Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday: The Week in Review, Pt. 1

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I wrapped at ya.

Without navel-gazing for too terribly long: I had every sincere intention of executing a shift in the Comet's editorial content after the primary election, towards greater clinical disinterest and even-handedness. That turned out to be like training a bear to ride a bicycle: you can do it, but not without arousing some concerns. Then after the Lestitian / Mitinger / et al purge, some mixed impulses culminated in what you might call a full-on blogdentity crisis. I almost wrote "midblog crisis" but that doesn't feel accurate. I think we can all sense that the Comet is likely to pass the ball for victory while it's still 2009. At least a couple of wise bloggers once told me, "Three years is about good". However there are still several high-profile items of unfinished business on the agenda -- so in the meanwhile, I don't see how it's going to be anything other than rock and roll.


This afternoon will see a signing ceremony and celebration for the new Allegheny County ordinance establishing a Human Relations Commission, AKA in many quarters the LGBTQ non-discrimination bill. It will be held at the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side.

The initiative passed by a slender 8-6 margin. In offering an amendment to Councillor Amanda Green's bill which very likely made its passage possible, Councillor Jim Burn donned what he called his party "Chairman Hat" to urge his Democratic colleagues specifically to rally behind the measure.

This exhortation was lost on Democrats Jim Ellenbogen and Michael Finnerty, who joined the Council's four Republicans in citing every conceivable excuse for voting against the ordinance except those reasons cited by just about every public comment and letter in opposition: it would prompt expensive litigation, it would cause disinvestment and hardship, the people aren't sufficiently aware of what the Council is contemplating. If any member in opposition was representing their constituents' oft-stated concerns, the closest they got was when one councillor dramatically stated, "I hold in my hand a letter ... a letter from the head of the Catholic Diocese!"

I take this as a good sign. Our local Republicans aren't particularly fundie or wingnutty; they just fear for their jobs like everybody else.

Councillor Chuck McCullough, clad for the occasion in a black dryfit New Balance t-shirt, offered a motion to put the issue up for public referendum, citing the Democrats' recent maneuver to "grant themselves the authority" to place ordinances on the ballot in support of the Drink Tax. The prospect of an extended, all-out, infantry-versus-infantry Culture War must have been as terrifying to the councillors as it was to me, since it failed by an even greater margin than the new law ultimately succeeded.

During post-session festivities, Burn offered an acknowledgement "to progressives" that sometimes the party "moves slowly"; he said that "As Chairman, my job is to bring everybody along." Nonetheless he said that that day was "his proudest moment as Chairman". He also lauded Green as one of the Democratic party's "rising stars" and "one to watch".

Council President Rich Fitzgerald spoke in praise of the members who resisted some intense pressure to vote against the measure, particularly Robert J. Macey, who experienced what he called not political pressure, but ominously, "the ultimate pressure".

The occasion also marked the targeting of District 1 Republican incumbent Matt Drozd in November's general election in favor of Democratic challenger Tom Michalow, who issued a "furious" statement in response to Drozd's objections to the bill.

A final note: while there is some disappointment out there about the "compromise" that was reached enabling some loopholes for religious or charitable organizations, I'm not particularly upset. Number one: the major stakeholders in the legislation didn't seem at all upset, at least not after a somewhat-improved version of that comprise had been secured. Everyone seemed determined to celebrate an at-least 2/3 victory and a 100% positive statement across what could be considered challenging terrain. Number two: for whatever reason, the injustice of housing discrimination tugs at my heartstrings worse than employment discrimination, and its hard for me to see how the exceptions will apply to the overwhelming majority of landlords and home sellers.

So that looks to be a real solid gain. But in addition to cementing quantifiable gains, people need to win once in a while, and feel as though their participation and efforts are valued.

SO LATER TODAY: More on the unmet demand for community benefits in the North Shide, and a bit on the continuing supply of corporate benefits headed to a developer in ShadyEastLarimer.


  1. To quote J. Wellington Wimpy "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today".

    Or "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Bud Light W Lime today".

    Welcome back, Bram...

  2. Ellenbogen is going to be against what the party wants anyway.

    He is anti Onorato. Too big of a Wagner ally.

  3. Matt

    Wagner must be stopped.

    As Auditor General he needs to open investgation into Boilermakers Local 154 books. He won't, because pockets are filled with Local 154 dollars. Perhaps Alpark money...

    Newly aquired property of local 154...Alpark Terrace..has strange billing practices applied to property owners.

    Details @ PGH MONK

  4. Well you don't care about party unity or loyalty either. So what's the big deal?

  5. I don't buy the 'Jim Ellenbogen is against the Democratic Party' line. Jim Ellenbogen is every bit the "Democratic Party" that Dan Onorato is. Maybe more.

    In many parts of the United States, Dan Onorato would be a Republican. He has few progressive tendencies, and he effectively mutes them. That may be, in part, why Onorato generates scant enthusiasm in the local party. (It might make him attractive to voters in more conservative stretches of Pennsylvania, however, if he can overcome the assessment and drink tax problems.) He has little influence over Democratic Party and Democratic Committee members unless their livelihoods depend on his courtesies. Very few people "volunteer" for Dan Onorato.

    I dislike Jim Ellenbogen's vote, but I believe it is silly to ascribe it to anti-Onorato sentiment. Onorato might well have voted against the ordinance, too (unless, perhaps, he believed supporting it could improve his gubernatorial prospects).

  6. Anon 11:21 - I care deeply about Democratic party commitment to stated and celebrated Democratic party values, though those appear at least regionally to be in a state of practical uncertainty. Though last week's vote suggests they are not entirely unimportant.

    Sue Kerr tweeted that Dan Onorato acknowledged during today's festivities that he can't blame anyone for doubting where he stood on this Human Relations Commission issue. I'd like to learn more about the context of those remarks.

  7. Ellenbogen will do what is in the best interest of Jack Wagner.

  8. Well said Matt! So, who was the endorsed Democrat in District 4?


  9. You have mastered the art of persuasive argument, Matt. Somebody should take a picture.

  10. Someone did take a picture!

  11. It's a proven fact. Look at the drink tax debate. He was the anti-Onorato vote.

    Anyone who doesn't think that Ellenbogen is pure anti-Dan and pro-Wagner doesn't know what they are talking about.

  12. When Jim Burn proposed a reduction in the drink tax, was that an anti-Onorato move? Was it a pro-Wagner move? Was it simply recognition that the drink tax was a dumb idea from the start? Or was it pro-Onorato, attempting to pull a stubborn Onorato's bacon at least partially out of the fire?

    When Dr. Charles Martoni attempted to limit the drink tax at five percent, was that an anti-Onorato move? Pro-Wagner? Or more recognition that the drink tax was a knuckleheaded move from the beginning?

    The drink tax debate was not a test of personal loyalty. Bob Macey was seething at Onorato by the time he voted for the drink tax; he voted for it in spite of Onorato's lobbying, and continues to harbor resentment. Martoni had no use for Onorato's pressure, either. In fact, if he had another crack at it, I see a good chance he'd vote against it. Especially after seeing that the no-reassessment strategy was an unlawful sham.

    None of which, by the way, makes Dan Onorato an enthusiastic Democrat or a guy with an enthusiastic following. Or changes the fact that Jim Ellenbogen is every bit the Democrat Dan Onorato is, if not more.

    Dan Onorato is not "the party." Not even close. From a Democratic Party perspective, he's lucky if he is ahead of Pete Wagner in party influence, and he isn't on the same lap with Cliff Levine, Mark Aronchick or some of the other people smart enough (or courageous enough) to have backed Pres. Obama in the primary.

    None of this makes Onorato a bad guy. He is an overly cautious moderate with few progressive instincts. He has modest influence in the county, little outside it. He is basically a decent guy whose ambition has been warping his judgment recently. But he is not the party. Not even close.