Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday: Sorting Through the Deception

The Busman pulled additional information and audio:

KA: "What business interest does John Verbanac have before your administration or with any of these city authorities?"

LR: ""First of all, he has none..." (Busman's Holiday)

No business interests? Summa Development, Forest City Enterprises and the IdeaMill for starters represent no business interests that affect the City?

(Yes, the IdeaMill in Lawrenceville -- I discovered that linkage on several websites, including a 2007 County press release for a new Transportation Action Team, listing John Verbanac of the IdeaMill as the City of Pittsburgh appointee.)

Let's make one thing clear -- John Verbanac is all about business interests before governments. That's what. He does. For a living.

Ravenstahl can conceivably argue that he turns a blind eye to all the pro bono political consulting work* that Verbanac performs for him, while as Mayor he makes rulings that affect Verbanac's bottom line -- but to claim that Verbanac has no business before the City is laughable. Laughable! And indicative of the fact that Ravenstahl knows, deep down inside, something's wrong and something needs to be denied.

LR: "I wasn't even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded." (WTAE)



Let's explore that. Yesterday:

And Mr. Ravenstahl pointed out that, contrary to Mr. Verbanac's wishes, he had supported yet another unsuccessful casino applicant, Isle of Capri. (P-G, James O'Toole)

Did he? As Mayor?

The state Gaming Control Board is expected to decide, by year's end, who gets to build Pittsburgh's lone slots casino.

In January, Mr. Ravenstahl endorsed the Isle of Capri's bid to build the casino and new arena on the edge of Downtown. In May, Mr. O'Connor's Planning Department released a report favorable to Forest City's competing plan for a Station Square complex.

The pressure is on Mr. Ravenstahl to weigh in as mayor.

The Penguins, who are working with Isle of Capri, said they hope for a repeat endorsement from Mr. Ravenstahl. "I think all of the elected officials have a role in voicing their support for the plan they believe is best for Pittsburgh," and the mayor's voice wasn't likely to be ignored by the gaming board, said Penguins consultant David Morehouse.

Don Barden, who wants to build a casino on the North Shore, said he plans to call Mr. Ravenstahl this week and talk up his proposal. Forest City's spokesman had no comment.

"I don't foresee myself doing anything further at this point," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "I think [Planning] Director [Pat] Ford is a very capable man, who completed [the city's] report, and I see no reason for me to do anything or change anything.

"I endorsed the Isle of Capri plan. ... Now we have a Plan B there," he said, referring to a blueprint for building an arena with slots funding and private money.

"I think the main thing and the important thing is that we keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. The Isle of Capri plan does just that. Plan B, in a different way, does that." (P-G, Rich Lord, 9/10/06)

By the reckoning Ravenstahl provided, once he became Mayor -- and by logical extension, John Verbanac's new best friend -- his only concern was keeping the Penguins in town. Now with "Plan B", either Forest City or PITG Gaming could just as easily accomplish that, he argued -- before it was fashionable to do so. (Indeed, Plan B would turn out to be far more costly.)

Ravenstahl then publicly declined even "under pressure" to express any further support for Isle of Capri. The report that Ford (also we now know an inner-circle friend of Verbanac) had just issued favoring the Forest City casino bid was allowed to stand in Harrisburg at the Gaming Control Board as the City's position.

Which conforms to everything all of us remember.

If John Verbanac's partners at Forest City didn't get the business in this instance, it's because former Mayor Tom Murphy shined a laser on the political connections early on by making public that "the fix is in", turning the bid too hot to handle. An exception rather than the rule.

Was the fix in? Any answer would be a matter of degrees. Did Luke Ravenstahl's enthusiasm for Isle of Capri diminish drastically upon inheriting John Verbanac?

LR: "I wasn't even the Mayor when the Gaming License was awarded." (WTAE)

Again, why even attempt to deny something like that in this context? It even sounded as though his enthusiasm for saying it dried up halfway through the utterance -- but he resignedly soldiered through with the lie anyway.


Now, there's another element to all of this.

Kevin Ackin's "sheaf" of e-mails and news articles was topped with a few pages worth of exposition. The information presented in the fourth paragraph of the cover page has yet to make its way into any news reports:

In addition, several former high ranking officials from the Ravenstahl administration have approached the campaign about their being interviewed by federal investigators in relation to the unethical conduct of the Mayor's office. These interviews took place between October 2008 and April 2009. The individuals who cooperated with federal authorities have given us permission to release their contact information to the press so they can confirm the existence of a federal investigation.

No comment.

Why has there been no mention of that portion of the explosive allegations? Could it be that the memory of these conversations left an impression?

The evening before, City Solicitor George Specter made a series of phone calls to top media company executives around town, expressing concern about potential news coverage of rumors about the Ravenstahl administration. (Busman's Holiday, 9/4/2008)

It's curious that according to the Acklin report, the interviews began to take place about a month after previous rumors of forthcoming indictments spilled wide open.

LR: I would just advise Mr. Acklin to be very, very careful.

KA: Is that a threat? (WTAE)

Yes. That sounded like a threat. For sure. Anyone else getting threatened?

*- I received an anonymous tip this morning identifying John Verbanac as the "official/unofficial Campaign Chairman" for Mayor Ravenstahl. I don't know what that would mean literally, but considering the extent of Verbanac's pro bono political consulting for Ravenstahl, it seems like a very apt description.


  1. Correction: IdeaMill is currently outfitted on the 4th floor of Eve Picker's Building in East(of)Lib. That "reinvented" place that Wendy Bell was talking about in the debate. They do a lot of ELDI, No Walls, URA and oh yeah, Luke! Check out the campaign expense reports from the primary.

  2. From the PG articleMr. Verbanac said yesterday. "My partner and I, Charles Zappala, were big believers in the potential of the project,"

    There is a connection here

  3. Anon 2:13 - Thanks. There doesn't seem to be a mailing address on the website though, so we'll let it slide. Lawrenceville / Eastside = six of one.

    JustAFriend? - Yes! Rich Lord was going apeshit about CLT Efficient Technologies Group in early 2007. I don't recall seeing that Pist-Gazette post on it but thanks.

  4. "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
    Milan Kundera 1979