Tony Ceoffe, presently a candidate for District Magistrate in that area, has been its leader and primary executor for the last four and a half years.
Mr. Ceoffe initially returned a telephone call on this matter, but upon learning more about my blog, responded, "I'm not interested in this". I have since left voicemail messages outlining the specific questions that concerned me without further response.
Most of the issues have to do with property sales by L.U. to persons or companies who would ordinarily be disqualified from purchasing City properties -- for reasons of having track records that should make Lawrenceville residents nervous in their own right.
1) Hitchy LLC: John Quinlan. Properties at issue: 138 & 140 43rd St. Known problems: Lost three previous Lawrenceville properties at sheriff's sale; suits brought against him by two banks and the city's URA; adjoining properties owned at 142 & 144 43rd St. left essentially abandoned and unsecured until condemned and torn down by the City. Additionally, back-taxes were owed on the property at 138 & 140 before being purchased by L.U. in September of 2008 yet seem never to have been cleared.
2) Wylie Holdings: Joe Edelstein. Properties at issue: 5168 Butler St; 5165, 5167 & 5169 Dresden Way. Known problems: Non-compliance with city building and zoning codes and associated liens, and in at least one case, a judge's order; failure to pay back loans and misrepresentations on loan applications exposed by Team 4. *-UPDATE: Not entirely incidentally, disgraced development czar Pat Ford was accorded a Wylie-owned appartment in Lawrenceville upon returning to Pittsburgh.
3) Earth Vendor Capital. Property at issue: 167 1/2 Almond Way. Known problems: All twelve of its properties in Allegheny County are tax-delinquent, ten of which are actually in Lawrenceville.
There may be other items of interest involving the above mentioned properties -- queer L.U. purchase and resale value discrepancies, for example -- or other issues entirely. If my readers / sources would like to highlight those, they are welcome to do so in the comments. Just please obey my rules.
Tony Ceoffe was the subject of a long, in-depth profile in the City Paper almost three years ago. Most of it made him sound like a genuine community hero.
And, increasingly, he's becoming a political heavyweight as well, at least at the neighborhood level. In the May primary, two of the five wards in his voting district elected a pair of Ceoffes as Democratic committeepeople: Tony, his wife Theresa, father Tony senior and sister Lisa. (CP, Marty Levine)
I feel like this is where problems began to arise.
As Ceoffe's successes and notoriety grew, he channeled more of his considerable energy into politics -- through the local Democratic committee, just as the Ravenstahl-Zober-Ford-Ferlo megacomplex was really coming into its own, such that unduly creative and aggressive dealmaking practices were becoming a big part of being a political high-roller.
There's no doubt Ceoffe has been effective in certain respects for Lawrenceville. Yet it looks like he has made some significant compromises and questionable calls as well -- without yet having gone through much of a semblance of accountability.
I don't feel like his set of strengths and weaknesses match up well with what I think of as being required in a judge. One wants one's judges to be scrupulously cognizant of the law, of process, and of the ramifications to others of taking risks -- being a "community guy" comes in second or third.
Ironically, his passion and his community roots suggest possibly that he'd make a better Member of Council. I don't mean to hasten Councilman Dowd's accountability moment with his future students, but that contest in two years would be a reporter's dream come true. Besides, a race for a legislative position is a little more free-wheeling; we would learn more about Mr. Ceoffe and better vet his record in such a contest.