Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday: Flabbergasted!

At City Council's recent special meeting on campaign finance legislation, mayoral Manager of Policy Gabe Mazefsky sat at the table to represent the Mayor's office. This is how he started:

"Mayor Ravenstahl has long been a proponent of campaign finance reform."

I try to keep my comments policy-oriented here, lively for certain but always in good spirits. Nonetheless, readers must continually sense something because from time to time it is suggested to me that boy, I must really hate the mayor!

"Hate" is both a strong and a wrong word, but in the future I think this would be an excellent item to stick a pin in -- if in the future readers should ever notice a degree of anger.

Patrick Dowd must have felt similarly, because he looked for all the world like he was fixing to take a swing at the mayor's Manager of Policy. That's dangerous -- I think it must be a tactic by now for the administration to be so glibly and punishingly mendacious that one cannot summon an adequate response. Even still, Dowd gamely plowed ahead with his prepared questions, barely concealing his outrage.

First Dowd asked: the Mayor wrote in his veto letter of last summer's CFR legislation that he objected to the effect CFR would have on challengers to build campaign war chest capable of knocking off incumbents. What had changed over the months to alleviate those concerns?

Mazefsky's only response was to point out that Dowd himself had raised $80 thousand during his campaign for Council, and to quote him on one occasion saying he was proud of that. He did not address why the mayor dropped that concern.

Then Dowd asked: the Mayor also wrote that it is important CFR be enacted only statewide, so as to "level the playing field" for everybody. However, not only is this new bill the mayor and county exec submitted not statewide, it does not even address the many municipalities and governments within Allegheny County -- it only address City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officeholders. So again, what happened to the Mayor's previously stated concerns?

Mazefsky's only response to this was to point out that Dowd failed to propose campaign finance reform for the School Board while he sat on that body.

You can check the video.

After this was concluded, Councilwoman Harris opened her turn at questioning with the observation that "there's a lot of politics in the room" -- and certainly there was. However, it was clear that Dowd was playing politics at least with a set of verifiable, real-world facts and interesting questions. Gabe Mazefsky, by contrast, was playing politics with ... I don't even know how to describe it.

Those members of Council who voted against campaign finance reform back in June reiterated their skepticism and their objections once again -- with Theresa Smith now filling the role of Dan Deasy. Of course I disagree with their positions, and the City can debate all of that on its merits. Yet none of those individuals pretended to have been "long time proponents" of these particular reforms, none of them were wild about the current measure, and none of them veered off into abject childishness like Mr. Mazefsky.

Assuming Mayor Ravenstahl has or ever had convictions on the subject, all he is accomplishing by proposing these weak and tentative reforms is to sell out the colleagues with whom he shared some convictions last summer -- for the sake of play-acting like a progressive reformer immediately before an election.


  1. I don't know what the percentage is, but some fair number of voters will believe the Mayor or his representatives when they say that the Mayor is a long time proponent of "X". Some people obviously already know otherwise, but those people are not likely to vote for the Mayor regardless of what he says. So there is nothing to lose by saying it.

    I've already expressed my opinion about ethics and CFR. if anything, I think CFR is more important than ethics reform, and I hope that Bill Peduto can work something out with the Mayor's office, or Pat Dowd can grit his teeth and vote for the bill as is.

  2. "So there is nothing to lose by saying it." How about your immortal soul.

  3. Oh we're doing this by "Mr Smith goes to Washington" rules?

  4. I cant wait to watch. These council meetings are sometimes better than the Office - even the UK version.

    However, a good bureaucrat is a vessel and nothing more. He's not paid to think, he's paid to perform the tasks laid down by the administration. If he was paid to think, then he would be a consultant.

    Don't take it personally, because I'm sure Mr. Mazefsky doesn't. I believe his allegiance is to the paycheck and nothing more.

  5. Quote above:

    "He's not paid to think."

    Humm... I say "Think again."

    Well, it has been said that my expression is all wrong. It should aks if they thought at all.

    Can't 'think again' if the thinking never happened in the first place.


    As for D. Harris saying that there is a lot of politics in the room -- well -- if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Of course there is politics in the room, as it is city council chambers within city hall. Duhh.

    I want politics to be in the room -- as it is generally our only hope at accountability.

  6. If he/she is "paid to think" then they're most likely working in private industry and NOT government.

  7. Let me be clear on my stance: It's not that they're incapable, it's the rationale of the bureaucracy; the unfortunate product of the public's disdain for good government and their willingness to afford it.

    "... I pay good money for X ... why should my taxes pay for Y..."

    So... everyone's at fault for Mr. Mazefsky playing politics on another level from the plane in which most of us reside. ;)

    I still cant wait to watch the city channel...

  8. N'at - Sorry, this meeting took place on Tuesday 3/24. I only caught the replay yesterday evening, which I think was the last regularly scheduled rebroadcast. On the plus side Council held its Ethics legislation meeting this morning, which should also be plenty diverting.

    Anon of 4:01 - If you're around here - I note your comment and your exceptions to my take on the Dr. R. conviction. After researching the veracity of your points and allegations I'll get back to you.

  9. I watched that meeting, then!? I can only recall the discussions council had regarding MBE/WBE requirements and the Public Works bills up for vote - which by the way, got interesting between Hasset and Peduto.

    Peduto requested from Costa a list of all known city infrastructure issues and associated costs by this ?Tuesday? I guess Peduto wants some city projects on SPC's TIP, other than sidewalk repairs and traffic signal upgrades.

  10. n'at.. re: Peduto's request for all city infrastructure issues... I think he is asking all departments for their capital needs, to see if the next 5 year plan accurately addresses those needs. My suspicion is that some may try to understate those needs, in order to project a more rosey financial picture and get out of Act 47 status sooner. Then 5 years from now, we'll be that much further behind in street resurfacing, vehicle purchases, etc.

  11. Ed, it truly saddens me that you no longer feel entitled to even a baseline level of honesty from your public officials. I don't consider myself a Pollyanna, so I fully expect to hear the occasional exaggeration, a lie of omission, routine massaging of data and subtle misdirections when it comes to matters of true complexity. But for heaven's sake, don't urinate directly on my thigh and tell me it's raining. It's mocking and it's disrespectful.

    I agree with N'at that one oughtn't direct one's ire directly at employees for saying or doing what they're told. However, a great number of them -- from an interesting array of positions -- have already resigned from City or Authority government rather than subject themselves to continuing indignities. That could be a political issue in itself.

  12. Well, for me its not that I don’t feel entitled to honesty, it’s that I understand why I can’t have it. Honesty is a different animal in politics. Politicians can’t afford to be honest (the the Paul Tsongas/Tootsie rule). But the way politicians lie is important. You have to treat what the politicians and bureaucrats say as code. Gabe Mazefsky was burning bridges there (at least temporarily). Ravenstahl believes that he can get enough support from the rest of Council (and believes Dowd is disliked enough by the rest of Council) that Ravenstahl can try to marginalize Dowd. Obviously that would backfire if Ravenstahl comes off as a bully. But again, Ravenstahl is counting on enough of the ordinary voters to hear what he wants them to hear.

    No, for me, I like to get my news from the media and my analysis from any academic I can find, or more likely from some pundit or blogger. Politicians give me a sense of which way the wind is blowing, as I sift through the gibberish of the tea leaves they spread.

    Conservative Mountaineer, were the bankers who ignored due diligence when they didn’t check incomes on loans “paid to think”? That kind of arrogance is exactly what got us into the economic mess we are in.

  13. Seems to me like it's a good thing that the mayor is supporting CFR. Or am I missing something here?

  14. I think what you're missing, Anon, is that $10,000 checks are still way too high -- presidential candidates can't even accept those! No other city with CFR allows a candidate receive and then utilize a $10K check all at once in a primary.

    Also, he opposed CFR until he raised a million dollars, and THEN suddenly decided it's okay after all.

    Also there were restrictions in Peduto's bill and in Dowd's CFR agenda having to do with the contracting side that don't appear anywhere in Luke's bill.

    And, if City Council gets uppity and decides to exercise its power to improve the legislation, he has this ridiculous condition that the County must pass an identical bill. This acts as a "poison pill" to prevent more muscular reform.

    Hope this was helpful.

  15. Anonymous 9:07 am: You are missing something, which is that the mayor is not supporting campaign finance reform. He is pretending to support it, which is different, right?

    Saying he's in favor of reform is nice. But he vetoed a CFR bill and now his spokesman refuses to say why he did so.


    On a completely unrelated subject, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class at Pitt the other day in which a woman explained that, while working as an intern on the Steelerstahl campaign in 2007, one of the duties she was assigned was to make blog posts in support of our young mayor.

  16. This has excellent coverage of the race. While Paul McKrell, Ravenstahl's campaign manager says Dowd's tactics are "desparate"... the reality that deep down Mr. McKrell knows that all of Mr. Dowd's accusations in terms of cronyism, Luke being a hypocrite on campaign finance, and his lack of leadership skills. Mr. McKrell's job is to distract voters from all of Luke's incompetence and to get the "same old crowd" to vote Luke back in. Here is another article on Dowd and Luke.

    If you check it out, be sure to give your thoughts on Lukes approval rating. Great reporting on this race!

  17. Mr. McKrell's job is to distract voters from all of Luke's incompetence and to get the "same old crowd" to vote Luke back in.

    Yes, and his job is also to make pathetic statements to the press, like the one here on WTAE, while managing to look like a major tool in the process. How old is this guy? 14?

  18. Hahahha! He kinda looks like Paul Feuffer (sp) from the Wonder Years a little bit. All's he needs is black glasses.