Friday, January 16, 2009

Political Bottleneck Harnassed for Good Cause

I get the impression the Comet is going to be the only media outlet in either Pittsburgh or Baltimore to act upon this press release, but hey -- s'charity:

There are sure to be three winners in Sunday’s AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens – the victor along with the Baltimore-based St. Vincent DePaul “Empty Bowls” fundraiser and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields and Baltimore Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have signed an agreement to help feed the hungry in each other’s city with the “loser” making a contribution to the designated organization in each city.

“I look forward to Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens will crush the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC Championship,” Rawlings-Blake said. “But the real winners are St. Vincent De Paul in Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for all the great work they do to help those in need in both of our great cities. Go Ravens!”

“I’m confident that the Pittsburgh Steelers will beat the Ravens on Sunday but even if the unthinkable happens, I will gladly make donations to two worthwhile organizations,” said Council President Shields. “It’s important to remember that people all across the country are experiencing tough economic times and this friendly wager is just one way to bring attention to that reality.”

Both Council Presidents will be encouraging their colleagues to join the “wager” increasing the contribution to the two charities. In the exchange, Council President Shields also warned the Baltimore Council President that Steeler Nation would be on hand to help bring home the AFC Championship.

Patrick Dowd has exactly one move left: get tickets for this Sunday's game, strip naked, paint his face and body, and streak up and down the 50 yard line until LaMarr "Advertising" Woodley puts a stop to things -- while collecting $10 contributions for the Animal Rescue League for each second he stays in motion / alive. Outside of that, this contest is rapidly receding from his grasp.

Parking for Penions: Can it Be This Easy?

Leasing Pittsburgh's parking garages could produce hundreds of millions of dollars and bolster the city's anemic pension fund, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl [sic] said Thursday. (Trib, Jeremy Boren; see also P-G, Rich Lord)

This sounds like a serious idea. Makes me wonder why nobody ever suggested it seriously before.

Can you imagine if Mayor Steelerstahl gets to tell people, "Yeah, I basically solved Pittsburgh's entire pensions shortfall, lickety split"?

Are we missing anything?

BONUS: "I think that I should present a report on what I've done," Mr. Dowd said. "I would like to mail it out, but I'm worried that if I do, I could be accused of using city money to promote my name." (P-G, Rich Lord)

This has to be considered a do-si-do that will enable the challenger to better criticize Steelerstahl when he inevitably sends out his own publicly-financed, thinly-veiled campaign material, correct? If so, that's pretty clever.


Oh boy, what to choose: try UK Guardian, James Sturcke.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Artist: Ray Charles

The reason: nothing. What?

Until Legilsative File 4201-08 Passes, This Blog Will Be Known As "The Pittsburgh Gay"

Sue from Pittsburgh's Lesbian Correspondents (a blogger!) defends the MSM's treatment of the Club Pittsburgh story:

I still maintain that the stories are, first, the investigation into the cause of death for Mr. Pettway and, second, the allegations that the City turned a blind eye in exchange for political contributions. If the Club activities, legal or not, contributed to his death then they need to be held accountable, but that is still very much open to investigation. A man died and that should be investigated. The issue of the "pay for play" are much less easier to investigate.

Also, she draws attention to the formation of Mayor Steelerstahl's GLBT Advisory Board (couldn't have come at a better time!) and some reasons to be skeptical of the process:

They are not returning my calls regarding either the [selection] criteria or the campaign contributions and so I have no confidence in this process. I might be proven wrong and the Mayor will cobble together a truly diverse group of voices with little to no political campaign contributions. As is apparent, he has the ear of one segment - the white gay male business owners who are in a position to make significant contributions to his campaign.

Now, we move to What Comes After 8, Pgh? (which may not necessarily identify itself as a political blog or even a gay blog, but gay politics has been on the menu and I've only got so many dishes ready to serve). Christopher takes a more cautious, one-day-at-a-time line toward the MSM's handling of scandal -- but has been offering an illuminating perspective on "bathhouses" (and there seems to be some consensus that Club Pittsburgh constitutes a bathhouse):

So, I'm sorry to offend, people. I get that it's a thing many queers do, and you know what, if you choose to do it, I don't judge you. I don't think you're a terrible person. I can even understand why you might want to do it. I do have a healthy supply of testosterone, after all. But you'll never get me to say it's a good idea. And you'll never convince me that it is something we should use our credibility or political capital to try to save or help defend.

There was more a while earlier, under a great post title:

More defending the indefensible. I am sure the owners of Club Pittsburgh are nice, charming, and philanthropic. But the fact remains that they operate a business that encourages incredibly unsafe risky behavior of its patrons.

But that doesn't mean that the people who operate Club Pittsburgh ultimately have clean hands. And that doesn't give the city leeway to improperly squelch an investigation. And it certainly means that I don't have to try and defend the indefensible.

More than anything else, both are encouraging people to attend this evening's hearing on the county-wide anti-discrimination ordinance.

Meanwhile, the City Paper provides more in-depth coverage of last Saturday's rally:

The author of the bill, County Councilor Amanda Green, received the greatest applause. "It's very important for county council members to know that I'm not making this stuff up," she said, noting that LGBT county residents have been denied housing, fired from employment and given "less than acceptable" public accommodations -- all three areas covered by the proposed law.

Her bill, which once had 12 co-sponsors, now has only seven. She said her colleagues who wavered may claim that "no one in their district is complaining to them, no one is talking about it. I wonder why no one is complaining about it" -- thanks to the lack of protections, she said.

The CP website also provides video of various community advocates and public officials trying to out-Milk each other in the freezing cold. Oh wait -- it's via YouTube! Don't touch that dial...

Thursday: Brian O'Neill Day

I'm not going to knock the Steelers and Continental Real Estate for asking. That's what developers do. They ask for money and keep asking until the government says no. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

Yeah, but you know: they ask for clearance sale prices on real estate, then threaten to sue and tie us up in court even though they have no real case if we refuse.

Once they wring the land from us, then they turn around and say, "Oh, by the way, this project was always envisioned with a massive state subsidy."

So they demand the subsidy, then scoff openly as city neighbors request a slender wedge of benefits or any consideration upon the arrival of this adjoining development.

"The governor believes that investing in programs that attract more development is always wise,'' Mr. Ardo said.

Has anyone done the thing yet where we check for political contributions, or does that go entirely without saying?

I thought the two multimillion-dollar stadia and the multimillion-dollar light-rail extension were supposed to be the catalysts. I guess that's always been the trouble with government catalysts. Ya gotta keep catalyzing 'em.

Brilliantly put. When will we stop believing these fairy tales?


In 1988, hearing about an opening for a columnist at the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press, O’Neill applied. His pitch: “a columnist,” he wrote to then-editor Angus McEachran, “should not be judged by how many awards he’s won, but rather by how many refrigerator doors his columns are posted on.” McEachran, a notoriously tough sell, hired him.

“I connected right away,” O’Neill recalls. “I got Pittsburgh right away. It had everything – professional sports. Neighborhoods and neighborhood bars. Theater. People who recognize St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday.” (Pop City, Abby Mendelson)

Wait a minute -- he's not a native Pittsburgher? He's just some yankee varmint who's been hornswaggling us? Then why have we been listening to him?

Long live Continental Amphitheater! Destroy the Clemente Bridge! Expand the State Legislature!


Last week, city officials acknowledged that they had threatened to close the club in August because adult-related activities don't comply with its permit to operate as a health and fitness center.

The city later withdrew the closure order after the club's owners, Mr. Karlovich and Mr. Herforth, met with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's chief of staff.

The club owners have made political donations to the mayor and held a fundraiser for him at their Mount Washington home. But he has denied giving the pair special treatment in their dealings with the city. (P-G, Sherman & Lord)

It doesn't really fit with Brian O'Neill day, but that's what happened. Disregarding all the distractions, that's what happened.

So. How long until the City tries to tell us with a straight face that Club Pittsburgh does not provide adult entertainment? Can we request that the City Solicitor do so personally, using the same cadences and gestures that President Clinton used while reassuring us about Monica Lewinsky?

And by the way ... do we know if the City of Pittsburgh can expect to collect tax receipts for lap dances / go-go dancing? Because if it can, I'm offended as a taxpayer. Here I am, with potholes on my street, paying extra for heterosexual lap dances like some kind of chump.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday: Rolling

Reflexively, I don't have a problem with this TIFF. I do wonder whether the "infrastructure improvements" are all very narrowly tailored to benefit Target and its consumers, or if they are broadly enough conceived to be of real benefit to residents. Present neighborhood residents. (P-G, Mark Belko)

Which reminds us, hey!, what ever happened to this visionary project, with the bids due in a big freakin' hurry? (P-G, Rich Lord, 10/28/08)

A former School District facilities chief is suing the District, Mark Roosevelt et al for having made him a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

UPDATE: Well, scratch my back with a hacksaw:

Post Agenda Meeting Schedule

Monday, January 26, 2009 - 10:00 A.M.
Discussion regarding Bill No. 2008-1018; the fund in the nature of an irrevocable trust, the draft defeasance agreement, and the nature of oversight in the City of Pittsburgh.

That topic is both incredibly specific and incredibly broad. I guess that makes it "incredibly ambitious". Congratulations to the Council for tackling a subject of such complexity and grave import!

BO-RING! If anybody of too much importance puts more than a half-hour's work into appealing these statistics, that's probably too much time. (P-G, Rich Lord) UPDATE: Okay Okay Okay Okay.

If anybody is interested in defending their own manifest privilege to accept free Steelers tickets, Dan Onorato shows how it's done. As a matter of fact, he's got me mulling over my position on SEA and Stadium Authority tickets (ONLY), as these are not "gifts" from anybody, and the two boards are directly relevant. But only mulling. Because seriously, you can call it "economic development", "national security", or "the ontological imperative", but are these not benefits handed out by the Steelers to their regulating Authorities? (Trib, Jodi Weigand)

Speaking of which, you all know about this, right? As hokey as it sounds, it's interaction, and it could easily evolve further. Why not appreciate it? As this will be a "Town Hall", Onorato's avatar will be required wander back and forth across the computer screen and call us "My Friends".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Top 6 Things Luke Ravenstahl Can Do To Win Back Progressive Support

Obviously, there is a point to all this. It's called Pittsburgh.

No one hates Luke just because they hate him, no matter how things may appear. For whatever reason, Mayor Ravenstahl has alienated himself during his tenure from one wing of the typical Democratic base of support. Or perhaps that wing has alienated itself from him.

No matter. We live in politically fluid times (boy, howdy!), and the average progressive Pittsburgher (there is such a thing) isn't going to have patience for a bitter jihad waged against a personality. Yet they're never going to vote for somebody who doesn't "get it", either.

So here are six things that Mayor Ravenstahl can do between now and May that will demonstrate to area progressives that he not only gets their ideas, but is committed to achieving their objectives.

1. Support Conditional Use Application and Approval for Club Pittsburgh

It's difficult for a business to win a new occupancy permit for adult entertainment from city government -- they have to withstand public hearings and votes before the Planning Commission and before City Council. A new "straight" strip club was recently rejected on Carson St. in the city's West End.

If one looks at the adult entertainment landscape as a whole, one will find a healthy number of straight clubs throughout the city and region -- all of which benefit from certain levels of scrutiny and regulation. If there are any gay clubs, we seem to be treating them as second-class citizens.

That's not Luke's fault. This state of affairs springs from a history that predates him considerably; at one time there might have been sound reasons for it. Now however we have the opportunity to turn the page, and bring gay adult entertainment respectfully out of the shadows.

Club Pittsburgh is obviously a highly regarded civic institution by some, and its owners are highly respected and even beloved of many. Legitimate permitting will require certain reasonable thresholds of compliance and verification -- in fact, it will probably lead to the routine attentions of off-duty police officers working side assignments, as is customary at straight clubs. Yes, some outlying practices at Club Pittsburgh may need to be curtailed, but so what? There is no shame in having played the part of a typical gay club in yesterday's environment. Now it's time to move forward.

2. Green Up the City-County Building Forthwith

Mayor Ravenstahl came up with this one himself, but in the process he was lambasted by the press for failing to apprehend the real facts of where the project stood -- that being, the wholly conceptual stage. Then he went so far as to suggest the construction of wind-turbines in the same breath. The impression was of a Mayor that holds a lot of happy-talk news conferences, but isn't making any progress.

This should be an easy one. Luke could commit to holding bi-weekly press conferences right alongside the city's new Sustainability Coordinator and the relevant department heads, delivering progress reports and status updates on the mammoth project. And a mammoth project it is -- the City-County building is a hulking 8-story masterpiece some decades and decades old. It wastes energy in ludicrous ways we probably don't even want to think about.

Putting the project under the klieg lights over time will allow the community as a whole to arrive at better understandings of the vagaries and the frustrations of public work. Good!

Granting reporters behind-the-scenes access to this noble and paradigm-shifting project would not only help motivate progress along its road, but would ultimately draw attention to Pittsburgh for positive reasons. The key, however, is to start now -- no matter how necessarily humble the beginnings. Then make darn sure it snowballs!

3. Tighten Up Proposed Ethics Legislation (think KISS)

A special meeting and a public hearing in regards to new ethics legislation sponsored by council members Shields and Peduto have yet to be scheduled -- the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens is not until this Sunday. So there's plenty of time to weigh in.

There can be no question but that the proposed legislation represents a significant weakening of that which is currently on the books -- but perhaps that is justifiable. The Ethics Board took about a ten-year hiatus, during which time the Code of Conduct was hardly ever referenced. Some of the dollar values are a little dated. There is good reason for today's public officials to recommit to something of their own design.

Yet the proposal now before us is rife with loopholes by which a public official can easily attend all eight Steelers home games, a significant number if not a majority of Penguins games, and more Pirates games than I would inflict upon Hitler.

And let's not forget the University of Pittsburgh! Do we need to remind anyone that all of our honored sports teams represent significant and domineering land owners and developers (feudal lords?) in the City of Pittsburgh, whose impact on their neighbors is immense?

When the North Side Leadership Conference, North Side United, the One Hill CBA coalition, and the Hill Faith & Justice Alliance get it together to start wining and dining public officials on a regular basis, we can start debating the accuracy of the public's "perceptions of impropriety". Until then, the model ethics code produced by the very outfit that has been advising the City of Pittsburgh down this path has a simple rule: no gifts, and no admissions to cultural or civic events by interested parties.

Is City Ethics the end-all-and-be-all of municipal ethics considerations? Probably not. There could be extraneous or local considerations we've not taken into consideration, but these experts seem very comfortable drawing a hard line and a clean line when it comes to accepting gifts. That conforms very closely to what concerned Pittsburghers know in their gut: it's best to stay as far out-of-bed with certain interested parties as possible.

That one goes for you too, Dan.

Let's Get This Out of the Way Real Quick

As of post time, this tightly edited, borderline doctored video of Doug Shields questioning city personnel director Barbara Trant (above) has been viewed 318 times.

Somehow the City Paper staff named it one of the Top Five Pittsburgh Viral Videos of 2008, despite the fact that a video of even greater civic import, presented far more even-handedly, has been viewed a whopping 1,345 times!!

Be that as it may, I think the CP #4 Viral Video does tell us something of importance: that Doug Shields tells it like it is, and there's often no mystery as to where Doug Shields stands. That would be nice for a change in the city's number one official.

Sure you can flag him for yelling at a woman or for failing to maintain a courtly demeanor on that occasion -- but given the choice I'd prefer leaders capable of getting the truth across to the public, particularly on matters that will help move city government forward. Pittsburgh might never have funded that Equity Study if it weren't for Doug's tirade -- not that we know that it's being followed-through upon even now.

I mention this to illustrate a general point. It is a tactic of machine candidates to repeat certain things about their opponents (I speak not only of city-wide races) again and again and again until it sounds true.

This person can't win.

This person is mentally unfit.

You'll never believe what this person did once when you weren't there.

This person can never raise the money.

This person never makes it out of his or her own neighborhood.

This person is tied to that person.

And again and again and again, until like a POW, you submit to the brainwashing: This person can't win. This person isn't going to win. This person can't win.

Know the signs, Pittsburgh. Gird yourselves against the pre-endorsement whisper campaigns. Gossip to your heart's content, but in the end judge your candidates based on what you feel and know to be true.

If there's a legitimate issue with Doug Shields, it's this:

The problem is that each time something is dangled in front of Doug for his personal benefit (e.g. the promise of the machine endorsement or council presidency), he completely loses his mind and dives into shark infested waters head first, abandoning his sense of what's right.
Anonymous, on the Burgh Report, about Councilman Shields (Comet, 5/26/07)

Personally, I think it's high time we let Mr. Shields off his parole on this charge. As I've printed in this space before, and as has been demonstrated on a multitude of occasions over the past two years, Doug Shields is flat-out awesome and Pittsburgh is fortunate to have him as a servant.

Would he make a good choice for mayor? That's the sort of thing only campaigns can tell us.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Bond Ratings Trending Okay

NullSpace had a take on this bond ratings story last week. Run a search on Fitch's own news release and scan for the word 'mayor', as compared to say 'oversight entities'. Also, does "fourth upgrade" mean it was upgraded one time by four different ratings agencies?

Dan, Luke Propsose Campaign Finance Reform

Individual contributions to political candidates would be capped at $4,600 under a plan from county Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Group donations from political action committees could be no more than $10,000 every election cycle under the proposal. (P-G, Tim Puko)

Those numbers are rather high; reform passed by City Council in the spring would have set both limits at half of these values. The Comet fears that $10,000 checks can still be disproportionately persuasive when it comes to officeholder's consciences, to say nothing of bundles of $4,600 checks.

After all, the set capable of playing at the $4,600 / $10,000 level has to be far more exclusive than the $2,500 / $5,000 set.

The exact text of the legislation will not be available until Thursday, Onorato said.

This sounds like a rushed and reactive response to some adverse headlines. Still, it's progress. I do like very much how it's a joint City / County initiative. Maybe it can be tightened up in the various committees?

Monday: You're On Notice!

Also attending the rally ... city council district 4 candidate-to-be Natalia Rudiak... (Slag Heap)

First time I've seen that reported. So you know, there you go.

We asked Rudiak some time ago: would she prefer to run for a vacant seat, or directly against incumbent council member Jim Motznik, given the political uncertainty in the district this spring?

She basically said, "Pffft".

And now...

Some contributions come shortly before or after the firms get no-bid contracts, meeting minutes and campaign finance reports filed at the Allegheny County Elections Division show. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Chester's PAC and its president, Robert O. Agbede, combined to rank among the top dozen donors to city campaigns, including $16,750 given to the war chest of Mr. Ravenstahl, who appoints the water authority board and three members of the Alcosan board. In May, Chester's PAC gave $4,000 to the coffers of Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who appoints the rest of the Alcosan board.

Chester's contract with the water authority expired midyear, but has been continued on a month-to-month basis while the authority decides whether to renew it or invite other firms to make proposals. Meanwhile, Chester's PAC last year gave $2,000 to the campaign of Mr. Walko, who chairs the water authority board, and $1,000 to the campaign of then-Councilman Deasy, a water board member.

Mr. Walko said such contributions have no impact on decisions.

"We all have the concept of good government first," he said. "I have not been in the situation of looking the other way on some problem."

Chester's contract "needs to be eventually bid out," said new water board member Councilman Patrick Dowd. "Sooner, rather than later."


The owners of Sal Williams Realty have been the second biggest benefactor of URA board member Ms. Payne's campaign, giving her $2,661 in in-kind contributions, including signs, and $2,000 in campaign checks in 2005.



In his first act of heresy, he blasphemed the Terrible Tree. He was talking fast and I was taking notes, or I might have crossed myself.

He ridiculed the idea of our civic leaders hosting a noontime pep rally Friday in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse, festooning a 20-foot evergreen with black-and-gold schlock. If that weren't enough to knock the fries right out of your salad, he said we're a bigger town than that. (P-G, Brian O'Neill)

This was a cute article. I was reminded of it during the Steelers game, as television cameras fixated on the guys wearing dark wrestling masks, and horns, and face paint. Where were the girls in pink Big Ben jerseys, at least?

How did we come to be perceived best as a wholly impersonal orcen horde? Do you suppose we also come off like this after the game at the bar, and during the work week? I mean, there's hardscrabble, and then there's neurotic.

And that is where Onorato finds himself after the most recent chapter in this struggle. The biggest question is whether the drink tax opponents have made their cause irrelevant by overplaying their hand. (Trib, Joseph Sabino Mistick)

This was a sumptuous column in terms of the depth of wisdom brought to bear, but I believe it was misapplied based on one premise.

Mistick keeps referring to a cohort called "drink tax opponents". I don't doubt there are such beasts wandering around, but I think the group we are considering would be more fulsomely described as, "people who are sick of Dan Onorato's BS". Legal scholars can debate things, but for now these folks have an excuse to say, "See, we were right, and we proved it." That's called seizing, or at least establishing, moral high ground.

There will be opportunities for Onorato's opponents to reinforce this meme that have nothing to do with the drink tax. Remember, Sun Tzu also said, "Getting people to fight by letting the force of momentum work is like rolling logs and rocks."


Now, some thoughts on the Sciortino dossier:

1. In regards to the draft financial agreement, let's take what Henry said at face value: the Act 47 coordinators did draft it, and the ICA did reject it. It's still very interesting that the Act 47 coordinators wrote it up like that. It's not as though the two oversight bodies haven't been working together for six years, and it's not as though Sciortino hasn't lasted the duration. What the memo describes is very likely Act 47's informed impression of how the ICA operates, impolitic though it may be. Based upon experience with some of our other Authorities (#cough# Stadium, #cough# Parking), executive directors are capable of wielding imperious power through board governance if a board is compliant, asymmetrically divided, under tight political control, or disinterested.

2. Our own favorite pull-quotes from the interview:

"That thing went through SEC investigations, the FBI was involved. They looked through everyone and every thing."

Sorry, I can't help but be reminded of Pat Ford's vault of doom, the "copious notes" he has supposedly taken on every conversation he's ever had. Or rather, I can't help but be reminded of his allusions to it.

"How it gets done is less important than getting it done."

Zoning code, ibid.

"Continue at 5% additional until the pension fund is positive."

Could I have heard that correctly? Is this feasible? Can we continue to afford paying 5% over the minimum as payments balloon? Will this result in a "positive" balance?

That's some nice tent you arranged, Sue.