Monday, May 4, 2009

I Will Make You Talk About Pat Ford If It's The Last Thing This Blog Does

"So this administration, this mayor, appointed Pat Ford as the head of the URA and then began to systematically dismantle the Department of Planning"

... Patrick Dowd, KDKA debate, 5:00 mark of Part 3

And so, with 18 days remaining until Election Day, the most controversial, mysterious and persistently explosive aspect of the incumbent's record finally entered the public conversation.

And as of today, that's the totality of what's been said.

It is true that the "systematic dismantling" of the Department of City Planning is actually the most troubling aspect of Pat Ford's reign of terror over the City of Pittsburgh -- an aspect which curiously has in no way been abated or reversed.

Department of City Planning: Frequent public meetings, public processes, and legislated rules for procedure.

Urban Redevelopment Authority: Meets once a month publicly to enact a short, scripted tableau of decisions that have already been settled.

Department of City Planning: Decisions made by a number of boards, commissions and officials, most of which must win confirmation through City Council, and whose decisions frequently also must be vetted in a public setting by the Council.

Urban Redevelopment Authority: Decisions made by five individuals who are appointed at the discretion of the Mayor, the present chairman of which is the Mayor's chief of staff.

Almost every issue regarding the development of our city -- Allegheny Riverfront development, Hill District renewal, the construction of new hotels and supermarkets and neighborhoods -- is now routinely conducted through the URA. This has never really come in for discussion.

It is well-documented that the staff of City Planning has either been raided by the URA or the mayor's Finance Department, or has been purged entirely out of jobs. City Planning used to be populated by individuals called "city planners", and used to be funded and outfitted for the task of planning a city. Now it is handcuffed, emasculated, brought to heel.

However, the implications and the importance of such an organizational shift is a little advanced for our city's capacity to examine issues. I'll count Pittsburgh extremely lucky if we ever get around to revisiting for the electorate the major scandals pertaining to Mr. Ford -- scandals which on two or three occasions briefly caused the Pittsburgh media environment to resemble that of Washington, DC, and which caused the Ravenstahl administration to react in a manner of trouser-soiling panic.


After a short and contentious tenure with the Murphy administration, Pat Ford was recruited back to Pittsburgh by Mayor O'Connor and given the job of Director of City Planning.

Mayor Ravenstahl notably latched onto Ford as a manager and as a kind of personal and professional mentor, "promoting" him first to a new position called Director of Economic and Community Development (which strangely resided beneath Planning Director on official organizational charts) and thence to Executive Director of the URA.

Simultaneous to the last move, Ravenstahl also promoted Mr. Ford's wife, Alecia Sirk, to the position of mayoral press secretary -- claiming a "nationwide search" had been conducted and that "we found the right person working right here at the URA". That may or may not be relevant, but it does lend the whole affair a sordid and amateurish air.

Ravenstahl also appointed Ford to chair the Parking Authority and the Housing Authority. It was these synergies of effort which brought such things as an expensive electrical nightmare of a bus terminal with a halfway-constructed advertising screen in front of it, and the wrath of the federal department of Housing and Urban Development who complained of conflicts of interest and demanded Ford's removal.

Ford could credibly have been termed the City's Number Two Official. However, the City already had a Number Two Official in the person of mayoral chief of staff and URA chairman Yarone Zober. This is where the real troubles may have begun.

For you see, when word leaked that Ford had accepted some gifts from a development official at Lamar Advertising, sources suggest it was Yarone Zober who prevailed upon Ravenstahl not to take definitive action to discipline Ford, nor to definitively brush off the allegations as nonsense or political, nor even to conduct his own investigation -- but rather to suspend Ford with pay and pass off the responsibility onto the State Ethics commission.

Our wonderful state government.

The proceedings dragged for the better part of a year. Perhaps the plan was to issue some sort of whitewash, but as more troubling details of that which Mr. Ford had been tasked by Mayor Ravenstahl to execute accumulated (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) that became impossible.

At the time when Mr. Ford's attorney accused the Ethics Commission of playing politics and hanging his client out to dry, we all laughed. In hindsight, we can apprehend how Gov. Rendell and other State leaders would not want to do anything to jeopardize Mayor Ravenstahl's quiescent leadership of the city. Again, why kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

When their "investigation" resulted in a minimalist statement of no consequence to issues about special favors and influence peddling that had been raised by the initial scandal, Mr. Ford deduced that he had become a liability to his employer, his employer's emboldened advisers, and to his employer's patrons in state government. He resigned before he could be fired, and he shared some thoughts.

To this day, my wife and I are being persecuted with no support from the administration I served, for no real reason whatsoever. Although I was cleared nearly two weeks ago by the State Ethics Commission, no discussion has occurred in regard to my future. Today, I want to set the record straight that I do not support the actions of what I believe to be a failed administration and no longer desire to return to a position where I will again be forced to serve as a scapegoat ... I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh. (Busman's Holiday)

One would have guessed that such a crisis would have merited the attentions of both the mayor's challengers and of a hungry, concerned media.

The coup de gras was the handsome and completely spontaneous severance package that Mr. Ford was inexplicably awarded after this vengeful missive -- inexplicable except for the "No Disparagement Clause" ensuring that neither party say bad things about the other. This is what led to its popular description as "hush money".


So this is what just occurred to me, and this is what I don't understand: if Candidate Ravenstahl is pressed during a debate, or by the media, or by one of his opponents, to explain exactly what occurred with Patrick Ford -- why the administration did not discipline him itself, whether the Lamar or Liberty Pacific billboard permits were awarded by the code and by whom, what was the impact of gifts, contributions or friendships, or why Mr. Ford was appointed to so many simultaneous roles in city government and what that says about his judgement and maturity -- what exactly does Mayor Ravenstahl say?

He can't disparage Mr. Ford. I would not expect him to stand there dumbly and get stuck in the gut -- Ravenstahl is a better political animal than that -- but the answer would have to be awful interesting at this juncture.


To some, there may be a nagging issue of whether or not going down this road would be rude to Mr. Ford or Ms. Sirk. Don't these people deserve to get on with their lives, you ask? Oh, but they are.

Mr. Ford is still getting paid by the URA -- yes, yes -- and is already well-ensconced with another fascinating-sounding development job, leading the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.

We know this because Mr. Ford and the BDC sent out press releases, replete with that photograph of Mr. Ford wearing his cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.

He is also educating a new generation of development gurus about civics and leadership -- these are real, go follow the links -- for the West Virginia Governor's School.

And finally, he is commentating as a world-weary expert on planning and zoning for whomever is interested:

Ford, who most recently was the executive director of the Pittsburgh Urban Renewal Authority, likes the idea that the Commission would keep the meetings public.

“You can’t do this process in a vacuum. It has to be done with input because, ultimately, you’ll need the approval of the people it would protect,” Ford said. (Exponent Telegram, Jeff Toquinto)

Patrick Ford dwells in the realm of the Richard Floridas now. Although he himself would no doubt be advised to keep his distance, I strenuously doubt he would be at all discomforted to find his name arise in discussions back in Pittsburgh, PA.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh electorate would greatly benefit -- as would, very likely, Mayor Ravenstahl himself. Although there are only two weeks remaining until our election and voters deserve a long-overdue reexamination of that tumultuous period which was the hallmark of Ravenstahl's tenure, we have also seen the Mayor responds well to suggestions and criticisms offered during political season. That's how we got campaign finance reform and a host of other reforms, and I'll take it.

If we all were to see Mr. Ford's name surface in some headlines between now and May 19th, only good things would come out of it. The only question is: given Ford's clear significance to the Mayor's record and to development issues which are still before us, why in peace are we all failing generate this discussion already?


  1. Who is that on the cover of that magazine?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. If you asked Luke about Pat Ford and the taxpayer funded hush money, I sure that he would spit out some robotic response about how the situation "was unfortunate" and then give some lame excuse about how he can not talk about it for legal reasons.

    Then he would feed us the worn out line about how he doesn't want to talk about the past, he is concerned about Pittsburgh's future, and then wonder out loud why are you playing politics.

    From there he will say he doesn't hear you talking about a plan of your own. Then, he will recite his 11 point plan consisting of boring generalizations that he has "remembered by heart"

    Watch what happens tonight. The guy is painfully unoriginal and predictable. Kind of like Pittsburgh’s future.

  4. Pat Ford was a regular in the audience at debates in the past.

    BTW, Luke's mom has not been mentioned much in this election cycle either.

    I'm shocked to hear Carmen talk about Lord & Taylor and Lazarus.


  5. BTW, Luke's mom has not been mentioned much in this election cycle either.Why would someone mention Luke's mom?

  6. Yeah really. Why would Mrs. Ravenstahl be mentioned at all?

  7. As an expert in badly constructed, inaccessible blogger humor myself, I think Rauterkus was making the point that it makes about as much sense to discuss Luke's mom as it does to talk about Pat Ford. Because, you know, that was all "in the past" and this election is about the future.

    To which I would respond, that's rather like complaining why anyone bothered getting worked up over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina during the 2006 elections.

    Unless there's something about Grandma Ravenstahl I don't know. Does she make homemade, high-end garbage cans?

  8. No Bram she did not make the cans, she made the labels with Lukey's name on them....atta boy ...
    Okay I apologize, I can't pick on a Mom, and so close to Mother's Day. His Mother is probably a wonderful lady.

    However, we cannot forget about Pat Ford , and that should have been a main topic of the debates. That man did a lot of damage, and we never received any answers as to why or how he was allowed to get away with it, nor why he accused the Ravenstahl administration of corruption. Because of the hush money, the Mayor could not speak badly of Mr. Ford, however, he could have been asked why the public was never entitled to any real answers about the situation. We, the voting public, deserved answers. I would think that an agenda of or at least a list of every project, idea, input,decision, influence of authority, committee, that Ford had his hand in, so that we could review how much damage was actually caused. Not looking for a scape goat, just some real answers so that people don't have to find out the hard way the damage done. Now that is a pipe dream.

  9. Pat Ford for Mayor!!

    Alecia Sirk for Dog Catcher!!

  10. Bram, this blog posting is if nothing else well-reasoned, as it gathers together the loose ends and unanswered questions related to the Ford Fiasco in a concise, straightforward manner. However, you suggest that if the facts of this mess were brought to light, it could pull support away from the incumbent and to one of the challengers. In fact, it could be argued this scenario is the ONLY way for one of the challengers to win.

    During his short term as maryor, the judgement lapses of this administration are already well publicized to the extent that if the voters wanted to elect a mayor with greater integrity, this race would be much closer. I think this says a great deal about the quality of the challengers and an indictment of the campaigns they are running. That's why the mayor wins in a landslide.

  11. Once again proving that the people (and bloggers) of Pittsburgh get exactly the government they deserve.

  12. Hush money is ineffective in interviews with law enforcement personnel and in grand jury proceedings -- except as evidence of misconduct.

  13. Interestingly enough, we've heard that Mr. Ford now holds the title of the new Town Manager for Wardensville, Hardy County, WV. This position was created by his close personal friend and confidante, the Town's Financial Officer (Town Recorder). Interestingly enough, he was a private contractor for them and his friend moved Mr. Ford and his wife into a newly renovated home, owned by the Financial Officer and his wife within the town he serves.

    Funny thing, this residence was supposedly used as his private office and the adjacent buildings themselves were not up to code, which was Mr. Ford's job to oversee compliance and enforcement. Hmm, doesn't this sound vaguely familiar? A big fish now swimming in a small pond, Mr. Ford is now the immediate supervisor of all town operations and is systematically dismantling and redesigning the various departments using his vast experience and influence. Just something to keep an eye on as it emerges.

  14. Pat Ford is now sucking the life out of Wv, if you have info on him please pass on to the county leaders of Hancock and Brooke counties in wv. They've been paying him and getting nothing back as the communities continue to decline

  15. I understand that Chester County is welcoming Ford's inimitable contributions with open arms, as is the whole of West bygone Virginia. Can't speak for Hancock and Brooke leaders lately though. What, has there been a progressive reform movement? Occupy New Cumberland?

    How'd you find the site?