G, Diana Nelson Jones)

This sounds pretty fantastic, though we're expecting to get hit up for subsidies any day now. (P-G, Elwin Green)

The P-G wants the SEA to find "another funding stream" for the convention center besides the RAD tax. Maybe we can use the unexpected overage of the drink tax? (P-G, Edit Board)

Wonk Wars: Nullspace vs. No Commuter Left Behind. We promise to join in the discussion as soon as we're done with Pat Ford! Culture of Corruption! Shiny Shiny!

FINALLY: Check out Jon Delano's Bloggeriffic Webcast and Chatfest this evening at 7:00 on KDKA.COM: this episode Maria Luppinacci from 2 Political Junkies, Sue Kerr from Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, and John McIntire the MacYapper. This strikes us as an outrageously entertaining panel to have assembled for discussing such things as Hillary voters.

Tuesday's show was a barrel of fun, but too few people joined us for the inaugural live webchat. Let's do it up this time. You too can provoke Jon into using dirty words!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shocking. Just Shocking.

Can we get real, here, for half a second?

Mayor Ravenstahl and his senior staff knew about every deal, every special exception, every bit of interference conducted by development czar (and borderline Deputy Mayor) Patrick Ford on behalf of the city's "customers" in development.

Moreover, neither the Mayor nor his staff were ever ignorant to the personal facets of the business relationships Mr. Ford was so adept at cultivating. It was part and parcel to what made him an effective go-between. It was something the Mayor has been known to revel in personally.

Considering our Mayor's very short tenure, the rapid ascension of Pat Ford should offer an excellent window into both Ravenstahl's policy preferences and personal administrative style. We also think it merits exploration of what the Ford Doctrine is all about. (The Pittsburgh Comet, 9/13/2007)

We were never at peace with some of the work Ford carried out on behalf of the young Mayor -- the illegal Lamar sign, the awful UPMC sign, the underwhelming Penguins arena and the endless roadblocks thrown in front of casino owner Don Barden. Yet it's manifestly cheap and ignoble to allow someone to be destroyed, to abruptly disavow and disown them, for doing the very job they were instructed to carry out -- in the way they were expected and encouraged to do it.

And it's thoroughly ridiculous to ask city taxpayers to continue to pay off that forsaken, publicly shamed employee simply so he might keep quiet about details, even for another four months.

PS -- Does this remind anyone else of the Denny Regan debacle? What do you call something more resistant than Teflon?

Wednesday: All the News That Fits

If Pat Ford still doesn't realize he shouldn't be accepting anything of value from his professional contacts -- not just developers but anyone with business before the city -- he has proved again that he doesn't belong at the helm of an important public agency. (P-G, Edit Board)

It must be exhausting to have to write editorials like this. Coming next week: chew your food, look both ways before crossing the street, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


"Mary Beth, I don't know what planet she's from. They had to find someone who would prosecute these victimless crimes, these political facades they call justice," Chong said this week.
(Trib, Jason Cato)

Tommy Chong and the Pittsburgh Comet are in total agreement that certain criminal justice statutes are counterproductive, and should be reconsidered through the legislative process.

Chong, 70, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court, Downtown, in 2003 to a charge of conspiracy...

Wait a minute, Tommy! You pleaded guilty to federal charges, and you're talking smack on the prosecutor?

What are you suggesting -- that she should have been cool about it? Given you a pass? That's clearly not her job -- and in the long run frankly that's comforting. That's why we pay her salary.


In August 2003, the U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh made national headlines by filing obscenity charges against a California company that makes graphic pornography.

At the time, many saw the case against Extreme Associates as a prelude of things to come under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. (P-G, Paula Reed Ward)

C'mon. Obscenity?

That is exactly the case with Extreme Associates, where the videos show women being tortured, raped, defecated on and murdered.

Okay, absolutely. Obscenity.


It's what you might call a "strongly-worded opinion piece":

Month after month, new obstacles were thrown in Mr. Barden's way and new demands placed on him. He was criticized for resisting the public process, when precisely the opposite was true. Mr. Barden depended on the public process to ensure that the license applications were reviewed fairly and honestly, and he followed the rules of law and procedure to the letter. In return, he became the defendant of a public process run amok. If any private development project in the history of this city has ever been subjected to such ever-changing standards and demands, I've not seen it. (P-G, Bob Oltmanns)

Say whatever else you will, this is one development project that noticeably and uncharacteristically went without "streamlining". (See: KDKA Radio)

In light of recent events, it would not be unreasonable to speculate whether that was due to some lack of an adequately collegial bedside manner on Mr. Barden's part -- one which might have engendered one of those mutually advantageous development relationships with the city. That would be sad.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Party Tonight at KDKA.COM

KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano was blogging up a storm last night at the Democratic Convention in Denver -- but few noticed until it was too late.

He's set to remedy that this evening in a big way.

From 7 to 8PM, he will be joined live via satellite by three local bloggers, ourselves included, to do the whole political roundtable thing. We'll be answering your questions about Team Obama's performance on Night One and what to expect / fear during Night Two.

Someone alert John K., KGC, Zim, PG and all the rest of the contrarians.

UPDATE: David D'Angelo of 2 Political Junkies will be joining us. So that leaves one more blogger TBD.
UPDATE II: Gab Bonesso of ... um, of Gab Bonesso ... will round out the panel.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday: They'll Sell You the Whole Newspaper, But You'll Only Need the Edge

Emeritus: One who is retired but retains an honorary title corresponding to that held immediately before retirement. (

Mr. Toland? Do you know something we don't know?

It is always gratifying when our humble Comet merits a mention in the P-G's Cutting Edge. Once upon a time, Comet Senior Political Analyst Morton Reichbaum would have been ecstatic as well. Now however, it only mollifies him -- if two or three weeks pass without ourselves having been quoted in the paper, he starts to inquire gently if we've been slacking off or have given up.

Our only wish this time is that the P-G had picked a selection that bespoke more of a grammar of goodness and a punctuation of propriety -- a lyricism that was at once more natural and readable together with pacing that was superior yet not pompous -- and perhaps most importantly of all, a proofreading that had existed.

The Edge also beat us to something from Metroblogging Pittsburgh that we'd been meaning to amplify:

You may still vaguely remember the Propel Pittsburgh Commission, Mayor Ravenstahl’s plan to get together a bunch of smart young people to find ways to keep other young people in Pittsburgh. So far, it’s been a little less than stellar; we’ve been around for a year, and we’ve yet to even make a single formal recommendation, let alone start trying to do something. At our meeting this week, we were told in no uncertain terms that His Honor The Mayor is aware of this, and he is not pleased.

Mayor Ravenstahl, every ounce the young professional himself, chairs the Propel Pittsburgh commission according to the city website.

Chair: to preside over; act as chairperson of: to chair a committee. (


The SEA wants another $2 million in RAD money to stay afloat, an annual tradition; Jim Ferlo wants it to come out of that hapless Visit Pittsburgh instead of the same pool as arts and cultural organizations (or whatever else RAD supposedly funds). (P-G, Mark Belko)

The United States has more medals than any other country -- however, China boasts far more gold medals than anybody else. Just for fun, can we start comparing who has the most LEED silver, gold and platinum certified buildings? (P-G, Mark Roth)

Ed Rendell's pick to head the Department of Environmental Protection is controversial because he is viewed as tougher than most? Maybe? It's hard to tell from this. (P-G, Don Hopey)

We're sure there are counterarguments, and no situation is ever so clean and simple, but we're getting tired of this Taze first, Taze second, and Taze last mentality. We assumed until recently that electric shock was sort of a second-to-last resort. (Trib, Karen Roebuck)


Still, if we agree that radio (which helps explain Franklin Delano Roosevelt's sway) and television (which was central to John F. Kennedy's -- and, when trained on Vietnam and the 1968 Democratic National Convention, helped end Lyndon B. Johnson's reign and stymied Hubert H. Humphrey's campaign) were transformative elements in American politics, then how can we deny the potential political power of the information revolution and the Internet-based social networks? (P-G, David Shribman)

We can be reflexively apprehensive when a veteran of the "old media" attempts to wax philosophic on the Interweb's socio-political impact -- but this article is as good a stab as we've seen. We've long reflected, for example, that the Howard Dean bubble of 2004 was the forerunner, the not-yet-totally-baked version, of the Obama loaf we see today.

Although only a "Pre-millenial" ourselves (having been born in 1975), we think the Comet can help to refine the picture just slightly.

"As a result, the way they make decisions is to find out what their peers think and reach a consensus. They're not into expert wisdom and people with long resumes. They're much more likely to respond to messages in social networks like MySpace or Facebook than to traditional campaign messages."

Thus says the wise expert which Mr. Shribman sought out for his article. That part really did make us cringe.

The medium doesn't make the difference -- one is as likely to get junkmail over MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or Twinkleberry as from the United States Postal Service. The kids can recognize inauthentic or uninteresting missives through any of these. Moreover, this latest generation is no more innately amenable to peer pressure, or any less individualistic, than any other.

The difference today is that it is far easier for anybody to quickly and cheaply share huge chunks of information -- there is far more information out there at our fingertips -- and that information is relayed in an almost infinite variety of voices.

Let us say there is some data out there -- "Barack Obama wants universal access to health care, but does not want to nationalize the health insurance industry." Time was, there were relatively few places and voices capable of relaying that information.

Assuming one decided of one's own accord to track it down, what if the language was stuffy and formal -- or worse yet, if it was trying too hard to appeal to your demographic -- or what if it came from a source you were unfamiliar with, or with which you had disagreed previously? One might totally miss it, even if one would otherwise be interested.

Today, each set of data is reprocessed and repackaged in an almost infinite variety of flavors -- though notably, the "expert", long-resume'd source is usually still cited at-minimum and duly respected. Blogs (and let's face it, magazines and television shows across the 24-hour cable spectrum) break down and rebuild the data in an infinite variety of ways, with an infinite variety of attitudes. It's not all MTV, either -- sometimes you need to go upscale to hit somebody, or eliminate the fluff. Everyone's different.

Given the ease of quickly and inexpensively giftwrapping and sharing information, it is far more likely that the data you may be interested in will wind up in your e-mail inbox (which for our money is still the place to find most of it -- though again we are only "pre-millenial") and in a format that appeals to you.

Now, let's take this a step further.

It is now possible for sophisticated information to be spread quickly in a tone that will adapt -- by natural selection -- wherever it will be welcome. What you have, then, is the possibility that geek-level (sorry, wonk-level) quantities of political data will be processed by people who are twelve and 13 years old. This is where it gets interesting.

Swimming in political data for years already, having grown acclimatized to it, having followed several election cycles and even having developed some healthy coats of cynicism, there is now a new political animal on the scene -- the 18 year-old veteran organizer. There are creatures in high school, incapable of voting themselves, who nonetheless possess the motivation and the sophistication to evangelize 100, 200, 500 or more voting-age individuals to the polls. Often as not, they do it face-to-face, no Internet required.

At the far end of the chain, now -- think about it -- are you personally more likely to be open to an earnest and innocent-looking child prodigy than you are to a grizzled old pol?

We don't want to suggest that Barack Obama and Obamism merely or exclusively appeals to "Millenials". Yet when you add this factor in:

"They [Millenials] tend to favor government intervention in the economy," says Mr. Hais. "They tend to be multilateralists in foreign policy. They tend not to be concerned with social issues. Those things are decided for them: They're not upset about gay marriage, for example."

Is it any wonder Obama is out there leading a change movement? True leadership is figuring out where the mob is headed, and jumping out in front. We created the possibility of an Obama because that's what we decided we required.

We enjoy this theory because it is less about the ancient and omnipresent political machines figuring out new ways to manipulate the electorate through new technologies, but more about technology fundamentally opening the power-field into a space full of players that had never fully engaged with it -- the very young. It also gives us great confidence that the youngsters who turned out during the primary to enable Obama's victory over Clinton will remain on the field in November and forevermore.